As we finalise details for our fourth Delivering the New PR conference, in Scotland on September 13, it is worth thinking about what is meant by 'the New PR', indeed, if there is such a thing...
Simply, yes, there is a New PR in that technological innovations are having an impact the way PR is practiced; the world has become smaller and people can communicate with each other with a speed and ease that wasn't possible just a few years ago. As I have argued before, the internet is bringing more profound changes than, say, the fax machine, a technological tweak that changed the speed of communication but not the underlining model.
Practitioners need to be aware of the impact of these changes and formulate ways of responding to and utilising them.
But are the changes so fundamental that we are entering a new era, the age of PR 2.0? One of the Delivering the New PR team, Stuart 'PR Guru' Bruce, has created a lively debate by rejecting this view: "This whole PR 2.0 or 'New PR' is such a pile of garbage," he writes, his ire in part fuelled by a new Weber Shandwick blog called PR 2.0.
The very term 2.0 is illuminating, drawing on computer speak, where change is driven by developers keen to distinguish tweaks in existing products (I haven't yet seen it but I bet there's someone somewhere talking about PR 2.0 still being in Beta).
Let's not take too seriously those of a techie persuasion who feel that a new tool, say blogging or podcasting, actually changes the fundamental nature of PR (Tom Murphy is good on this); Stuart gives a number of adequate if debatable definitions that clearly show that the underlying purpose of PR is in no way altered by new tools.
A more sophisticated interpretation suggests that social softwares are bringing about the end of 'command and control' models of PR. Here the argument is that as a much greater number of people can participate in 'aggregated' conversations around products and services, individuals and businesses, the simplistic framings of PR functioning as a conduit between an organisation and its publics are breaking down. It is 30 years and more since Grunig began writing about two-way symmetrical communications, and Stuart is right in saying this model (considered by its critics to be unrealistic and of only theoretical value) has informed thinking for some time.
My view is that whereas the fundamental nature of the PR function clearly hasn't changed, the new relationships that are being enabled by social softwares is making possible the practical implication of more transparent two-way flows and this is new.
In a comment to Stuart's post John Cass writes:
....blogs, forums, wikis and other online websites have created new reasons for conversation with journalists, and bloggers. Previously private conversations with journalists were not revealed in a public space, today, people conducting blogger relations do conduct those conversations in a public space.
He goes on...
The process of conversation as well as the ideas expressed both build the relationship or not between two bloggers. But just as FDR was playing to the individual listener in his famous broadcasts from the 1930's, the blogger conducting blogger relations also has to be aware that what is written on a blog will be seen by a wider audience.
Stuart is unmoved:
PR ... is a management discipline about two-way communications, behaviour and reputation. It has never been just about "telling a story to media, Govt, investors and/or analysts". According to that limited description of PR then we would be at PR 2.0, but the problem is that isn't a definition of PR 1.0. Most descriptions I've seen of PR 2.0 would fit classic definitions of public relations.
We are not talking about an 'upgrade' of PR, one where you throw away the old version; we are talking about thinking carefully about how PR does what it has always done but in a way that is attuned to the new social media landscape.
To an extent there is always a new PR. The challenge over the next few years is to come to terms with social softwares and I am delighted that people of the calibre of Stuart Bruce, Tom Murphy, Neville Hobson and Elizabeth Albrycht are willing to join the University of Sunderland in trying to explain the New PR through our conferences. Whether I am looking forward or backwards, I certainly learn a great deal from them.