PR: Dead or Alive?

Since the publication of Propaganda by Edward Bernays in 1928, the world has changed in ways that warrant a thorough rethinking of how PR participates in the marketplace of ideas. A growing cadre of authors is helping reconcile the practice of PR with the realities of a world transformed by cycles of boom and bust, by paradigm shifts in science and technology, and by the routinization of trust-crushing “Black Swan” events. Below is a compilation of Q1 articles and opinion pieces focused on the agonized search for alternatives to traditional communications and marketing practices.

Francis Ingham and Robert Phillips go head-to-head on Twitter PRWeek — March 20, 2015

  • “PRCA director general Francis Ingham and ‘Trust Me PR is Dead’ author Robert Phillips have engaged in a heated Twitter brawl, after Ingham suggested that PR was not dead but “vibrant; growing; successful.”

Earned Influence — A New Definition Of PR’s Value Holmes Report — February 11, 2015

  • “…the importance of defining public relations—of explaining in clear and simple terms what it is that public relations brings to the table—has never been greater than it is today.”
  • “But when PR is done right, when it is built on listening to people and getting to know them, and developing a relationship based on understanding their interests and meeting their needs, it is all about relationships,” he says. “All public relations content should be about building that relationship.”
  • “So if I can offer up content to people that is useful, that is interesting or entertaining, not to my client but to the individual, I can start to build a relationship and earn their trust.”

Is PR Really Dead? by Margaret Heffernan in Huffington Post — February 11, 2015

  • “As consumers, we’ve been blasted with spin that has left us cynical and disengaged. PR is dead because neither the clients nor the market believes a word it generates.”
  • “In the aftermath of the banking-economic-democratic crisis of the last eight years, trust has been destroyed, not least by the PR agencies hired to restore it. Hiring these flaks today is tantamount to hoping your drug dealer will help you kick the habit; it was, Phillips argues, PR nonsense that destroyed trust in business in the first place.”
  • “Trust is shifting from institutions to citizens and no amount of expensive rhetoric can stop it.”
  • “Derided and unmasked, the CSR departments should pack up and go home.”

Disguising ads as stories by Damaris Colhoun in Columbia Journalism Review — February 10, 2015

  • “Last month, when Conde Nast announced the launch of 23 Stories, its branded content studio that gives marketers “unparalleled access” to its “editorial assets,” the company made its narrative expertise a central part of the sales pitch.”
  • “When the press release says, “Our Industry is evolving, and so too are our ways of storytelling,” what it’s really saying is that branded stories are the future of new media, and those who disagree are behind the times.”

Is hiring journalists such a good idea for Instagram? by Damaris Colhoun in Columbia Journalism Review — February 4, 2015

  • “This week, Instagram announced that it will be expanding its editorial team—hiring reporters to cover its community—an expansion of the coverage of Instagram stars already featured by staffers on the company blog.”
  • “Questions continue to swirl about whether or not native advertising will undermine the credibility of news by mimicking its content and style. But despite these news ethics concerns, native advertising is becoming an increasingly important revenue generator for major news outlets far beyond Conde Nast, including at The New York Times, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed, and The Atlantic, all of whom have dedicated resources to creating branded content in-house.”

Book Review: Trust Me, PR Is Dead by Arun Sudhaman in Holmes Report — January 25, 2015

  • “…the PR industry, to hear Phillips tell it, is interested only in consumerism, manicured messages and making money. In particular, he pinpoints a lack of talent and an inability to get to grips with data. There is undoubted merit to these claims, but it overlooks the seismic changes that are taking place among more enlightened PR consultancies and people.”

Public trust slumps to financial crisis levels by Shannon Bond in Financial Times — January 20, 2015

  • “Global public confidence in institutions has evaporated in the last year, taking trust levels back to lows not seen since the financial crisis in 2009.”
  • “For the first time, nearly two-thirds of the 27 nations surveyed fell on the “distrustful” end of Edelman’s index, gauging respondents’ trust in government, business, media and non-governmental organisations.”

Trust Me… I’ve Got a Barometer by Allan Kelly in Huffington Post — January 10, 2015

  • “This is code for winning hearts and minds, for sheer and subtle manipulation, and it suggests that trust is a mere strategy for doing so. In fact, it’s a mission that’s rooted more truly in propaganda as described by PR godfather Edward Bernays than two-way symmetry as advanced by the communication scholar James Grunig.”

Marketing and PR’s Reality Check: We’re Not That Wonderful by Allan Kelly in Huffington Post — January 6, 2015

  • “It’s not that marketing, PR and other influence-based practices (e.g., sales, advertising, public affairs, public policy, lobbying and even law) are bad. Far from it; they have their legitimate and critical purposes. It’s just that those who practice at the crafts and craftsmanship of influence are increasingly delusional if not dishonest about the merits and magnanimity of their work.”