Is it really the digital frontier, PR 2.0 or just plain old public relations?

In my last post I said I was going to be venturing out into the warm spring air to attend a PR event at Leeds Metropolitan University in my role as social media coordinator for the CIPR.

The speaker booked to explain the world of digital communications was Rob Brown formally of Mccann Erickson and now Managing Director for Manchester based Staniforth PR.

I liked Rob, he had an interesting and amusing take on the way digital communications has changed how PR practitioners go about their duties. I liked his amusing YouTube videos and he also had some pretty interesting anecdotes.

In his presentation he made a point of saying: “Control has now been devolved” and he then took us through a number of slides on how we (PR practitioners) have traditionally controlled messages until we sent them to the journalist via our news releases etc. He then said it’s up to the journalist to run the story the way he wants in his words “this is traditionally when we released control”.

Now this is interesting, but my question is what about when people actually read that article? What about the many other factors that effect a brand? We don’t always have control of them as a brand has a life of its own. Presumably the reader of the article then spoke to another person and discussed it passing on their own views and take on things. So did we ever really ever have control anyway? Personally, I don’t think so, but I can see what he is saying.

The consumer or public you relate to has always had a mind of their own, it’s just now with the tools of social media everyone can actually here their view whether they agree or disagree.

Rob then said something which worried me and I quote: “Your approach to bloggers should be the same as the traditional approach to journalists.” Now if with this he meant research your bloggers carefully read their blogs and then get involved in conversations – I would agree with him. However, I did get the distinct feeling people were being mislead into thinking they should start sending their news releases to bloggers.

Richard Bailey, a well known academic PR blogger picked him up on this at the end too and we both tried to make the point that blogger relations is very different to media relations.

Personally, I like to call blogger relations ‘The New Wild West’ because if you get it right, often you won’t hear anything, but if you get it wrong, people have their fingers dangling above their pistols ready to shoot you right in the back.

He also then quoted someone whose name I forget (apologies) by saying: “PR is about disseminating content” he agreed with this and I do to. Public relations has always been and it always will be about content. The only things which have changed are the tools we now use. When I started out in PR, we used hard versions of PR Planner, fax machines and finished our day by filling envelopes with our latest news releases hoping there wasn’t a typo in there somewhere.

The next thing that occurred in the presentation was rather bizarre, he asked the audience if anyone was from Wolfstar to which I and my colleague Beth Kay put our hands up bemused. He proceeded to ask the room if anyone had heard of Stuart Bruce and two thirds of the room put their hands up. I was interested now and was genuinely wondering what he was going to say.

He brought up a slide on PR 2.0 and a quote from my managing director about how PR 2.0 doesn’t exist and that it’s a phrase that doesn’t mean anything. Rob said he agreed with him up to a certain point (maybe he said this because we were in attendance I don’t know) but felt PR 2.0 is a useful term which described it well.

Now Stuart hired me because I am my own man and I often disagree with him on several matters which if you ask him is what he prefers. However, on this issue I am not really that bothered one way or the other. I think PR 2.0 is a label used by some good digital communicators, some of which I follow on Twitter and their blogs James Warren and Brian Sollis to name a couple.

However, I think Rob actually agrees with Stuart as his whole presentation seemed to suggest he did. Stuart was saying that PR 2.0 doesn’t mean anything because it’s just the Web 2.0 tools which we are using as channels for public relations it doesn’t mean PR has moved on significantly or developed into a new phase like the Internet has.

Yes there is no doubt that social media has changed our industry and those working in this area are certainly using some new found skills when creating interesting content but I don’t think it’s any different from a practitioner that works in the healthcare sector and they learn new practices and how to relate to their public within the heavy regulatory requirements.

I don’t think Rob does have a blog, but he did say that his company Staniforth PR has one but they don’t disclose they have it as they are “worried it will lose its credibility”. Hmm, as a social media enthusiast this worried me. In the world of social media the first rule you should stick to is transparency and you should always disclose it when you are writing for a blog. I know this is something Simon Collister feels very strongly about having posted about it on his blog recently.

Here I was sat at a lecture with someone openly admitting they were not disclosing themselves writing for a blog. My advice for what it’s worth would be to disclose this site immediately as it was in the public domain anyway the minute Rob talked about it.

All in all it was an interesting evening and I liked some of Rob’s humour and anecdotes which made the lecture entertaining. However, personally I think to advise people on how to interact in social media you need to be doing it on  a daily basis like David Brain and Richard Edelman – I could go on. After all social media is exactly what it says on the tin social, and if you aren’t being social you are just treating it as as standard media and unfortunately it’s just not the same!

Posted By Chris Norton

Chris is listed in the world's top 30 PR bloggers and a regular conference speaker on crisis management and social media marketing. He is also co-author of Share This Too and lectures on digital communications at Leeds Metropolitan University.


Ben Cotton

Having also been at the lecture I found it insightful in some respects, yet there was a sense of ambiguity which left many questions unanswered. I suppose this is to be expected as the topic is relatively new, with the main schools of thought still being established.
Rob himself made several interesting points, however I am well versed in both arguments and have found myself coming round to the Wolfstar idea e.g. a major revolution has not happened in the comms industry, PRO’s are still thinking in the same way, however it is the web 2.0 tools which have evolved.
P.S. I also found Rob’s admission about his own blog bizarre.

Mark Hanson

I approach this with caution as Rob is my boss but the blog discloses that its contributors work for Staniforth and any posts that relate to clients or advice we give always references Staniforth.
However it is not branded with flashing lights as it is the views and experiences of two or three individuals, not Staniforth as a brand or its management.
Perhaps this needs tweaking further but its not a million miles away from the blogs of Simon Collister, James Warren et al.

Chris Norton

@Ben Cotton – thanks for your comments. Sorry I haven’t replied sooner I have been out of the country for a couple of weeks. The lecture was insightful but the blog comment was strange but I think that has now been answered by Rob’s colleague Mark.
@Mark Hanson – thanks for replying to the post. You have certainly shed some light on the subject and I can’t see anything with the way this blog is disclosed at all. I think I will read between the lines and take it that Rob just misunderstood the way that you published it on the internet. I had already seen this one and due to the way he addressed it I thought he meant a completely different one. Thanks

Rob Brown

Firstly I’m flattered Chris that you’ve devoted so much space to the lecture but a couple of points clearly didn’t come across as I’d intended. You can’t say that PR 2.0 (or whatever we call it) is the same as traditional PR and then say that dealing with bloggers is a whole new game. I think dealing with some bloggers is very similar to dealing with journalists (and I think sending journalists press releases is often a waste of time).
For the record, I think PR 2.0 is a useful term but not essential, I believe that many of the rules have fundamentally changed and I also believe that traditional PR skills are useful in the new environment (phew!).
I think we are there on the Staniforth blog – I didn’t intend to convey that the blog was in any way clandestine – it’s just in my opinion it could be more overtly ‘Staniforth’ – something we continue to debate at the agency. Good blog by the way.

Chris Norton

@Rob Brown Thanks for sharing your comments much appreciated. I think sending news releases to journalists can be pointless in some instances. I know Charles Arhtur for instance openly refuses to be pitched too these days but there are many ways to reach people using social media tools we all have such as Twitter.
Twitter is a great tool for creating a relationship with someone although some people seem to just be using it to get people to follow them and don’t engage back which I think misses the point.
I don’t think a blog has to be overtly branded but like you say everyone has a different view which I’m sure will keep you guys debating the issue for a while.

Rob Brown

@Chris. The blog now has “powered by Staniforth\” on the front page and I think it is all the better for it.

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