Assessment, ‘How Public Relations is adapting to the Digital Media landscape’ Part 1

Commentary [2,000 words] “How Public Relations is adapting to the digital media landscape. This could be in the form of four 500-word blog posts and you will be expected to draw on insights from the lecture series, high quality blogs, books and other sources. ”

“How Public Relations is adapting to the digital media landscape”

–       Part 1

This is the first of a three-part commentary focusing on how Public Relations is adapting to the ever-changing Digital Media landscape. The blog will be separated into three blog posts, which will focus on;

1) The immersion of Public Relations and Digital Media and the effect Digital Media has had on the world and Public Relations up to the present day. A critique of the current use of Digital Media platforms within Public Relations and the potential future of Public Relations and Digital Media.

The role of a ‘Public Relations Practitioner’ is regarded by many as a new discipline, however the notion of ‘PR’ been around for centuries. Many textbooks argue that Public Relations became widely regarded as a ‘profession’ with the establishment of the US Publicity Bureau in 1900.

Digital Media however arguably didn’t fully emerge until the launch of the Internet in 1991, making (for once) Public Relations the more established of the two. This new online phenomenon changed the world in a big way. The Public Relations industry was no exception; agencies and in-house practitioners had to adapt or die.

Digital Media is defined as any media that can be encoded in a machine-readable format. This includes video, audio, e-books, websites, computer programmes and software amongst others. When considering Digital Media in relation to Public Relations the most significant derivative is most probably Social Media or Web 2.0.

then and now bigTaken from Sysomos blog – please click to enlarge.

Effect One – The Loss of Spin

Historically PR practitioners have been considered dishonest and untrustworthy. ‘Spin Doctors’ who will lie and manipulate in order to achieve their objectives. According to Eric Louew the term ‘Spin Doctor’ was first used in a New York Times editorial in 1984 and was used to refer to President Ronald Reagan’s media team. (Macnamara 2005: 297). This image has stuck and been well used since, so I think it would be fair to say a lot of PR Practitioners feel they are morally obliged to work to change this image.

The emergence of Digital Media and Social Media was the perfect stage to allow practitioners, and the clients they represent, to become vastly more transparent. The shadowy restaurant lunches that Practioners may once have been able to hide behind have now been replaced with bright screens. Robert Philips claims ‘Spin is now officially dead’. Consumers are now more interested in the goings on within all organisations and have the means to find out almost whatever they wish. Companies are left with little choice but to be open and honest when dealing with difficult situations, those that aren’t have borne the brunt many times over.

In-house teams, practitioners and agencies themselves who use dishonest tactics – Max Clifford being a perfect case – are being viewed with growing distaste from peers. The industry wants to use Digital Media to prove to the public that they can be trusted and they are providing an honest service rather than cover up’s and lies.

An excellent example of this comes from Stephen Waddington’s CIPR presidential election campaign ‘10 words and 10 pledges’. Stephen Waddington created a digital campaign which included a pledge called ‘Voice’ in which he stated his ambition to ‘Displace Max Clifford as the mouthpiece of the public relations industry and promote the expertise of CIPR members to the media, through social media and speaking opportunities’.

Companies must also take greater care internally. Employees have a much greater influence on the reputation of a business than in the past. A scathed current or ex-employee has the means to create huge issues for a company should they wish to. ‘Internal communication is as important as external communication.’ (Miller 2013:191)

The arrival of Digital Media has forced companies to include clauses in employee’s contracts, which detail what they can and can’t put online. An interesting example being taken from The Mayo Clinic Center in (Miller 2013:193): ‘Don’t lie. Don’t pry. Don’t cheat. Can’t delete. Don’t steal. Don’t reveal.’

internalPlease click to enlarge.

Word count (part one)  – 714

Please move on to parts 2 & 3 🙂


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