Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Role of New Platforms in PR/Marketing Programs

You knew it had to happen. First it was blogs, then video blogs (or vlogs), as well as social media releases, all leading up to the much-touted Web 2.0, which PR and marketing pros are predicting will have a profound impact on companies and their ability to market.

Rather than presenting this blog post as a primer on any of the technologies, I wanted to discuss for a moment what this might mean for PR and whether it will be good or bad. From a client perspective, more venues to present a marketing message is probably viewed as a good thing. But, there's a bigger question, which is what, if any, impact this will have on the effectiveness of a company's PR/marketing campaign and whether that's being addressed at all in any of these initiatives. History is littered with examples of inventions that, while technically sophisticated, didn't really present a compelling enough advantage to bring about the once-touted sea change. In all cases, it simply ended up being a case of a lot of "gee whiz" and very little substance.

Not surprisingly, a lot of PR firms are on board with the social media release, blogs, vlogs and other advances even though there's little evidence to point that people will take a proactive attitude when it comes to marketing messages. Why? Well, there are many reasons, including the need to be seen as a company at the forefront of new technologies, but when it all comes down to it, all these new "innovations" represent billing opportunities. Why just do conventional media relations when a program can be expanded to blogs, vlogs, and other services?

I'm not necessarily saying anything is wrong with any of these, but that it all has very much of a "dot-com" feel to it. Remember when PR pros were sending out releases with buzz words like "leading community site on the Web," or "value-added solution?" (who'd ever say something subtracted value?) To me, if there's not much "value add," then what's the point? One of the taglines I use in explaining my philosophy on PR is "it's the message, not the medium." By that, I mean if a message isn't compelling, it doesn't matter what venue is used to transmit it, it will likely fall flat.

I've also been skeptical from the beginning that the consumer will willingly seek out marketing messages. After all, there's not exactly a "PR News Network" or a "Commercial News Network" on any cable system I've ever seen. Obviously, there are times when youth-oriented venues like YouTube or MySpace are an important part of a campaign. But overall, I think rather than continually reinventing itself every time a new technology comes along, the PR industry would be better served by getting back to basics. As we've seen in a wave of ethical issues involving a number of PR firms, the basics aren't always mastered. Until we've done that to the point that our reputation is much higher, I'd suggest a regimen focused on basics might be best for everyone.