Posted by an Honored Guest
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
So... did I tell you I am a HUGE fan of Waggener Edstrom Worldwide? I’ve got a myriad of reasons: Marianne Allison, Jenny Krentzman, Joyce McClure, Holli Simcoe, the list goes on. My personal favorite happens to be the firm’s president Frank Shaw. Love his blog, Glass House. It’s a must read; one that I enjoy daily. He consistently delivers insights, professional maturity, evenhandedness and balance. That's pretty rare for the blogosphere.
Well, here’s no exception. We are thrilled today to share Frank’s thoughts on the "Revolution." As we face a radically changing communications ecosystem, PR's role is in flux. As we negotiate our next steps into the future, this kind of perspective is absolutely critical.
Without further ado...
Thoughts on the Revolution
By Frank Shaw
Earlier this week, I blogged about losing the importance of the big idea amidst debate about the specific instantiations unfolding in front of us, and noted that initial hype and overstatement is as big an enemy of ideas as anything else is. To which a linker noted the irony of a PR guy saying there was such thing as too much hype. The comment made me think – how are we as an industry doing in seeing the ideas? The jury, to be charitable, is out.
Here is “the” idea in this case: that the explosion of new communications channels, via blogs, community sites, wikis, vlogs, podcasts, virtual worlds and the like would usher in fresh ways of interacting with the public, allowing us to engage in true two-way dialogue. The revolution was upon us, PR in the lead.
Because maybe it was just evolution all along. And while it’s always easier to talk about revolution than it is to quietly evolve, the smart money is on the rapid, smart and non-hyperbole-spouting evolvers, and not on the revolutionary bomb throwers.
Let’s look at some examples for some historical context. I remember back in 1997 living through the last bubble and being inundated with “ecommerce this” and “ecommerce that” to such an extent that some pundits opined that it was the end of bricks and mortars as we know it. There was even a verb to describe the revolution: “Adapt or you’ll be Amazon-ed.” My response at the time was to say it was a good thing marketing hadn’t achieved its full potential when the telephone was first introduced, because we’d have been forced to live through the dashed dreams of “telecommerce.” I bet IBM even would have had an ad campaign. FWIW, Waggener Edstrom passed on much of the dot com business opportunity at the time, possibly grew less slowly than some of our competitors and certainly shrank less explosively when the bubble popped. When the whole thing was over, we had the distinct impression that sanity had reigned. That’s not to say that the Internet wasn’t at work transforming things—it’s just that basic laws of gravity (i.e., a good business plan counts for something) weren’t dispensed with in the process.
We do this because we have a tendency to look at the snapshot (sometimes that’s all we can see at the time) and extrapolate from it when ideally, we’d all be waiting for the feature film. A client of ours once mused that it would have been easy, in the 1920s, to look at the rise of the automobile and be sure that it was time to get out of the buggy whip business. But you couldn’t have known that 30 years later, the car culture would be so pervasive that people would actually be going to theaters set up so they could watch movies from their cars. He was talking about how the real impact of the idea isn’t fully borne out in its initial instantiation, rather the idea evolves.
Which brings us to the moment. In some ways, the revolutionaries are right – PR does stand at a crossroads. There are powerful new tools at our disposal. We do have the opportunity to associate with and communicate with new influentials and directly to enthused audiences. We will find ourselves getting out of the way of direct to customer communications as brokered influence becomes just part of the mix, instead of the rule of life. It truly is a global marketplace of ideas. And what happens next will define PR – what we do and how we do it – for some time to come.
So here are a few of the laws of gravity that I think will apply for some time to come, if not forever. Relationships still matter. Some people’s opinions will still matter more than others: that is, aggregators, interpreters and meaning-makers will still emerge as influencers. The traditional media will be among those influencers, although they don’t have it as a birthright: but they will evolve and will play a role. Telling the truth, being authentic, paying attention to your audience, cleaning up your own messes and setting expectations will still be key to communications (this just in: transparency and authenticity as values were as important before the advent of blogs, although bloggers have proved to be great watchdogs for these values.) The power of storytelling, our lifeblood and livelihood, is as strong today as ever it was. And PR people who are doing their best work: listening better, pushing for clarity, and reminding our clients that having the best darn idea in the world doesn’t matter a fig without communications still have a role.