Orson Welles, as a celebrity spokesman, extolled in 1970's commercials for Paul Masson vineyards, "We will sell no wine before its time!"
Think what you will about product accuracy, but the infamous slogan is a classic metaphor for an idea whose time has come. For communicators, two ideas have arrived.
First, media relations as the cornerstone of strategic communications is dead. Two, society and the global marketplace are reinventing communications to the point where a name change may be warranted.
For years, media relations and communications were interchangeable terms and jobs. Press relationships and positive news clips were the hallmarks of a job well done. Journalists routinely "jumped the fence" to become PR leaders. No more.
Traditional media are falling short as the dominant source to inform and persuade.
Edelman's Trust Barometer finds that friends, family, and colleagues are more credible than TV news and radio. The majority of people watching and reading the news are well over the age of 50. A recent Bolt Media survey uncovered revealing facts among people aged 12 to 34: First, only one in four could name all four major broadcast networks. In addition, 84% surf the Internet in their free time. And the five most-watched networks among that age group are Fox, Comedy Central, ABC, MTV, and the Cartoon Network.
The troubles of print media outlets are well-documented and well-known. Think forward just 20 years when today's 12- to 34-year-olds will be running businesses and governments. Needing a "filter" (as the President calls the media) is becoming less relevant.
Please don't misunderstand. The media have a crucial role. We need balanced and free journalism to keep society balanced and free. PR leaders must have journalistic skills, understand the media, and convey this information. The reason for the shift in communications jobs isn't extinction, it's evolution.
Dr. Carl Botan, communications professor at George Mason University, explains that the profession has simply evolved beyond its journalistic roots. With vast amounts of information available to anyone anytime, global competition, increasingly activist governments and citizens, savvier consumers, and the declining influence of traditional media, effective communications has become more diversified and sophisticated.
The job of today's strategic communicator is to persuade and inform across cultures, generations, and borders. It is to directly contribute to an organizations' bottom-line goals. How it's done has changed.
Top communicators need to stay cutting edge with techniques and tools. They also need to add organizational management, finance/accounting, target marketing, message research and development, global issues management, and human resources skills to their arsenal. It's more market relations than media relations. The most valued communicators are refocusing and repackaging their work. As Martha Stewart used to say, that's a good thing.
Lisa Davis is a consultant and former communications director for AARP. Each month, she'll look at a different aspect of counseling senior management from an in-house viewpoint. If you have any comments or suggestions, e-mail her at email@example.com.