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Last week I heard an outrageous story: A college doesn’t receive coverage in its local newspaper as the man in charge has a grudge against it. The only way they get mentioned is by buying advertising. On the one hand I’m outraged by this, but on the other, sadly, it doesn’t surprise me. History is littered with examples of news or opinion being limited by those controlling the media.

Luckily, we now have social media. Now we can interact directly with our constituents, now we can send our messages without anybody but the intended recipient filtering them, now we are in charge of all misunderstandings, now we can feedback and feedforward. Excellent. Being in control of one’s own destiny is the best feeling in the world.

Once again social media alters the media landscape and accelerates the need for reinvention. Not only for the media per se, but also to its cousin, the Public Relation Professional.

Here comes the disclaimer: There are several PR practitioners I have worked with that I can only recommend, some practitioners that I admire: both understand the power of communication and influence.

But there are even more PR agencies that stick with the usual approach of survey, press release, sell-in, celebration of being mentioned, press clipping, doubtful value attribution. These old ways have lost effectiveness – and I doubt that they were ever effective in the first way.

The idea that people will sit in a pub discussing the latest survey results and mentioning and remembering the brand is unbelievable and – in my experience – never stacks up.

I remember the time when a PR told me that she brainstormed with a journalist articles he would be interested in writing, so that we could provide him with the relevant information.

Their network of and relationship with journalists says more about the standard of journalism than the effectiveness of a PR agency.

These three examples highlight the dilemma of PR – they are too closely linked to the journalists and the media outlets, too far removed from the individual and far too clueless about impact & value to a brand.  It ultimately results in irrelevance.

Once again we can learn from politicians: Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, as an example, always understood that the viewer/listener/reader, the individual, is much more important than the journalist asking the questions.

Social Media is about the individual – direct communication and engagement, delivered by every brand citizen, encompassing every single response, via every single email sent, phone call made and presentation given. So PR becomes much more about creating and directing communication messages in general and less about clippings and coverage. Instead of the traditional PR method, companies are better off in investing time into finding the appropriate communication positioning and ensuring its consistent yet differentiated delivery.

Painting by Clay Vajgrt

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