The Future of Influence

The instruments of influence continue to evolve.  The ground is shifting under the PR industry as its identity crisis deepens into a consuming existential angst. Even mainstream PR practitioners are now publishing op-eds in PRWeek with headlines proclaiming the death of PR. Other op-eds in PRWeek explain “Why claims that PR is dead are dead wrong“. Neither claim is right or wrong. Both authors rush to offer clear answers without revealing the meaning of the question. To frame and elucidate the question more fully, both the purveyors and consumers of influence should acknowledge the following:

1. It’s not about the money. Financially, the PR industry (and the broader category of marketing services) is doing well, still growing steadily even as it attempts to reinvent, or simply rename, itself to keep up with the shifting zeitgeist. Perhaps, there’s some irony in this, but the PR business is faring much better than the industries decimated by the collapse of trust in which PR was certainly complicit. Social media is fueling the growth of the PR business. Of course, the emerging paradigms also reveal the moral bankruptcy and conceptual obsolescence of the idea of “Public Relations”, as conceived by Edward Bernays.

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Even if many PR practitioners remain wedded to the anti-democratic legacy of the Pioneers of Propaganda, the PR business remains financially healthy (and therefore not dead). So, we arrived at a clear answer to an irrelevant question. This answer neither addresses nor eases the perfectly understandable anxieties of professional communicators trying to exert greater influence in an era of diminishing trust.

2. The world is made of language. Markets are conversations. Participants in these conversations continue to communicate even when they are losing trust in each other, and regardless of economic ups and downs. It is unlikely that the flow of communications will cease or even diminish. PR may be a “bad word”, but every society allows for deliberate uses of language to create and re-create shared realities. The challenge for professional communicators today is to steer the process toward more responsible and socially conscious uses of language. If PR practitioners take fuller ownership of their role on the frontlines of social innovation, they can do more than make the world a better place; they can articulate a better world into existence.

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