The new “business normal” spawned by the Web contains both promise and peril, continuous change, and a significant opportunity for the emergence of “best of breed” PR pros who understand this new landscape and can deal with the increasing democratization of information.
There is now an urgent role for people like us to interpret, create, and guide multilateral conversations; provide a bridge to comprehension and order; and monitor and connect to the opinions of an increasingly open, mobile, and participative public.
In Walter Lippmann's 1922 Public Opinion, he described, “Perceptions that led to opinions that were the basis of behavior and actions.” But back then, opinions didn't travel very fast. They usually stayed within a limited orbit of 10 to 20 people.
Not only does everyone have an opinion today, but these opinions are also supercharged in velocity, intensity, and frequency by the Internet. Now, everyone's a journalist – writing an editorial or calling for action. We are living in an age of “Digital Actualization,” where hitting the enter key can instantly organize a national “Tax Day Tea Party,” or send tens of thousands of people for a 31 cent scoop of ice cream at Baskin Robbins.
Three interesting realities have emerged regarding how the Internet has changed our game:
PR increases its value when there's change or pain; we're in an era of both.
The transparency of the Internet places a significantly higher premium on information (PR) rather than propaganda (advertising).
Social media puts the “public” back in PR, and is morphing control of the communications dynamic.
And the most compelling question for everyone in PR should be, “How can I become an effective ‘player' in today's two-dimensional PR landscape?”
For the new “Web Age,” there are five traits that players must aspire to:
Curiosity – elevate your hunger for news and keep it at a high level.
Empathy – see every story from both sides of the aisle, and anticipate whenever possible.
Versatility – play in both traditional and nontraditional media.
Culturally dexterous – be facile across and up/down generational cohorts.
Vigilance – expect the unexpected and adopt a 360-degree, 24/7 radar system.
Our roles in the world of mass and micro communications couldn't be more urgent, and the opportunity has never been better to “drive the train.” Enterprises of all sizes and shapes need us for not only holistic solutions to customer connectivity, reputation, and sales, but also the nurturing and channeling of highly active individual opinions and attitudes. These elements can lead to success or failure of an enterprise, candidate, brand, or new product or service.
The stakes, relevance, and rewards of our profession have never been greater.
Mike Greece is MD of Padilla Speer Beardsley New York