For all the talk of PR becoming obsolete, some of those on top of the food chain certainly are adapting to the times. I’m a big fan of Richard Edelman’s 6 A.M. blog, and in this recent entry on the increasing confluence of strategy and PR, based on a recent lecture, he runs us through what he sees as the four main attributes of companies’ and organisations’ public engagement anno 2008:
- Be democratic and decentralised: people should be empowered by communications, not just be told things. They should be able to contribute to a story and spread it.
- Inform the conversation: as it’s much easier for companies and other organisations to publish, they should grasp this opportunity and produce good material and be seen as an authority in their subject area.
- Engagement with influencers of all stripes: everyone is a potential influencer, so a broader set of stakeholders expects to be involved. It’s your task to keep them happy.
- Reputation is built on policy and communication: playing a positive role in areas which are of public interest e.g. sustainability, and if need be, engaging with the other side to reach mutual consent.
Points 1 to 3 are of course in great part affected by the web’s role in lowering barriers of entry to the realm of communications. Result? People feel empowered and the role of PR is not so much to mould and control a message in order to influence public opinion, but to listen to the multitude of different voices out there, make sense of it all, and then try to contribute to the conversation in a manner that’s humble and constructive.
Another point I’d add – linked in some way to all of the points above – is that of showcasing real people. These days, hardly anyone trusts companies and most organisations (except NGOs) in large part due to the fact that these have forever been hiding behind advertising, corporate taglines, and over-stylised messaging. People are far more likely to appreciate one-to-one communications, perhaps direct from a CEO him/herself, as in Edelman’s case. Why? Trust is garnered when people feel you’re being candid, are yourself talking directly to them, and seem to care what they think. They’re far more likely to get this impression if you show your face (not always literally – a blog would for instance do), than if all they get is an over-stylised brochure or a jingle.