The future of public relations


A few days ago I gave a keynote speech at the Public Relations Institute of Australia’s premier national conference for the owners of PR agencies – a very interesting crowd who are well in tune with the flow of messages through media and society. I covered three key themes:

&#149 Client relationships. Despite many PR agencies presenting themselves as doing “outsourced PR”, that’s not what clients today want. The future is in collaborative relationships, working closely with clients to combine your expertise.

&#149 Social networks. Today, everything is a network. PR agencies need to move closer their clients to the center of the network, by creating richer and more diverse connections. They also need to apply social network thinking to how they bring together their own expertise and link that to that of their clients.

&#149 Memes and blogging. The concept of memes – information and ideas that replicate and propagate from mind to mind – is a powerful and useful way of thinking about how messages flow through society. Blogging has provided us with a world in which memes can flow fluidly and freely. Media – the traditional domain of PR – is blurring into a far more complex and variegated world in which messages can flow across many dimensions.

The resulting challenges for PR agencies are to lead their clients into collaborative relationships; to connect to help their clients move to the center of the networks; and to make their clients into media participants. Media today is a participatory sport, and PR agencies can no longer act as interfaces and gatekeepers for their clients. This means they must develop and apply new skills, especially in the new participatory media. Blogging is a invaluable tool for many organizations, yet they do need help to do it effectively.

Apart from frightening a few PR agencies who recognize that they need to quickly get on top of the rapid changes in their world, it was encouraging to see the degree of energy that is going into exploiting these shifts. The only thing that remains is renaming the industry. I was asked what it should be called if public relations wasn’t appropriate. Off the top of my head I suggested “The Meme Industry”. Any better ideas?