The debate is over. Social media has transformed the media landscape and practice of PR. Brands and agencies that don't integrate social media into their marketing and communications programs will be left in the dust.
There's a lot of hype about Facebook and Twitter, but those platforms are simply interactive wire services. In thinking about what's next for PR, the industry should chart a proactive course based on deeper understanding of client needs. During the next decade it would be nice if PR could play a leadership role, rather than be the cart perennially led by the advertising horse.
There are two critical challenges/opportunities facing the PR profession - if we get these right, PR just might enter a Golden Age.
First, our clients should be demanding and we should deliver programming that creates real change – change that earns PR a seat at the management table. Most social media usage to date has been very tactical. But the true value-add is as an open platform for collaboration and sharing ideas across organizations and with external stakeholders.
Management consulting firms such as McKinsey and Monitor Group enjoy a seat at the table because they contribute to their clients at a higher strategic level. They look at the big picture and help clients capitalize on changes in the competitive, political, social or economic environment. I'm not suggesting PR agencies recast themselves as management consultancies. However, we have much to learn from that industry. Clearly, PR's expertise is communications and the influence of opinion and action through content. We need a more consultative approach and a much better balance between strategy and tactical execution.
The second area of opportunity/challenge for PR is analytics and measurement. While I applaud the efforts many industry study groups and the Barcelona Principles, it's high time we resolve the matter and start meeting the needs of our clients. Management consultants have long excelled at using data to inform strategy. Given recent advances in technology, there is no reason why PR cannot do the same.
The tools aren't perfect, but they're good enough for us to observe overall trends and develop insights that provide the foundation of strategy. The advertising industry has successfully done this for years in the field of consumer research. PR has the unique opportunity to do so for influencers.
New tools such as Sysomos and Radian6 make it possible to understand the perceptions and behaviors of journalists, bloggers, analysts, and key opinion leaders. It would be great for the PR industry to come up with a universal Influencer Index and engage more effectively. This would be far more useful than measuring Facebook likes and Twitter followers.
PR can learn a lot from management consultancies and advertising and create a unique path that does a better job of developing our people and serving our clients. I am continually impressed by the enthusiasm and intelligence of young people about to enter our profession. It's up to us baby boomer craftspeople to ensure the millennial generation knows how to use data and think strategically.
If that happens, PR will indeed earn its long-desired seat at the management table and our industry will flourish for another 100 years.
Larry Weber is chairman and CEO of Racepoint Group.