Nimble style is now comms' focus

In the old way the game was played, brands spent millions talking to consumers through traditional ads. Often as an afterthought, the smart ones put some resources against creating a presence in the editorial media.

In the old way the game was played, brands spent millions talking to consumers through traditional ads. Often as an afterthought, the smart ones put some resources against creating a presence in the editorial media. A select few, who realized that their employees actually were their brand, put resources against getting them aligned with the brand's mission and culture.

The old way the "new media game" was played was very much the same, except brands added Web sites, put some resources against getting those Web sites talked about in the editorial media, and mandated staffers to go online for HR services and e-learning.

Today, it's a whole new game -an asynchronous game. The media world is rapidly heading towards full integration; the consumer is in control; and the employees are asking, "What's in it for me?"

As the line between ad and editorial continues to blur, and as brands struggle to manage not only outgoing consumer messaging but incoming consumer messages, PR agencies are in a unique position to add value.

A dialogue about media today is, by definition, a conversation about interactivity: brands interacting with consumers, consumers interacting with brands and with other consumers, and employees interacting with each other and with consumers. In this environment, message control takes on a new meaning. "Push" media are giving way to "pull" or amorphous media, and the ability of a brand to have some say in the outcome of all this interactivity - and its own future - is increasingly falling to technologically savvy PR firms.

Traditional ad agencies and HR departments have often mounted their soapboxes to address their constituencies. Media agencies addressed the media-control opportunity, but, until recently, left the creative component behind.

PR firms, on the other hand, have always been - and are now more than ever - platform agnostic. Massive ad campaigns, corporate communications, and e-learning initiatives can look like battleships in the asynchronous media world we live in today. Sometimes, existing for their own sake or rolled out at the snail's pace of many large organizations, these programs aren't able to respond or react, only to roll like a large snowball down a lengthy slope.

Understanding the information streams coursing around brands, innovative PR management can anticipate and respond to consumer and employee sentiment nimbly and intelligently.

The key for PR firms is to remain platform agnostic, staying focused on strategic brand stewardship. Agencies that amaze themselves with their ability to execute this or that tactic in the new media paradigm risk digging themselves into the same hole of platform commitment that prevented other potential brand stewards from keeping pace in Brand Image 2.0.

Scott Randall is president of BrandGames, a NY-based comms company specializing in employer-branding through games, simulations, and Virtual Worlds.

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