I used to be a PR bigot — PR was better, faster, stronger than all other types of marketing. Then the World Wide Web happened.
(Not the Internet — the Web. I keep hearing people who should know better talk about “the Internet being only a teenager.” This is wrong. The Internet is actually in its 40s. The generally accepted “birth” of the Internet is in 1969 when two computers first “talked” to each other. The first emails were sent in 1971 and the TCP/IP standard, the underpinnings of all communication between computers, was adopted in 1983. Berners-Lee invented the language that would become the basis of the World wide Web in 1989 and in 1993 Mosaic, the first web browser was released. Ok, history lesson over, moving on.)
I saw the Web as a massive change in the PR landscape, one that changed my job and made me rethink my PR bigotry. And then rethink it again.
Before the Web gave us all the power to BE the media, to publish our own thoughts quickly and easily, to amass an audience, PR people were heavily focused on media relations. Probably too heavily and some still are. We measured our success in clips and were weak when it came to measuring true results — the education and influencing of our publics. We gave clients clip books and rewarded our teams for their success in getting coverage for our clients.
This is because publications measured their audiences and were able to give us numbers. We “knew” the circulation numbers of major publications and could throw them around proving our worth. We knew what kind of audiences read what kind of publications. We knew that the high circulation publications and the targeted audiences together could influence actions but we had a hard time connecting the dots unless we were willing to invest in audience surveys and other imperfect measurement tools. (And few clients were willing to take money from their program budgets and put them toward measurement. The few that did reaped the benefits, getting a better idea of what worked and what didn’t.)
But when everyone became a publisher, we had to change our way of thinking. Many of us saw what the future would be — a decentralized communications infrastructure where the mass media would lose some of its chokehold on our collective consciousness. (It actually didn’t happen as fast as I personally thought it would.)
I immediately started to look at marketing as more of a whole. (At the time, PR was considered a sub-set of marketing, often the poor stepchild and budgets reflected this.) But, with my PR background, I didn’t want to see PR as a subset, I saw it as the driver. PR is where messaging happens, where strategies are formed. Why couldn’t PR be the primary function and marketing the subset? Don’t we have to relate to our audience before we can market to it?
Today, more than ever before, we have the online tools to measure the impact of our programs and the success of the communication of our messages. We can easily measure clicks and time on site and see which messages resonate and where these messages lead to sales. And, sometimes these messages are communicated through mass media channels, and sometimes they aren’t.