Call it karma: social media is doing to public relations what PR supposedly did to advertising.

March 10, 2010


Muzzling Ozzie? Not anymore.

Entertaining blabbermouth and skipper for the Chicago White Sox, Ozzie Guillen is now on Twitter. The team is also participating in a behind-the-scenes reality TV show highlighting the upcoming 2010 season.

Why am I bringing this up? Not too long ago team management would have shut down both actions as unhealthy distractions to a successful season, if not outright landmines. Given Ozzie’s propensity for making candid, sometimes asinine remarks, it seems reckless giving him a platform to vent, doesn’t it?

Maybe not. The social media genie is out of the bottle. Way out. It has changed the way people communicate: with friends, with family, with complete strangers. We are more candid and emotionally honest. We are reckless, flirty and prone to exaggerate. Our information diet has changed. As have our constitutions. We may need stronger stomachs.

Less obvious, but no less potent, are the changes social media has wrought upon companies, institutions and clubhouses. No industry or firm is immune. Not the Chicago White Sox. Not the United States Government. And certainly not yours or my advertising agency.

Public Relations is about control, internally and externally. Employees are given guidelines and talking points. Mostly we are told to be quiet. “No comment,” remains the party line in most industries, particularly advertising, where we are warned time and again about making clients and potential clients… what exactly… mad?

The age of “no comment” is over. Everyone comments. Putting a muzzle on employees suddenly seems old-fashioned. Like a chastity belt. And what good would it do anyway?

Let’s assume most everyone in your company uses at least one social network. Many of them have multiple accounts and pseudonyms. They tweet. They comment on blogs, often anonymously. And sometimes they say bad things. If an angry employee wants to vent, he or she vents, leaving HR and PR powerless to stop them.

Chaotic? Sometimes. But remember: social media has made society more open, candid and emotionally honest. Therefore, we are becoming less bothered by candid discourse, however rude and unfavorable. We get used to it. Our skin thickens. Dark secrets aren’t so dark anymore. Or secret. Ultimately, we also become more forgiving. What choice do we have?

Let’s imagine Ozzie Guillen tweets something bad about a player or his boss. (Not a stretch.) But just as his comment will quickly spread on the Internet it also loses its potency. The fire goes out before the water trucks get there. And who cares anyway? Now the first baseman is tweeting about his contract!

5 years old and already outdated.

In their book, “The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR” authors, Al & Laura Ries argue that PR has supplanted advertising as a marketing tool. The book is (or was) controversial, partly because they were right, partly because they were full of shit. News flash: It’s a moot point now. Social Media is doing to PR what PR supposedly did to advertising! Granted, The Ries’ book is about PR for clients (not companies and their employees) but the overlap is considerable. As is the vulnerability.

Another moot point? Despite 35,000 followers, Ozzie’s Twitter is a mess of pointless observations composed in broken English: Ozzie Guillen\'s Twitter

My Twitter

My novel on Amazon!

11 Responses to “Call it karma: social media is doing to public relations what PR supposedly did to advertising.”

  1. I agree.

    In my mind there should never have been a “war” between Advertising & PR. And, no need for a war in the future between Ads, PR, and Social Media.

    The war comes from people stroking their egos, resisting change, and having pee-pee contests with each other. (gotta keep it G rated)

    We are strategic, we are creative, and we must avail ourselves of the best tools in the toolbox for every situation we encounter.

  2. SRP said

    Mark-
    A sticking point for me is when PR feigns social. This to me is jumping the shark.
    With “traditional” marketing, social is more flexible. All moot points, when social genie is so out of bottle!

  3. Did PR ever really jump that high in the first place? There was plenty of talk about it taking over advertising, articles, books, etc., but it was more stories rather than actual PR taking reign. Think about what we still discuss day after day on TV in person, online, its ad campaigns and breakthroughs of creativity. PR never took over, and most likely it was PR folks wishing and hoping it would to get in the minds of their clients. It may be so that PR is becoming submissive to social media, but in reality social media is PR, it’s just not filtered.

  4. Kari O'Brien said

    I agree with Sara. I think PR was always submissive to advertising. We marketers are just trying to take advantage of something that was already there–just as PR people try to take advantage of “real world” networks which are already there. Social media erupted on its own. The first people to jump into Social media were PR people too. Social media really is just public relations–trying to get a message out to an audience through digital, rather than traditional PR platforms. I do agree PR people have more power these days though. There’s a strong resistance to ads these days, so in social media, PR people have the advantage.

  5. Jason Fox said

    I don’t think there’s as much a strong resistance to ads as there is a strong resistance to marketing-speak. Honest brands, whether in their ads or tweets, stand apart. And, when done well, I think ads (of any ilk) are still a more valid form of salesmanship for the simple reason that they reward consumers for their time with entertainment. And entertainment value has yet to really hit the marketing side of social media hard, which seems odd and will hopefully change. But for the moment, I’d rather watch an Old Spice ad than follow their Twitter feed.

  6. kprzewuska said

    Hello Steffan, first I like your tweets, second it is an interesting post especially from my (PR) perspective🙂
    Everyone is afraid about the lack of control in social media. I usually answer: it is normal in PR :)) Influencing stakeholders through opinion leaders (including media) is far from controlling the outcome. I also like to say: social media gives more control (than traditional PR)! because allows on direct communications with audiences. The challenge today is not the lack of control, but the outreach and visibility of communications. Having a spokesperson is not enough. Brands / companies needs hundreds of ambassadors in social media. In relation to your example – the reputation of a company with a good HR policy and a strong employer branding will not be damaged by an angry employee – others will neutralize the message. Social media is a mirror. And yes, it is chaotic as long as you are not in.

    All the best from Poland !

    • SRP said

      All the way from Poland-
      Thank you for your comment. Well put.
      “Social media is a mirror.”
      We see ourselves for better AND worse. No filters now.

  7. Andy Webb said

    I haven’t read the book, so you might want to discount my comment, but the title “The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR,” taps into a classic provocative approach that’s good for selling books — and not necessarily for announcing meaningful content on the inside.

    Some enterprising entrepreneurial writer should seize on “The Fall of PR and the Rise of Social Media,” as a way to generate book sales among nervous PR practitioners.

  8. Wonderfully put….I feel like Social Media is here for the remainder and does allow freely spoken comments whether good or bad and I do not see it being taken over by any of the methods such as PR its more of a touchy feel arena and folks love it and good reference to ozzie personally I think the man is a idiot….I have been in marketing arena for 6 years and steady use social media sites.

  9. […] z dużym zaciekawieniem przeczytałam wpis na blogu Steffana Postaera, szefa i dyrektora kreatywnego agencji reklamowej Euro RSCG Chicago, w którym pada stwierdzenie: […]

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