Many think of PR as MR—i.e., media relations, and by that, they're thinking of relations with the news media. They're thinking of publicity, really. And this is an attitude that existed when I first entered the business in the late ‘90s, and certainly a long time before that. Furthermore, news media relations is but one piece of the public relations puzzle. So why is it that so many think public relations is at once synonymous with and nothing more than the practice of trying to get publicity?
The problem is that the two were functionally one and the same for a long time. Why? Until recently, the prevailing vehicle for PR practitioners to reach their many publics with a message was the news media, the information brokers and middlemen of communication. And, so, the PR industry built an empire around relationships with these information brokers, and to this day this empire holds tremendous cache in the minds of clients who still see the news media through the lens of awe. Think Walter Cronkite. Think "The Tonight Show." You understand now, don't you? These are icons. They command reverence. Clients want to get on these shows. The PR industry has sold itself well.
But these shows don't deserve all your energy (a highly devoted portion of it, just not all). Any business can now reach its target markets directly. It's just not as sexy. Or is it? Well, that depends on who you ask.
Although the ideas of "getting ink" and "shooting b-roll" are sexy and enamor people with the notion of PR, Web 2.0 is in fact sexier to the person who practices public relations. After all, who in this business wouldn't want to circumvent the news media entirely to reach target audiences directly with unfiltered, highly targeted messages? Not only that, but these target audiences are apt to believe your communication just as much as they would if they were to read it in the paper, hear it on the radio, or see it on television.
I saw evidence for this in my own research while in graduate school. And I'm seeing it now, in practice. I'll talk about all that some more next time. For now, suffice it to say that you used to have to rely on the brand name of a traditional news media outlet to carry your client's brand (or your own brand, if you're doing this yourself) across the finish line; in the new environment, you can take the brand of yourself or client, and rely quite a bit on just that.