Over the last few months I’ve been involved in a fair amount of navel gazing and talking to colleagues, friends and clients about quite what it is I do. The navel gazing has involved lots of reading around the internet of mainstream media articles, research reports, blog posts and presentations as well as brainstorming sessions and chats with people I trust and respect.
And the conclusion of all this navel gazing? I do pretty much the same today as I did more than 20 years ago when I started my first job as an account executive in the public relations division of an integrated marcoms agency (see integration isn’t even new). I’m still a public relations corporate communications professional, but now with 21+ years experience and new expertise. And I’m happy with that.
What I definitely don’t want to be is an online PR expert, or a social media expert or a digital content expert or anything similar. They are all far too narrow a discipline. It’s impossible to provide a client with sensible PR or corporate communications counsel if all you can legitimately talk about is social media, digital or online PR. It is equally ridiculous to think you can provide a client with intelligent corporate communications or public relations counsel if you can’t do online PR and social media to the same level of ability you can with other channels and/or stakeholder groups.
It’s partially about seniority and experience. To provide good public relations counsel you’ve got to be a generalist. You’ve got to understand the full spectrum of corporate communications and all of the tools and channels at your disposal. How else would know when it is appropriate to do the right thing? For the actual implementation you can call upon a specialist, but even then you’ve got to know a lot about the specialism in order to maximise its potential.
David Philips made a very perceptive comment on my post about ‘Who owns social media?’:
Stuart, I think it is time to put ‘the internet’ and ‘social media’ out to grass.
When you send a birthday card or wrap a present you don’t think much about the nature of paper only what is on it. Now its time to treat ‘the internet’ and ‘social media’ in the same way.
He’s absolutely right. We’re so far beyond the time when we should be treating ‘internet’, ‘social media’ and ‘digital’ as something that’s new, different or scary. It’s just part and parcel of what we all should be doing as corporate communications or public relations professionals. But the problem is that’s still not the way too many people in the PR industry perceive it.
Unfortunately it is very often PR people who are to blame for this sad state of affairs. Their fear, uncertainty and doubt about online PR means they treat it separately and refuse to update their skills beyond what they are already comfortable with. In 2011 it’s as ridiculous as a PR person thinking they can stick with just knowing about newspapers and can safely ignore radio and television, as broadcast is far too new fangled and specialist.
But as a corporate communications and public relations consultant the difficulty is that you’ve got to sell yourself to clients. That’s what pays the bills and pays the salaries of the fantastic people that work for me at Wolfstar Consultancy. If clients think they need to retain an online PR agency or hire a social media agency then that’s what we’ve got to sell. That’s how you get your foot in the door. Once we’re appointed and providing real strategic counsel then clients trust you to help them understand that online PR and social media actually permeates everything they do and isn’t a separate discipline at all. But to get to that stage you’ve frequently got to wear your principles lightly in order to sell them what they think they want.
What I’d like to think that I, and Wolfstar Consultancy, can offer is an approach to corporate communications and public relations that is steeped in real communications experience, but that truly understands and has real experience of really integrating social media and the internet into traditional public relations. That’s not just about having used blogs, Facebook and Twitter, read lots of blogs and case studies, or attending a few conferences. It’s about having really done it. Real experience over a substantial number of years of making online PR and social media work as part of an overall corporate communications and public relations strategy. And just as important is also having experienced what doesn’t work.
That’s why I’d want to be recognised as a public relations thought leader and not a social media thought leader.