Posted by Amanda Chapel
First off, before we begin, a comment about the headline. This article was going to be titled: "How Richard is Single Handedly F-ing Up the PR Business." At little strong perhaps. Actually, no, it's not really. Richard Edelman, CEO of one of the largest PR firms in the world, is in full "leadership" mode trying to court the PR industry to change its very DNA. And the real scary part is that like lemmings, we're just following him! Arrgh.
Well, here's the latest. Last Thursday and Friday Edelman hosted The New Media Academic Summit 2007. The conference was billed as a gathering of "business leaders, academics, journalists, bloggers and communications professionals" brought together "to discuss the challenges facing universities in preparing the next generation of graduates."
Actually, the target audience was primarily academics. In attendance was a virtual Who's Who from PR scholarship (pardon the obvious oxymoron) from approximately 50 of the top PR programs in the country. Topics included: The changing media environment; the rise of consumer generated content; using employees to build reputation; new media and advocacy; how citizen journalism is radically changing mainstream media; and enabling the digital generation.
Because the writing's on the wall. Like his counterparts in mainstream media and advertising, Richard wakes up with a start every night fearing that all this blogging crap is going to totally disintermediate him. He's convinced: either we become Craig's List or we get eaten by Craig's List.
So... he's out there beating the drum and evangelizing change, i.e. adapt or die. Just how radical is the change he proposes? Jay Rosen, Associate Professor and former chairman of the Department of Journalism NYU was the last panelist to speak. Ironically, he also happened to bring it all together and hit the nail on the head.
Bottom line: Richard is desperately trying to change our DNA. And the purpose of this event was/is obvious. If Richard can convince this crowd, together they'll rewrite the book... literally.
A few weeks ago, Edelman made his vision clear at the MESH Conference in Toronto. Of course, this author notes that "mesh" by definition is: 1) To catch in or ensnare as if in a net; 2) To become entangled. Here below we have Richard's key points and what should be the industry's response to each:
EDELMAN: "This is a time of great opportunity for public relations. We are now able to compete with other communications companies (advertising, promotion) which have historically had the primary seat at the table. Our big ideas are often the program’s central idea. We are also uniquely suited to the present environment, which depends on dialogue, trust and relationships."
INDUSTRY RESPONSE: No. Competing for Direct Marketing business is NOT a good thing no matter how much they are paying you Richard. It reduces us.
Also, we don't do things that rely on trust... we are paid to create and leverage trusted relationships. That's our job. We design and implement programs that deliver market influence to facilitate client objectives. And the ONLY reason we morally get away with it is because our initiatives are vetted through an independent media.
EDELMAN: "The role of the PR person must evolve from a pitching mentality to a listening/learning approach premised on conversations with reporters, bloggers, critics, analysts, employees, and myriad of client stakeholders."
INDUSTRY RESPONSE: No. We are not going to go from pitching an independent media... to direct unvetted unpoliced public manipulation. We are advocates in the court of public opinion. What you are proposing is a court without a judge. Minus the unfortunate fact that anarchy "feels good," it is NOT a business model.
EDELMAN: "The quality of the content we distribute must be high because it is increasingly used as primary source data, without the mediation process inherent in working with a reporter. We need to offer attribution, to give real depth of content and to check our sources, to ensure journalist-level quality."
INDUSTRY RESPONSE: No. At any given time you'll be compromising one or both. Again, you somehow think we can be responsible as both judge and advocate.
Secondly, in an industry that has almost entirely lost the craft of writing, do you really think we can vet our own content independently? That's just plainly preposterous.
EDELMAN: "There is no place in PR for spin. To be deemed a spinmeister is the ultimate insult. We are in the business of presenting reality, both to clients’ stakeholders but also to the client. We advise, develop strategy and listen, so that we help to shape that reality."
INDUSTRY RESPONSE: No. "Spin" is only when you do it badly or get caught. "Perception is reality," coined your father. We're in the business of creating and managing public perception. That's what we do.
We can't change our DNA. But if per chance Richard succeeds, what silly monster will he have created? This is, if we even survive at all.
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Tracked: Jun 21, 09:41
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Too bad, Rich got more of his DNA from his mom than his dad, who had it right when he said "perception is reality". Spin is out? What planet does this guy live on?. If he spent some time "pitching" (he delegates that function) he would know that most reporters today are swamped with "objective news sources" thx to the Web. It's our job to put news, especially about our clients, in some kind of perspective. Otherwise, we really have no reason to exist. Let's hope Dan Edelman, a real PR man, stays alive long enough to continue educating little Rich.
I like the "DNA change" article on Richard Edelman. But he is not the first to propose or practice this. The trend has been going on for decades. It's PR firms going directly to target audiences and not waiting for "media pickup." Media pickup is very difficult if you only have a sales message. PR firms have replaced ad agencies to some extent in "going directly."
This helps to account for the astronomical growth in PR fees as measured by the O'Dwyer Co. in the past couple of decades--from single diget millions to tens of millions and hundreds of millions.
Advertising is too expensive, so PR firms find out new markets and use special events, speeches, direct mail and direct response, direct pitches to stockholders, customers, suppliers, retireds, local communities, consumer groups, web audiences, etc., to get out "the message" without going through the media, where the news hole has been shrinking.
Also, there is lots of management consulting involved that shapes the direction of a company. Also, lobbying has exploded with 30,000+ lobbyists working in D.C. The best marketing tool is pass a law (such as requiring bicyclists to wear a helmet) or requiring young women to take Gardisil (Merck) to guard against a sexual disease. --Jack O'Dwyer