Who’s influencing the influencers?

A recent Financial Times article written by Emma Jacobs called for companies to cut out the PR middle men and talk directly to journalists. This is to miss the point of modern PR. Often today it is the media itself which has been disintermediated by companies – writes Scott Guthrie

PR is about influence – influencing a company’s important people – those who used to be called its public … or stakeholders. A long time ago the most effective way to reach these people was via media relations. Companies found it technologically difficult to communicate directly with their important people so relied upon journalists as influencers within the mass media to form their story and relay it to their target audience.

These were antediluvian days before ‘born digital’ hybrid media – such as Huffington Post or Mashable. Before the instant sharability of social media. Before brands could create content on their own websites for people to find. And for social media to amplify to wider audiences.

Media relations will remain an important element of the communications mix because people bestow importance in a mast-head’s third-party, credible authority. Last month’s Nielsen report sponsored by inPowered analysed the role of content in the consumer decision making process. It reports that 85% of consumers regularly or occasionally seek out trusted expert content — credible, third-party articles and reviews — when considering a purchase.

These were antediluvian days before ‘born digital’ hybrid media– such as Huffington Post or Mashable

However, companies augment this media relations effort with initiatives including brand journalism and native advertising. Companies have learned to listen to their important people. And not just to talk at them. Companies hear what is being said about their brand, by whom, where and on what media platform. They’re listening to what their competitors are saying about them, too. Companies are then engaging with each discrete audience forging two-way relationships.

Emma Jacobs’ article picked a handful of examples to back her case for DIY ‘publicity’ though you’re unlikely to find them on the proverbial Clapham omnibus. Her examples include US billionaires, and UK private equity experts.

Jacobs tells us that Warren Buffett ‘spurns spin-doctors’. She omits to mention that for the last eight years Buffett’s investment company, Berkshire Hathaway, has owned Business Wire – a global distributor of press releases and financial announcements. Buffett certainly knows the commercial value of good PR.

Like all professions PR has its good practitioners and its not-so-good-ones – those still seeking “permission to go quiet” from non-listed company clients during financial reporting season whilst still pocketing the monthly retainer. Those who can’t demonstrate a strategic spine to which they stick to in order to realise definable, measurable, outtakes for their clients. Those talking about Digital PR as if it’s anything separate from the reality of today’s PR.

The CIPR is taking this challenge of correction seriously through its president Stephen Waddington and his #PRredefined and Chartered PR Practitioner initiatives. But, perhaps some more work needs to be done by the flacks on educating the hacks about what the industry is and where it’s heading?

About the Author Scott Guthrie

Scott Guthrie works with companies to drive business growth in the social age through strategic insight and technical know-how. That's not giving you a lot of detail, is it? So, read more here.

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