PR Must Lead Way To Promised Land

As early as 2006, the phrase "Every company is a media company" began to appear in speeches, news stories and blog columns, presaging a paradigm shift in the way businesses of every stripe must communicate with their audiences in the Internet/social media age.

But, for years, innovative companies like apparel giant Benetton Group have pioneered the concept. In 1991, it launched its oft-controversial Colors magazine, each issue of which focuses on a single topic and is published in four languages in 40 countries by its Fabrica research center. Or consider leading industrial design firm frog (www.frogdesign.com/), which last July launched Design Mind magazine, now in its ninth issue.

Why are companies as diverse as an apparel manufacturer and an industrial design firm investing so heavily in becoming "media companies?" NYU professor Clay Shirky put it succinctly. "[In the era of social media], ... every company, no matter what industry, is essentially tasked with gathering and distributing information to employees and external audiences." In other words, content, media, and conversation with all key stakeholders are key.



Examples are more numerous by the day as this trend rapidly gains traction across business channels. We're witnessing a paradigm shift in which traditional media companies are moving towards becoming software/digital companies (i.e., The New York Times) while manufacturers, service and creative firms are becoming media companies. The shift is one of both strategy and format driven by necessity -- the consumer's demand for information.

Show by Telling

Take frog's print magazine, which is but one component of a broader effort to invest in proprietary media channels to produce and disseminate its own content as a showcase for frog's thought leadership. As frog says, we "transform by doing," and in their media channels they "show by telling."

Frog hasn't fallen into the self-serving trap that snares many companies' by just telling the frog story. Instead, it tells ever-changing stories from multiple perspectives by many authors because "if you want to have a true conversation, you've got to change the message." That's why it is the voices of frog. And that's why they don't talk about frog, per se, but rather articulate what the contributors see, feel, and think. Design Mind is an invitation to write, to co-create, and to invigorate the brand.

Signs of the need for change in BtoB and BtoC conversational patterns are everywhere. The fast-evolving consumer preference for uncensored content and open conversation over corporate speak and web site cant was documented in 2007 by Cisco's Dan Sheinman, who showed charts/stats highlighting how the companies' web traffic has switched from page views to RSS feeds and blog posts.

The media revolution continues to accelerate, moving into video (YouTube and its imitators) Facebook (social networking at large), Twitter (instantaneous messaging), and emerging platforms. Every day, more businesses awaken to the realization that they must become media companies if they hope to engage consumers in a productive and profitable dialog/relationship.

So what does this bode for the PR profession? It means PR, too, must be revolutionized if it wants to lead the new media management process. PR must educate clients to understand, accept and adopt this new dimension of communications. Tom Foremski said in the April issue of Silicon Valley Watcher, "Every company has to learn how to publish using the new (two-way) media technologies, to reach their customers, their employees, partners, local communities, etc. And one role of PR is to help companies become media companies and help them tell their stories."

The unfortunate reality is that the majority of companies, even in light of recent research findings that most executives get their news online, still mandate that PR focus on generating big stories in major print media. Certainly, this is one leg of the PR stool but it ignores the importance of a creative, open and on-going conversation between source and audience.

Marketers today face a revolution in communications, a near-perfect storm in changing style and channels. Consumers with their personal brands are battering down the walls of the old communications regime, while PR, if it is to prosper, must find courage to lead client companies into the promised land where every company is a media company and everyone is a marketer -- but that's a subject for another day.

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3 comments about "PR Must Lead Way To Promised Land ".
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  1. Devin Davis from G5 Search Marketing, June 25, 2009 at 11:33 a.m.

    "even in light of recent research findings that most executives get their news online, still mandate that PR focus on generating big stories in major print media. Certainly, this is one leg of the PR stool but it ignores the importance of a creative, open and on-going conversation between source and audience." -
    insightful and true - as a journalism student many years ago the phrase 'go to your audience' was repeated to me, over and over. I couldn't agree more...and the audience, these days, is online...

  2. Susan Von Seggern from SvS PR, June 25, 2009 at 12:56 p.m.

    After 3 years running PR at a large retail site where we supported the brand with self generated content including a blog, a magazine style site, viral videos and off-line branded entertainment extensions I couldn't agree more that PR needs to get on board with creating or maximizing this content. It's great for natural search and therefore site traffic which leads to sales.

    Now that I am consulting I always recommend that clients include self-generated content if they aren't already. Or increase it if they are. With the tools available today it's so easy to help clients blog, and use photo and video effectively. Additionally it's helpful to see press releases as approved content that can be used whole or broken up into blog posts, tweets, news stories on affiliated content sites, etc.

    Big hits in top print, TV, online or other MSM media are part of the self generated mix too. Great coverage can be linked or re-purposed in blogs or on youtube, leading to an echo effect that maximizes the credibility MSM coverage creates. Even niche coverage benefits from being put in the blog echo chamber, especially if the niche has a large blog community.

    Todays PR pros must maximize their own news and see coverage as more news to generate from, not an end all if PR is to continue to be seen as an effective transmitter of brand value.

  3. David Vossbrink from Retired, June 26, 2009 at 5:09 p.m.

    Way back in the 1960s, Kaiser Aluminum produced a remarkable magazine, "Kaiser Aluminum News," that did far more than talk about the aluminum industry. Under the leadership of editor Don Fabun and designer Bob Conover, it was decades ahead of "Colors" and "Design Mind" covering a wide range of social and creative issues. It became the foundation of the book "The Dynamics of Change" and Kaiser-produced film "Why Man Creates," which I expect remain relevant today.

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