New media requires new approach

On the Internet, everyone can hear you scream. Everyone has a voice - at least in theory - and more and more of us are determined to use it.

On the Internet, everyone can hear you scream. Everyone has a voice - at least in theory - and more and more of us are determined to use it.

An unfortunate side effect of this is that trawling through new-media outlets can easily give the impression that success is about being shrill as much as it is about generating valuable and engaging content.

This is not to say that for new-media influencers - especially bloggers - there isn't a lot to scream about. There is. And the most frustrating aspect of much of the criticism leveled at PR in particular is that it's so... obvious.

Whether it's Nick Douglas on Valleywag telling anyone who will listen that their "flack might make me hate your company," or Strumpette railing against the "lying profession," we should be concerned not just by the extent of the criticism, but also because it is the same criticism we've always faced. We obfuscate, we dissemble, we craft and push bad pitches, and we spend as much time hiding certain stories as we do promoting others.

Just a few years ago, the rise of new media and the decline of traditional media were seen as the panacea for all the ills of the PR industry. It was predicted that a new era of direct dialogue, increased transparency, and improved communication would see PR become the pre-eminent communications vehicle for organizations of all types.

Yet while many companies and agencies have jumped into the new-media pool and achieved marked success, most of our efforts seem little more than old media tactics imposed onto a new landscape. Phil Gomes recently talked about pitches he receives on his blog, noting that "I've always promised myself that, when I get a good one, that I'd reward it with a post. Still waiting."

That's just sad. Clearly, as an industry we have yet to fully engage with the level of change required to succeed in the new reality of new media.

For too long we've abdicated responsibility for dialogue to the media, putting forth an inordinate amount of energy to secure coverage in TV, radio, and print. Now, when faced with the opportunity to get back to basics and talk directly with our audiences, we've been found wanting. Where are the transparency, openness, and integrity that the Internet was supposed to generate in our industry?

I still think our industry's future is full of positive possibility. The beauty of new media is that you can address mistakes and reinvent yourself if you're willing. So the real question is: Are we willing?

Can we ditch the base publicist and press agentry behaviors that have stymied us? Do we have the commitment, the skills, and the determination to realize the potential power that exists across the interactive landscape?

While it can seem as if bloggers and others are fed up with PR people, in reality they're fed up with our approach. Sure, many new-media influencers scream at us, but they also tell us what they want.

All we have to do is listen, really listen.

Finbarr O'Sullivan is director of PR at Brownstein Group in Philadelphia.

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