Thursday, April 27, 2006

PR: Out of Control

Neville Hobson has a great post on the BBC's world-changing plans to embrace new media.

Maybe because I got dizzy about all the newfangled evolutionary angles, I found myself grounded by the to-and-from between Neville and Richard Bailey in the ensuing comments. The communications pros debated the semantics used to describe these "seismic shifts" in the mediasphere.
Richard asked, "Is it an obituary for mass media? Or is this the advent of 'masses of media'?"

Neville suggested, "I don’t think it’s the advent of 'masses of media,' just 'participatory media'"
Regardless of what we call it, this trend suggests massive fragmentation that will challenge the scale and processes of today's PR community. This is already happening. The BBC announcements are proof of an acceleration of the trend.

From a scale perspective, PR pros will need to exponentially increase their ability to target and reach out to emerging media channels. This suggests an investment in human capital and technology tools that could become onerous to mid-sized and boutique agencies.

From a process perspective, the "amateur" content creators will expect unprecedented levels of access and transparency. Every pitch is fodder for use, ridicule, etc. Every interview will become a platform for multimedia re-packaging within podcasts, blogs, videos, etc. Public companies who embrace citizen journalism (good!) will likely run afoul of the SEC (bad!) if they don't remember that these "amateurs" are not experts on NDAs, Sarbanes-Oxley, etc.

All those "etc." from the previous paragraph mean only one thing: Control is gone.

The mediasphere is adapting: the folks at the BBC are essentially creating a hosted platform for media fragmentation, to ensure their survival. Will PR also be able to adapt to the loss of control implied by "consumer-generated content?"

I don't think we mind losing control of the message, all that much. We can talk a client through that. "If you love something, set it free," and all that. The scary part is adapting to the scale requirements, training, and newfound fuzziness when it comes to the basic how-to's of Public Relations.

The BBC is blazing a trail; other media outlets will follow; the mediasphere is submitting to the will of the masses. What we must fear most is a languid response on the part of the PR community.


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