I was at a holiday party last weekend talking to a group of strangers in bad turtleneck sweaters about college football and a festive Christmas loaf, when somebody asked what I did for a living. After explaining that I work in public relations, a slightly intoxicated rube of a man exclaimed, “Traditional PR is dying before our eyes!”
Nearly spitting out my eggnog, I launched into a spirited 30-minute dialogue with the outspoken salesman – discussing public relations, social media and customer service, and how each relate to consumer brand management. My new holiday friend’s chili was burning white hot over his belief that traditional PR, “for all consumer brands,” is being quickly supplanted by social media and direct-to-consumer engagement and customer service.
My retort was sharp-edged and concise – if PR hasn’t always supported a brand through consumer engagement and customer service, then it was bad PR to begin with. And, social media – albeit a crucial PR tool – is still just one tool in the PR toolbox.
As we refilled our nog and moved into the kitchen, the conversation locked on the relationship between social media and customer service, and the role or “lack of” for public relations professionals in reputation management for consumer brands. I agreed that social media is unquestionably changing the way consumers and brands interact in real time, however, if there was ever a time and a platform for PR to fulfill its mandate to improve brand RELATIONS with the PUBLIC…this is it. I grunted with mild disdain that PR will not be devalued by social media efforts in customer service, but rather act as a planner, facilitator, counselor and tactician across social media efforts in customer service.
As my new friend stuffed his pie hole with meat and cheese from a holiday sausage sampler pack, I did my dandiest to explain that although I understand the excitement and appreciate the fervor associated with the social media Groundswell, it’s a gargantuan misstep to disregard the importance of public relations and a well-rounded communications strategy for consumer brands. PR is about building and managing relationships among target audiences, and for consumer brands there are a diversity of relevant tools used to do this – social media, experiential marketing, grassroots community outreach, traditional media relations, crisis communication, etc. All play a critical role in building and managing relationships and reputation.
Yes, I had a bit of bourbon in my nog and probably needed to be knocked off my PR soapbox at this particular holiday soiree. However, this encounter with the misinformed salesman adversary reinforced my firm belief that all of us working in public relations need to do a better job of educating our employers, co-workers, clients and brand managers that PR and strategic communication means far more than landing a story in the local paper or trade magazine for a job well done. Word.
SHP December: Them Crooked Vultures