Gini Dietrich

The PR Industry of the Future Must Happen Now

By: Gini Dietrich | November 8, 2012 | 

I think I might be in love with Procter & Gamble chief brand building officer Marc Pritchard.

He spoke at the PR Summit – put on by The Holmes Report – in Miami last week and what he said makes me want to kiss him.

During his keynote address, he used their “Thank You, Mom” Olympic campaign as an example of successful work led by their PR firm.

You know which one I’m talking about. The one that makes you cry every time you see it.

As a reminder, watch their two minute YouTube commercial, which you saw segments of during the Olympics.

While Pritchard spoke of this campaign, he said,

Was it marketing, PR, journalism, art? It was all of those things. I would argue, at its heart, it was public relations. This world we live in is your world. The world of facts, actions, and authenticity. This is your world, the world of PR.

However, he warned this is not a world in which most organizations are used to operating.

Customers Own Your Brand

Earlier this week, Wayne Hurlbert hosted me on his BlogTalk radio program and we talked about this very thing.

It used to be, organizations would hire communications professionals (or firms) to write their key messages, media train them so they knew what to say to reporters, even create the exact words to communicate to the world what they were about.

Today, though, you are no longer in control of your message. Your customers own your message, your brand, and even your reputation.

And, to that very point, Pritchard warns,

This is not a world in which most of your clients are used to operating. Instead, most are used to owning messages and media. We’re very used to talking about ourselves.

Lack of Real Vision

But we have a pretty big disconnect. We know organizations are used to talking about themselves, which doesn’t work in today’s 24/7 real-time digital space. But there is an even bigger problem because PR firm leaders describe the industry of the future  as what it really should be today.

Danny Brown pointed this out in his, “A Lack of Real Vision is Stalling the PR Industry.

When asked to describe the PR industry of the future, many leaders described organizations that “communicate directly with stakeholders without having their messages filtered through traditional media.” Or…, “The successful firm of 2017… will be interested in relationships, not transactions. It will think about the long-term strategy, not short-term tactics.”

Doesn’t that sound like what should be the PR firm of today?

An Uphill Battle

Based on his keynote, Pritchard agrees. He said the reputation of your organization is what others say about you and you have no control of that. The role of PR must change to help organizations figure out how to improve their reputations through direct customer contact, social media, the brand narrative, and as the executive producers of the brand.

He challenged communications professionals to take on the leadership role our discipline deserves.

This means you’re going to have to push back on us. Help us see the world through the eyes of reporters…through the perspective of audiences we must earn.

He recognizes it’s going to be an uphill battle, but one we must fight in order to get over our inferiority complex and really play ball.

It’s also going to be a challenge if the PR firm leaders are not focused on getting their agencies to their 2017 visions much, much, much more quickly. And it’s going to be a challenge if we don’t figure out an industry-wide way to measure our efforts toward real business goals.

It’s up to us. We have the ball in our court. Business leaders wants us to take on the role. Can we do it?

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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54 responses to “The PR Industry of the Future Must Happen Now”

  1. Amen. Preach it, sister.

  2. lauraclick says:

    Such a great commercial. At the heart of PR is communication and storytelling and that ad had a healthy dose of both. 
    Loved that post from dannybrown  awhile back. It really hit the head on how behind the industry is. There is some definite catching up to do. But, those that can figure out how to do these things right will definitely be ahead of the pack.
    Great post, Gini!

    • ginidietrich says:

      @lauraclick  The thing that really, really bothers me about all of this is some of us ARE doing it. Some of us are doing what the “leaders” say the PR firm of 2017 should look like. But we aren’t recognized as leaders. We’re thought of us bird poop on the windshields of the big agencies. And I use that analogy because someone from a big agency told me that’s how they think of me and my firm.

      • Danny Brown says:

        @ginidietrich  @lauraclick  You could flip that around – some bird poop is really sticky and impossible to get off. So, you could say you’ll be around long after other examples of bird poop (the crappy agencies) are long gone. 🙂

      • lauraclick says:

        @ginidietrich Whoa. Really? That makes me very, very mad. 
        Is it just a size thing? Why do they think they are so much better? Maybe they feel threatened. I just don’t get it…

      • AlinaKelly says:

        @ginidietrich @lauraclick The disrespect and arrogance in that kind of comment is appalling. The fact is, it’s a social world and we’re all in it together – poopers and poopees alike. And there’s only so long they can fling that kind of poop around before some of it sticks to them.

