Our industry is at a crossroads

2013 will be a watershed year. We are still trying to win the wrong arguments and are dangerously exposed elsewhere. PR could enter a period of decline. Four key issues need urgent attention.

Robert Phillips: "We’re trying to win the wrong arguments and are dangerously exposed elsewhere. PR could enter a period of decline."
Robert Phillips: "We’re trying to win the wrong arguments and are dangerously exposed elsewhere. PR could enter a period of decline."

First, a unified outcomes-based measurement system is paramount, adopted as a global standard and endorsed by professional bodies. It must be scientific, scalable and speak to convergence. Media are an anachronistic output. Banish AVE and OTS. Dashboards should quantify four outcomes: increased trust; deeper communities; behavioural change; and commercial success. Failure to act will marginalise PR. Other disciplines will spend bigger and better to get the measurement of these same outcomes right.

Second, accessible, real-time data must drive insight and analysis, for communities and networks – transforming our concept of time and satisfying attention deficit disorder and the instant-gratification society. PR firms should partner with providers, including social networks and brands gathering data. Focusing on the security and privacy implications misses the point: data is in the box seat. 

Third, PR must become expert in organisational design. The shape of the authority pyramid and the speed of influence’s diffusion are interesting, but the shift from elites towards regular people is certain.

Finally, PR must rediscover love of the Idea, building sustainable platforms to deliver compelling, multi-purpose programmes. It’s time to reject the blancmange of ad amplifications, phony half-news stories and clutches of celebrity embarrassments. PR needs more original thinking. Ideas must reconnect with commercial imperatives.

PR has been fighting the wrong arguments: its role within the mix (distracting and irrelevant); the ‘death of spin’ (slain by an open society); engagement versus relations (a battle won). All media are now social, science is ascendant and the internet of things is a mere chip away. Talking about democratisation of conversation or influence isn’t enough.

Robert Phillips is a visiting professor at Cass Business School and former Edelman EMEA president and CEO. He writes at citizenrenaissance.com

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