It would seem slightly ironic that the PR industry needs, essentially, a PR overhaul. But it's true. Many a seasoned practitioner would be quick to admit at times, PR has had an image problem, regularly being confused with its cousin 'spin', which is characterised by tacky red tops and a certain Mr Clifford.
But it's not just spin that has caused confusion around the industry; it would seem that PR's very own practitioners, those who have cut their teeth at a time when newspapers were still big business and posting a press release first class equaled 'hot off the press', have become unsure as to what modern day public relations is. For those 'old school' PR's who are yet to embrace stakeholder activism - social media - and continue to be alienated by blogs, Twitter and the online universe, then the industry is facing an identity crisis.
It can be argued that the first step to giving the PR industry an image overhaul is to redefine what public relations in the 21st century is. For those working in the industry, it is vital that they understand how consumer generated content has radically changed the communication landscape, and what this now means for the day-to-day running of organisations. Adam Lavelle, from the board of Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WMMA) says: "Before the rise of social media, public relations was about trying to manage the message an entity was sharing with its different audiences. Now, PR has to be more about facilitating the ongoing conversation in an always-on world."
Dan Tisch, chairman of the Global Alliance for PR and Communication Management, adds to this: "The role of public relations and corporate communications has shifted from creating content to attempting to influence the content created by others."
Indeed, the rise of social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, MySpace and YouTube have not only brought down the geographical and social barriers in place pre-Internet, but as a medium it has facilitated participatory information sharing, and in doing so, it has been "the enabling mechanism for a communications revolution that is driving significant changes in the dynamics of society." (Phillips and Young, 2009, p3). Thus, it is changing the landscape of PR and marketing as we know it at an astonishing rate - organisations "once had the impression that they had control of what was said and believed about their activities." 'Digital natives', or those who have grown up with and are familiar with the online world, have become accustomed to a new level of transparency, and "operate under the assumption that everything they do will eventually be known online." (Brogan and Smith, 2010)
In the past, when passive consumption through watching TV was the norm, there was no alternative to dealing with PR and marketing. PRO's and marketing executives were able to execute campaigns relatively unchallenged because the channels didn't exist to say otherwise. Now, individuals not only contribute to these conversations, but they run them too, a phenomenon known as commons-based peer production.
For decades, communication has been one-way, top-down, but now the tools exist for many to many, two-way communication, and the PRO's of yesteryear must accept this change and incorporate it into their PR toolkit with gusto, no matter how daunting the prospect may be. Only with this change can PR's image begin to be salvaged.