Surviving and thriving as influence evolves

The craft of PR is under attack. Massive digital change, new delivery methods, viral publishing and audience fragmentation challenge our very existence.

The craft of PR is under attack. Massive digital change, new delivery methods, viral publishing and audience fragmentation challenge our very existence. To survive, and thrive, our industry must rise to the occasion. Transparent action, authentic relationships, and future focus are more important than ever.

Today's increasingly sophisticated audiences demand unshakeable integrity and innovative solutions. As an industry, we must insist on no more paid blog posts, comments, or “astroturfing.” We must be transparent about the content we create and the content platforms we manage. We cannot endorse inauthentic social media campaigns that shamelessly promote products or brands. These Wild West antics taint our profession and have been partially responsible for prompting the Federal Trade Commission to set new online advertising transparency rules. What's needed now is a roadmap that outlines how to compete in today's multichannel communications landscape.

Embarking on this journey requires shifting a mindset that has powered the industry for more than half a century. Established principles and ethics vetted through PRSA and Council of Public Relations Firms have gotten us far, and now also include the thinking of organizations such as WOMMA (Word of Mouth Marketing Association), whose progressive inclusion of social media and online best practices in its ethics code is a welcome addition to a communications environment that is evolving at Internet speed. In addition, its Living Ethics blog facilitates discussion by members in full transparency—a superb example of how to evolve influence.

Utilizing the full arsenal of new technology and embracing behavior-based tactics updated for the digital age is the opportunity before us. A recent Waggener Edstrom (WE) study highlights this perspective. The study showed blogs to be the most effective content distribution vehicles for announcements across IP/Interoperability topics, contributing to 98.5% average message pick-up.

Tackling today's communications challenges require an ecosystem of tools, content, relationships, disciplines, and innovation. WE's efforts in this regard have prompted us to craft our “Influence Manifesto,” a vision for navigating the changing communications landscape. This kind of innovative thinking into what's happening now and how we must leap forward is our collective call to action.

Rather than lose the fight to digital cowboys who rush to make a quick dollar instead of providing real business value, let's get serious about change. Let's define best practices for success as leaders in this evolving influence environment. We tried to do this in our manifesto's “Thriving During a Communications Cataclysm” paper, which outlines four tiers to build on: 1) Make content king; 2) Measure results; 3) Understand and listen to your audience; and 4) Engage everywhere.

Our industry, and profession, has much to gain by establishing a strong voice on the Internet. Today's call is to transplant “one-to-one” relationships with “many-to-many” experiences. Influence is no longer the purview of traditional communicators; it is anyone's game. Let's make sure we evolve enough to not only stay in it, but to help define its future.

Corey duBrowa is Waggener Edstrom's president, account services, Americas

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