        • ginidietrich says:

          @AlinaKelly  @lauraclick I can’t imagine they’re threatened by us. But I do think there is a certain amount of ego when working for a global firm. I know I had it when I worked at FH.

        • AlinaKelly says:

          @ginidietrich  @lauraclick A certain amount of ego, balanced by an appropriate dose of humility, is fine. But would you have EVER said anything so awful to anyone? That takes an egomaniac and I’ve always understood that egocentric behaviour was rooted in insecurity. He may not have been speaking on behalf of all big agencies, but I’m betting he felt threatened. And in my experience of agencies, there are more where he came from.

        • ginidietrich says:

          @AlinaKelly  @lauraclick No, I would never say that. Heck, I wouldn’t even think it.

  3. ElissaFreeman says:

    Love this. There are still C-suite-ers that want to make the message fit the suit – when in reality it’s not what their constituents want to hear. For the last decade, I have been preaching..”this is what your customers/audience are talking about, let’s capitalize on that!” Some get it, some don’t.  The proof in the pudding are the type of reactions/transactions you make with your customer. Time and again, when companies go back to their ‘control’ thinking – they wonder why nobody is paying attention.

    • ginidietrich says:

      @ElissaFreeman That’s exactly what he said during his keynote – too many business leaders still want to do it the old way. He said, “We’re going to fight you. We’re going to push back. It’s going to be hard, but you have to do it.”
      On the flip side, though, I think too many organizations are focused on the wrong things. We have a client who, every year asked us to put together media books so they could show the board who was talking about them. It took us SIX years to get them to start thinking about things differently.

      • HowieG says:

        @ginidietrich  @ElissaFreeman I guess my issue is that almost never ever ever ever does a brand have a huge PR blow up damage it for the long term. And often these blow ups are pretty serious. Kind of like Banks knowing we will bail them out. As long as any fines or temporary loss of business is manageable they just don’t care.

      • ElissaFreeman says:

        @ginidietrich Clearly we need to a better job of convincing clients – but also the industry at large! Too many firms want to hold onto the status quo…because they’d rather hold onto the client (which isn’t a bad thing) than rock the boat.  You need to really know your client, or an internal champion, before you challenge them…especially if they wear Seiko watches from the 70s.

  4. Suzi_C says:

    Validation. Seeing it in words… so succinctly put helps so much. Thank you!

  5. AlinaKelly says:

    I just salted my coffee. I’d not seen that commercial here in Canada – totally made me cry. This ad so clearly speaks to its target audience and completely delivers on brand. Why would anyone assume that only ad agencies can deliver this kind of work? It can be done by anyone who “gets” it, irrespective of how their firm is labeled.
    Bottom line: this is GREAT BRAND COMMUNICATION and no single type of agency has the market cornered on great communication. I’m all for Pritchard’s, “facts, actions and authenticity,” however we there. Clearly, HE gets it.

  6. AlinaKelly says:

    I just salted my coffee. I’d not seen that commercial here in Canada – totally made me cry. This ad so clearly speaks to its target audience and completely delivers on brand. Why would anyone assume that only ad agencies can deliver this kind of work? It can be done by anyone who “gets” it, irrespective of how their firm is labeled.
    Bottom line: this is GREAT BRAND COMMUNICATION and no single type of agency has the market cornered on great communication. I’m all for Pritchard’s, “facts, actions and authenticity,” however we get there. Clearly, HE gets it.

    • ginidietrich says:

      @AlinaKelly “I just salted my coffee” made me laugh out loud! He does get it and I really love that he said clients are going to push back and it’s going to be hard, but we have to do it. I love him.

  7. susancellura says:

    Gini, Thank you for this great post! It is very timely as I am with a new company that is building up its marketing communication department…(I seem to be doing that a lot lately?). I’d have loved to been at that keynote address. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • ginidietrich says:

      @susancellura I would have loved to have been there, too. Although, I may have actually kissed the poor man. I’ve been to too many conferences where leaders in the industry are still talking about relationships with journalists and spinning stories for our clients are the way to go. It’s nice to have someone who really gets it.

  8. This post, like the commercial you highlight, gives me chills. Thank you @ginidietrich because I am super motivated to jump into my to-do list and get moving today! PR is all about authenticity and building relationships. I DO think that this is the direction the industry needs to be taking — and that social media in general plays a big part.  Losing control of your message is very scary, especially for large corporations that move as eloquently as tanker ships. The companies that *do* adjust to the New PR (like Procter & Gamble) are going to reap the rewards though!

