PR Transformed

During my transition from journalist, to filmmaker, to academic/media strategist, I’ve concluded that the profession formerly known as Public Relations lies at the sweet spot of 21st century professional communications.  Marketing is trying hard to be more like journalism (pushing more authentic, relevant and useful media), journalism is moving towards marketing (the search for self-sustaining business models, marketable information and entrepreneurial skills for journalists).  And everyone’s trying to figure out how to engage. — which goes beyond the simple acts of selling and reporting.  Guess who gets the murky world of engagement?

I’ve said as much as I get to know the folks at the Seattle office of Weber Shandwick (the largest PR agency in the world).  Last week, I had the chance to present my thoughts to their leadership at an agency-wide meeting, as well as moderate a panel on “PR Transformed.”  My premise was that as the advertising agency as business model fell deeper into crisis (inspired by this excellent Fast Company article, Mayhem on Madison Avenue), a more lithe, cost-effective entrepreneurial PR agency could readily pick up some of the business that would normally go to “Mad Men.”

You can check out my Prezi below.  The panelists and I agreed that a focus on story beyond the press-centric or brochure-centric approach was the key to success (they worked for clients such as Nestle’s Nespresso, the U.S. Army, and the Bahamas).  The fact that PR is channel agnostic and not ad-centric is attractive to companies seeking to engage people across so many platforms, often with shrinking outreach budgets.

“We’re the community managers,” one participant said.

But they also pointed out that PR’s newfound story advantage could be co-opted by advertising as well.  A good story is not the exclusive preserve of any one industry or agency.  And advertising still has the top-shelf talent to execute high-level engagement campaigns (thanks to all those years of TV).  Look no further than Wieden + Kennedy Portland’s brilliant Old Spice campaign.  This typifies the speed and thriftiness that many clients are now demanding, away from the knee-jerk solution of “just make an ad.”  Wieden + Kennedy is still advertising’s exception.  Entrepreneurial, community-based engagement is still the rule for PR.  The agency of the future (for that matter, of “now”), must do it all: fast, cheap, creative, engaging stories across multiple channels.