Four media experts explore the changing relationsh
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Four media experts explore the changing relationsh

Paul Holmes

We were delighted to have prominent blogger, media and communications expert Tom Foremski as one of the panelists at our first Global Public Relations Summit, and even more delighted that he managed to get a column out of what he witnessed there. He doesn’t entirely approve of the term “brand journalism,” which came up quite a bit over the course of two-and-a-half days: “My problem is with the term not with the changes in PR and communications. I prefer words to be used accurately while many in PR tend to use words to promote and market. I prefer the term corporate media.” But he does see a major role for public relations people in producing original content: “I think corporate media could win a Pulitzer prize if done right. And I believe it will happen—I'd like to help make that happen.” As usual, the entire column is worth reading. To illustrate how difficult it is for corporate communicators to lose control, The Wall Street Journal’s Alexandra Samuel warns that “a growing number of professionals are using social media to build a personal, public identity—a brand of their own—based on their work.” She calls them “co-branded employees” and suggests that “employers need to start preparing for the ever-greater challenges they pose for managers, co-workers and companies. Their activities can either complement a company's own brand image or clash with it.” In a longish, thoughtful article, she explores the challenges in a sensible, balanced way. Meanwhile, at the UK’s Independent, media editor Ian Burrell says that PR people now outnumber journalists—and he’s not pleased. “The scales of power have shifted,” he says. “Any big story now invariably develops into a credibility contest between the reporter and the communications team of the organisation under fire, with social media becoming a battlefield of damage limitation.” But I think Burrell is mistaken when he suggests that “internal communications has been one of the big growth areas of modern PR, ensuring staff are on message…. Whistleblowers know they can often be traced by electronic means…. The control of the flow of information is everywhere… the employer's official line has become ingrained.” I believe the opposite is true. PR people have lost control of the message—and the best of them recognize that “control” is not only impossible in a social media age; it’s counterproductive, because it reduces authenticity. Financial Times media editor Andrew Edgcliffe seems somewhat more sanguine about the changing ratio of PR people to journalists, but is pretty cynical about the quality of “journalistic” content being produced by corporate communicators. “Producing readable, watchable corporate content will not be easy,” he warns. “It will also require much closer integration of advertising, digital marketing, PR and investor relations. But search and social media trends suggest corporate content will only grow. Whether media outlets like it or not, every company will have to become a content company.”        
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