High-tech PR in the age of blogs, part 3

Maybe I'm being naïve, but the inevitable PR discovery of RSS doesn't worry me the way it worries these folks:

So much for RSS The PR People know about RSS now … only a matter of time before it becomes useless. Advertising, PR, and Marketing destroy everything they touch on the internet. [ Lucas Thompson, Sleep When You're Dead]
Attack of the PR people It was only a matter of time before the industry sharks descended on innocent bloggers, coming up with ways to "nudge" them into mentioning their clients' products and services. "Hey, Andrew, as you write about the great victory in Iraq, you might want to let your readers know that those missles were built by Raytheon...." Expect to see more and more of this, ye who run the Big Blogs. [ The Peking Duck]

This is a publish/subscribe medium. If feeds are interesting, we read them, and even sometimes respond to them. If feeds are boring or annoying, we drop them. Both outcomes are exquisitely measurable, which is something PR folk should pay particular attention to.

Here's what the pattern has been:

1) A marketing person is shepherded to a meeting by
1a) the PR analyst minder, if it's an analyst meeting
1b) the PR press minder, if it's a press meeting

2) Information is breathlessly conveyed to
2a) the analyst, who hopes it will help him get quoted by the likes of
2b) the reporter, who often doesn't know what it's about, but will pass it along

Missing completely from this whisper chain: the people who invented the technology being discussed, and the people who really care and need to know about it. Now, all of a sudden, these two groups can connect directly by way of pub/sub.

I believe journalism can still usefully intermediate. But our information monopoly is weakening. The value of our work never should have depended, and now increasingly will not depend, on privileged access to people and to information. It will, instead, depend on our ability to perform the highest and best functions of publishing: selection, analysis, coherent narrative. If I do that consistently, you'll read me. If I don't, you won't.

I also believe PR can still usefully intermediate. Public relations is about brokering connections. What's new here is the possibility of helping end-to-end connections form. They will anyway. PR's legitimate role is to make the process as frictionless and productive as it can be.

Of course PR will try to game the system. That's part of the job. I expect I'll be asking myself, at some point, whether some executive's or architect's blog was really written by that person, or ghost-written by PR. But I don't think that's going to be an easy Turing test to pass. Direct contact with another mind, over time, has a deep authenticity that is hard (maybe impossible) to fake. The best PR agents I've worked with make those contacts happen. I'm tempted to add: "and then they get out of the way." But it's not that simple.

Beyond merely brokering connections, PR agents assist with communication strategy. Here's where things could start to get really interesting. We are all professional communicators, all the time, but most of us are not very aware of the strategies we could and should employ to be maximally effective. One way to look at PR is as an outsourced provider of such awareness. My $0.02: effective communication strategy is one of those core competencies that you cannot outsource. It's something we'll all need to internalize. Will PR agents become coaches and mentors, helping individuals within companies do that? Again, the best of them already are.

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2003/04/11.html#a664