Lots of people are calling for the reinvention or redefining of PR. PR at its best has always felt to me like a fairly fluid discipline anyway, so I find the calls for a ‘new way’ a bit baffling and restrictive. Why create new boundaries for something that I think defies a watertight definition whatever the textbooks tell you? Why not just try a bit harder and think a bit more freely? Why try to redefine something that can’t really be defined?
It’s insecurity innit? Like most professions, PR has its fair share of critics and dollops of poor practice that conspire to leave the less self-assured feeling that perhaps we should do things differently. I actually think the whole point of PR is to do things differently all the time. Try doing the same thing over and over and over again and see what happens.
PR is about finding a way of casting a fresh light on things, being an engaging advocate (vocally or in writing or in film) and sparking a desired or helpful reaction in the people you are aiming at – or in people that will influence the people you are aiming at. Doing so requires constant appraisal of techniques and the ready embrace of new things. So why this call to reinvent?
I think it boils down to one thing: the PR equation.
On a unitary basis (i.e., by separate activity) the PR equation goes like this: X + Y = maybe. Or perhaps at best (when you get that feeling of near-certainty) X + Y = probably.
This uncertainty, in my view, is the thing that gives rise to all the jargon and the pseudoscience that builds up around PR. Everybody, in their uncertainty, seems to want to have their own patented approach – a different way of doing things. I have spent years trying to map out a three step prescriptive process – or something like that – in the misguided belief that this adds something to the process. I can’t do it because every single situation is different and demands a different methodology – sometimes involving 37 steps, sometimes involving one or two. PR is not a paint by numbers discipline. PR and comms aren’t science, they’re instinct, alchemy and counter-intuitive thought. Anyone who tells you anything else is an utter fibber.
All the expensive sermons about digital redefining what we do, causing us to rethink everything, etc, are all a bit silly. Yes, we’re all interconnected. Yes, we make choices based the opinions of friends, colleagues, family. Yes, we share opinions. Yes, relationships with consumers are now disintermediatied. Yes, the world is now social, conversational, opinionated. Yes, businesses are now porous. And yes, the average person in the UK has used six electronic channels in the last 6 months. Everyone is a digital native. That’s the only difference. Sure, in some senses the difference is profound, but the core demand is the same: be interesting, inviting, engaging, compelling and illuminating.