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Public Relation(ship)s November 17, 2009

Posted by moving4word in Creating a Social Media Plan, Understanding social media.
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Everyone (in one way or another) works in PR. Maybe you’ve been the good sibling who advocated for your parents’ forgiveness after your brother wrecked the car? Or perhaps you’ve recently updated your Facebook status to remind your friends how much you love your peppermint mocha from Starbucks? (stop salivating). In both cases, you’re managing the communication between a client and an audience and to communicate your message effectively you must understand your audience.
putting public back

Putting the Public Back in Public Relations

This principle also applies to PR professionals. In their book, Putting the Public Back in Public Relations (PPBPR), Brian Solis and Deirdre Breakenridge, suggest that PR professionals have failed to understand and listen to their audiences, thus turning PR into a one-way communication stream in which professionals talk at an uninterested public. However, Web 2.0, with its vital social networks and long tail of organizations and niche markets, warrants the development of a public-centered PR, or PR 2.0.

Instead of trusting traditional media outlets, consumers now use information from bloggers and social media publishers. Thus, to understand the conversation about a client, PR practitioners must identify where their customers aggregate. The authors suggest that blogs in the “magic middle,” or with 20 to 1,000 inbound links, are most likely to inspire real people to try new products. However, companies shouldn’t just target consumers; they must also listen to consumers. Johnson & Johnson learned this the hard way when it invited mommy bloggers to a Baby Camp event in 2008. Although planned with good intentions, the event failed because it was scheduled during another blogging conference and prohibited participants from bringing their children. The result: the wrath of mommy bloggers (now that’s punishment). Thus, you must know your consumers and build relationships with them; not just use technology for the sake of it.


Death of PR 1.0

 Solis and Breakenridge advocate joining social media networks like Facebook and Twitter to interact openly and honestly with consumers. However, social media isn’t just about PR and can affect all aspects of an organization from marketing to customer service to product development. As PR professionals participate in communities and tell brand and product stories, they’re also in a position to listen to customers and gain valuable insight into the effect of their efforts as well as new communications opportunities.

Public Enemies?

It’s tough to argue with the main tenets of this book because they offer PR professionals pertinent and practical advice. However, I thought this book was too long (very repetitive) and not very innovative (is the idea that PR is based on relationships really new?). Blogger, Bill Sledzik adds to my list of grievances by noting that PPBPR relies on too much opinion (Robert Scoble’s and Chris Anderson’s blogs) instead of quantitative evidence. And in that vein, as soon as this book was published, its references to blog posts were not news, but ancient PR 2.0 history. So although this book may be helpful for late social media adopters, others may find different books more beneficial.

Find the public or the public will find you.

There are already many examples of how companies have built relationships with consumers through social media. For example, Starbucks launched mystarbucksidea.com where customers can offer suggestions and comments to the company.


Companies are listening

Also, companies that aren’t paying attention to, or don’t care about costumers can get burned fast. Case in point: “United Breaks Guitars.” In short: United Airlines broke Dave Carroll’s guitar and refused to pay for it. He writes a song, makes it a video, the video goes viral, and United’s public image is tarnished (Can you say epic fail?). Lesson: We have a voice and companies are listening. What have you done for PR today?

It’s about people and relationships.

Unlike Groundswell, which targets business executives, and Here Comes Everybody and  The Long Tail, which could be used by businesses or the general public, PPBPR focuses on third party PR professionals. PPBPR sums the other books’ themes together. All considered, successful organizations must listen to the groundswell, find out where consumers are (identify niche markets) listen to them and talk with them. Through social media platforms people have the power to publish and share information that make your organization a success or a failure. Technology changes, but relationships with customers will always be most important.


PPBPR suggests that UrbanPromise supporters could be the greatest public relations advocates for the organization. With limited staff and finances, tapping into what current supporters and potential want from and think about the organization is essential to success. By encouraging or inspiring them to create positive buzz about UrbanPromise, supporters can raise awareness and empathy towards the organization’s mission.



1. Bill Sledzik - November 18, 2009

PR is about relationships, and that’s hardly a new concept. It goes back to Grunig’s 2-Way Symmetrical model (1984), and progressive PR types have been practicing the philosophy even longer. Since listening is, by definition, part of relationships…well, you can see why I didn’t find a lot of inspiration in PPBPR.

But there is a lot in this book to help companies who’ve yet to grasp the “relationship thing,” and for publicity neanderthals from the school of “spray-and-pray” communication. PPBPR is more of a primer for the uninitiated, and there is value in that.

Let’s hope authors and publishers are listening to the feedback on this book, and others, that were rushed to press without sufficient quality control. The 3 other books you mention in this post were well written and tightly presented. Authors must remember, they aren’t writing long blog posts, but a book for which folks shell out hard-earned cash.

I appreciate the link. Would have sent a note, but didn’t catch your name 🙂

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