The New Look of Public Relations — A Dissenting View [by Richard Edelman]

Editor’s note: The following piece written by Edelman PR CEO, Richard Edelman, was first published April 30th via Richard’s blog. With his firm’s permission, we republish it here as a contributory, industry supportive piece.

First PUBLISHED APRIL 30, 2013

Richard EdelmanMonday’s New York Times ran an article by Stuart Elliott on the rebranding of our competitor, Fleishman-Hillard (FH). The firm will “be the most complete communications company in the world… channel agnostic… across paid, owned, earned and shared media,” according to agency CEO Dave Senay. His is a bold vision, to partner with brands and to serve consumers with content that is alluring and worthy of sharing. The firm is hiring from outside of the PR field, from ad agencies, consultancies and brand identity firms. It sounds to me like the creation of a marketing services company within a single corporate entity.

I agree with Senay’s assessment of the convergence of media. I also agree with his recruitment of non-traditional talent. Where we part company is his strategy for becoming a one-stop shop that is as much an ad agency as PR firm. At Edelman, we are going to evolve and expand the remit of the public relations business.

The world is moving in our direction. We are not selling to an audience; we are trying to build relationships across the community of stakeholders. The horizontal, peer-to-peer, conversation is supplanting the top-down, controlled messaging that is the essence of advertising. The consumer is now also an employee, a shareholder, a member of an NGO, a community activist and a passionate user of products willing to advise on design.

PR is more than a set of tactics or tools. It’s a mindset; the ideas that come from PR people are different than those that come from advertising people. Both are engaged in storytelling, but the PR idea stimulates discussion and has the potential to play out over years. A PR idea has to start with relevancy and newsworthiness.

We are going to take full advantage of the inherent advantages of PR, which are credibility, speed, two-way interaction and continuous story creation. In the end, the consumer may not care about the source of the content, but quality counts.

We see massive white space opportunities with media, squeezed by declining print circulation and diminished digital advertising rates. We can accelerate promising content through promoted tweets and sponsored lists that go viral. We are going to reinvent the advertorial in cooperation with mainstream media. We will propose topics for special reports financed by a sponsor but with editorial autonomy. We will create a place for intelligent debate, from salon dinners to Twitter newsfeeds and industry conferences.

It is public relations that is best poised to serve clients in a dynamic marketplace that can be disrupted by a poor customer experience well catalogued in social media. We listen, we recommend policy change, we announce the new approach giving due credit to the aggrieved customer who pointed out the problem.

We see the potential of expanding into new product development, utilizing the community. Our client Adobe uses Facebook (image above) and its fans to beta test its products while in the development phase, then gives credit to members for useful adjustments. For this program we developed Adobe’s Create Manifesto, which helped frame advertising and overall communications.

We are playing a broader role, but we have to focus in our area of comparable advantage. Clients want specialist expertise and the opportunity to choose best in class partners. We are happy to work with advertising agencies, CRM and media buying firms for the betterment of clients.

Our industry has grown more slowly than advertising and much slower than digital in the past year. We have to re-frame our argument. Some will opt for the FH play of becoming a full-service provider. Others, like Edelman, will expand the definition of PR.

Richard Edelman is president and CEO of Edelman PR.

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  1. Chris Goddard says

    To me not sure it makes sense to be all things to
    all people– it is about choosing a focus and executing particularly
    well. I’m with Richard on this one.

    • Nicole Shore says

      Former Edelman staffer here. I agree. I am not sure what the size of those client teams will look like and how they will operate efficiently and decisively. Perhaps in line with what Richard says, I also think the idea of it mistakenly minimizes the role that PR plays. I find that many clients at first are not aware that PR looks at their entire business, that it isn’t the single tactic of publicity, while advertising, a tweet, etc. is a slice or a moment in a client’s lifecycle.

  2. Giselle Bisson says

    It’s fascinating to see the shakeup that social media is creating in PR and marketing — social media IS the media. It’s a new, conversational, collective way of creating news and sharing it in a two way, globally broadcast conversation that blasts our wirelessly to mobile devices. How agencies and marketers respond to that reflects how we tell stories best. Verbally, visually or virally, every way is ok as long as the message gets out and customers engage.

  3. Paul DelColle says

    Saw this column and had reservations about F-H’s strategy. Working “across paid, owned, earned and shared media” would be an invitation to blur them and thus imply that they have equal standing. Do they? I would like to think not, else we are in a totally pay-for-play universe where PR – and the independent validation that it provides – does not really exist anymore. Not sure if this serves the client well, either. Glad to be proven wrong. Just saying.

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