Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Does PR Matter? Yes, if PR Means Relating to the Public

Posted this last night on eastwikkers

Since the beginning of the year, an interesting conversation has erupted about whether PR agencies have much of a future, now that more and more businesses are thinking about going DIY. The chief instigators of this conversation are new compadre Tom Foremski, and very new compadre Shel Israel, who I recently shared a stage with at a local VC firm.

It reminds me of the great and controversial thought piece that Nicholas Carr published a couple of years ago called "IT Doesn't Matter." In that piece, Carr argued that because IT has become a commodity in the corporate marketplace, no company can really enjoy any strategic advantage by using it; it might have been a differentiator for a few businesses years ago, but today it doesn't make a strategic difference for any company. What Carr didn't anticipate -- what he couldn't predict -- was the profound transformation that the software industry was about to undergo. He may have had the right message for the right time, but in this Web 2.0 world, user-centric world, we're not talking about about doom and demolition anymore. We're talking about the boom and building, and, yes, the kind of innovation for business that is making IT matter all over again.

IT was pronounced dead too early. It was undergoing a metamorphosis and Carr just happened to catch this butterfly in its dormant phase. The DNA for the user-centric software world was already there (lots of talk about Web services, open standards, Web-enabled applications), but few people knew what to make of them.

It looks like the PR industry is undergoing its own metamorphosis. And to the question "does PR matter," the answer has to be yes because as recent trends like blogging show, relating to the public -- something that most of us have never had to do, and that a few of us have forgotten how -- matters more today than ever. And teaching your clients to use blogs and wikis will not put you out of a job. It's not the tool that makes someone a good PR pro, but the social intelligence that's required to connect with the public at a time when so many things compete for attention. Great PR people have this intelligence, in abundance, and there will be plenty of work for them -- client-side and agency-side -- now that we are getting our priorities straight.

The only question is, what will happen to PR pros who fail to adjust to the new reality, and who fail to appreciate that the name of our profession, for the first time in history, may describe what we actually do. And it will only be a short time before the new PR becomes a commodity. As Carr's analysis of the IT industry suggests, it really hurts to be so late to the game.

To be fair to Tom and Shel, they agree that there's hope for the industry, and their brave challenge is helping to destroy the foundations of the world that must go away so we can begin building the new one. We'll be posting a longer piece on this subject. Hope you'll stay tuned.

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