Published On: Sat, Jul 13th, 2013

‘All PR is Online’ White Paper

All PR is OnlineKeene Communications recently published a White Paper featuring the abstract for the forthcoming third edition of Online Public Relations; the hugely popular book by Professor David Phillips FCIPR and Philip Young. Having taken the time to digest the key arguments, I think it’s fair to say this was more an abstract than a White Paper, but that’s beside the point.

The foreword by Simon Quarendon, MD of Keene tees things up by stating that ‘big data’, ‘the semantic web’ and the ‘internet of things’ are not typically associated with public relations (PR), but this is going to change. Readers of SWT, will know how intrigued I am with big data and the potential it has to transform the way we plan communications activity – and much, much more besides, so I was delighted when Michael White got in touch.

‘All PR is Online’ [WHITE PAPER] by Ben Cotton

The section which first caught my attention discussed how mobile phones have evolved from simple devices used to make calls and send texts, to powerful computers which let us search for information, take photos and monitor our health, as well as pay for goods and services. Phillips and Young make the important point that these changes are happening too quickly for many communication practitioners, and dare I say it, academics too.

This made me reflect upon my time as a PR student between 2004-08, a period where the Internet was just beginning to transform the way we communicate. Having worked in an academic setting after graduation, I appreciate just how difficult it is for universities to create a syllabus based on an area that is changing so rapidly.

But just because something is difficult, doesn’t mean it should not be attempted. Adapting and dealing with change is both inevitable and constant. Indeed, the key theme emerging from the abstract is that the industry must embrace change.

From my experience in industry and academia I have come across two types of people; those which are willing to adapt and learn new skills, and those which are not. As a result of this I see PR becoming something of a two-tier industry, with those that pedal tactical publicity in tier-one and tier-two being characterised by a data-driven and strategic approach with digital at its core. If the White Paper is anything to go by, the book will tell  us all about why you should be tier-two.

The abstract also focuses on established communication models and looks at mass communication vs. micro communication, as well as drawing attention to the significant grey area in-between. I think this area warrants further investigation, particularly as we’ve now entered the era of what I’d describe as one-to-one-to-many communication e.g. when an organisation responds publicly to an individual online, they are initially responding one-to-one, but the message may be seen by the many, who in turn may comment.

Throughout the article the authors alludes to what my former employer, Edelman Digital term ‘Social Intelligence Auditing’. In simpler terms, there’s a huge volume of data ready to be mined to help you make better choices and it would be remiss to overlook it.

The ‘PR agencies must adapt or die’ argument is nothing new, but what I like about the abstract is that it promises to explore the areas of big data, the semantic web and internet of things, from a PR, rather than technological or IT perspective.

I’m a firm believer that news skills are required for the modern day PR and digital has to be right at the heart. What I like about Professor David Phillips and Philip Young’s  previous work is that they are willing to go out on a limb and say how they think the future will look and what it means for our industry. Whilst I don’t agree with everything the pair have written, they deserve praise for at least starting the conversation.

The White Paper offers a fascinating glimpse into how the Internet could transform the way public relations activity is undertaken in the future – and in doing so, raises many important questions. As an industry are we equipped to deal with this change? What new skills need to be developed? Will this broaden the scope of PR? I’m hopeful the book will offer some much needed answers.

About the Author

- Marketing Manager with a passion for inbound at HubSpot, Founder of Growth Hack Talks, Blogger at and Chief Quaffer at .

Displaying 2 Comments
Have Your Say
  1. Ben, as always, well on the ball.
    Last week, the Fellows of the CIPR met for their annual dinner. A lot of amazement about what social media has done to PR.
    Four hours later drinks on the street in Covent Garden with my nephew, a director of a think tank. We agreed that a great divide is opening up between the people of the digitised world and the rest.
    As decision making becomes automated, the nature of wealth creation has to and will change.
    This will be a big development for PR and I don’t think it is all that far away.

  2. Paul Wooding says:

    “As a result of this I see PR becoming something of a two-tier industry, with those that pedal tactical publicity in tier-one and tier-two being characterised by a data-driven and strategic approach with digital at its core.”

    Spot on Ben. In fact, it’s already happening. There are many agencies and freelancers who make a very good living out of servicing the tactical need (belief?) for publicity that has little business thinking behind it, other than all news is good news (and that’s a decent rationale in itself). However, bigger, smarter firms are no longer prepared to accept the spurious PR measurement models for media coverage and are looking for more strategic thinking and execution of PR campaigns to deliver to hard business metrics and goals. This is what will drive the next era of PR. Big data has levelled the playing field for PR and size is starting to matter less. Scale is still important especially for multi-region campaigns but again, many firms are realising that trying to contain activities and campaigns to geographic parameters is pointless and potentially counter productive. It’s a really interesting time to be in PR but equally, we need to be on the ball to adapt to change. I still find it amazing that PR practioneers are shocked at the impact social media has had on their worlds. There was even one comment thread on the CIPR LinkedIn group that suggested we were obsessing about it too much and overtstating its impact. Social media has fundamentally changed how brand and customers engage and interact. As PRs we either accept that and grow or we remain tactical and survive (for now)

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