    • ginidietrich says:

      @TaraGeissinger Social media has definitely changed the playing field, hasn’t it? People ask me all the time where I think it belongs and I say selfishly I’d love for it to belong to PR, but I’m not sure everyone in the industry is ready for it.

  9. At least some of us, Gini. And you’re helping lead the charge. Bravo.

  10. TonyBennett says:

    “customers own your message, your brand, and even your reputation…”
    That quote is #winning. Someone needs to frame that and post on the wall of the PR Hall of Fame!!

  11. HowieG says:

    Never saw that commercial before. So let me get this straight P&G supports parents who force their little kids to give up their normal lives so that their countries can win sports events in global competitions? I was thinking I was watching the hunger games (I also never saw that commercial either).
    I dunno @ginidietrich about the commercials but the big point of this is Brands have no control of their image. as much as they wish they did. Most big blow ups all started with a play to the base customer that then spread via social media beyond the target group.
    From BP to Kenneth Cole to Chick-a-freaka all the outrages occurred after it spread. The Gulf states re-elected all the anti-environment people to national office. It was Washington and California that went bonkers. Hipsters think Kenneth Cole stunts are great……soccer moms and church dads not so much. And homophobes loved the support Chick-a-Freaka was giving them until everyone else found out,.
    And now P&G is known as stealing kids childhoods so that the domineering Mom can live vicariously through their kid in the Steeple Chase….
    And all according to plan……..or simply by accident because they don’t have control of their message?

  12. kateupdates says:

    I hadn’t seen the entire commercial until now and it really takes my breath away at how beautifully crafted and touching it is. It’s excellent and inspiring. I love my industry … in theory 🙂
    It’s amazing how much I’ve realized that the PR industry is evolving over the past couple years. It’s exciting, challenging and just plain fun. I love being a part of this phenomenal industry because I learn new things every day and because it has so much potential.
    However, and unfortunately, what has caught my attention is the fact that I’m seeing so many “PR” professionals who are putting themselves in silos (“social media” professionals too for that matter.) They’re sticking to the traditional approach without thoughtfully exploring the advantages combining approaches and transforming them into something wonderful and new. 
    I see this unattractive perspective that each field should do its own thing and if either side tries to explore the other side, the other side doesn’t take them seriously. For example, I was pitching a potential client recently and he stated that he was using someone for PR to disseminate his news release (lol) but after talking to me, he wanted to hire me for my social media ideas.
    I’m in PR. I’m using social media as a tool to do PR.
    What I’m seeing is that PR professionals are limiting themselves. They are going to make themselves extinct if they don’t open their eyes and explore the idea that they are more than news releases and media impressions and pitching. The same goes for social media.
    On the flip-side, I’ve been excited to offer social media advice to colleagues in the social media realm and have had them practically scoff that I could contribute something of value because I was in PR. It’s remarkable.

    • ginidietrich says:

      @kateupdates We see this a lot, too. In fact, I had one prospect ask me why she didn’t see “PR” mentioned anywhere in our proposal. I asked her what she thinks of when she says she’s hiring a PR firm. She described media relations to me. I said, “That’s why we don’t use the term PR. It paints us into a corner.”

      • @ginidietrich  @kateupdates I applaud you for that omission of PR in your proposal.. Occupying a corner will do longer do; there is the whole floor to paint.  As you note referencing Pritchard, PR firms must  help clients “improve their reputations through direct customer contact, social media, the brand narrative, and as the executive producers of the brand.”  That encompasses a lot more than traditional PR or advertising or any one silo is typically used to delivering.  We all need to get used to flexibly providing a variable skill set, guided by a strong, central, strategic vision; I doubt that the major global firms are in a position to do that (which should bode well for firms like yours, or mine).

  13. KensViews says:

    Weeks later, and I’m STILL amazed that some leaders of large PR firms described activities which many agencies, large and small, are doing effectively today, as representative of successful firms of 2017.  Are their agencies really not doing it?  Or do their leaders simply not know or understand what their own agencies are doing?

  14. Not seen that before – nice way to start my working week….
    Going to forward it on to my Mum (massive brownie points) and Wife (I think the Biological clock will go into meltdown).
    Win / Win
    Muchos Gracias

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