The New PR

Last week, Jeremy Wright joined our team at Thornley Fallis & 76 design.  Since then, several friends have asked me how we were able to attract Jeremy to join a public relations agency.

It’s the new PR.

For several years, we have been moving Thornley Fallis beyond old style public relations to understand and participate in the new communications, communities, and social relationships that universal search, social media and ubiquitous online access have made possible.

This new public relations is grounded in anthropology, sociology, and technology.

The new public relations is about understanding relationships between people, what people want and need from these relationships, and how they form, sustain, and use communities of interest.

We don’t see people as target audiences.  We see people through the lense of communities.  And we participate in those communities. We earn our place by understanding the dynamics of the communities and adding value.  We add value by helping those communities to function better and by contributing unique and new content to the conversation.

We still draw on our ability to write clearly, an understanding of what people are interested in, and a knowledge of traditional media and how they work. (They haven’t turned off the lights at traditional media yet – and I don’t think they will in my lifetime.)

However, these traditional skills now must be supplemented by other expertise.  An understanding of community formation.  What makes people seek out one another?  What makes a community grow? What makes it die? What is the impact of the removal of barriers to collective action online? How far can we push social media’s ability to transcend the limitations of geographic proximity and bring people together in one conversation, regardless of where they are in the world? What of the new online intimacy? How do we revise our notions of privacy in this era? How do we help people satisfy their desire to extend their online relationships with real world relationships?

Public relations practitioners must also know how to create the new meeting places.  As the ties that bind us to traditional media break down, people find new ways to discover the information they need and to share it with others.  The combination of search with social software provides us all with the power to do this.  But some solutions are better than others.  The new public relations practitioner must know what makes a social platform work and how to improve on what is already there.

Measurement is essential to understand what is going on and the impact of what we do. Old yardsticks are inadequate to gauge the new dynamics. GRP’s, impressions, reach – these are the metrics of a bygone era.  We must develop and apply new metrics for engagement, momentum, influence and the growth, depth and characteristics of our social graphs.

New possibilities, new tools, new channels.  All call for new people with new expertise.

The new public relations agency is a hybrid that draws on new areas of expertise and skill sets.  We’ve been trying to create this kind of agency at Thornley Fallis and 76 design. More than anything, I think it’s the thrill of participating in that innovation and invention that brought Jeremy Wright to us.

Of course,we’re not the only firm doing this. We know that several other firms are heading down this route. Firms like Shift, Voce, Edelman.

Bottom line: For those who think of public relations as they might have even five years ago, please take another look. You’ll find something quite different under the hood at the thought- leading public relations firms.

This isn’t your parents’ public relations.

  • Very interesting post, Joe.

  • Aar

    I’d have never put Edelmean in that group. You might as well throw in Ogilvy as well for their Ogilvy 360. In fact, I would have taken Ogilvy over Edelman.

    Congrats on getting Jeremy, though. Good land.

    • Aaron, you make a good point about Ogilvy. I pay close attention to John Bell’s thoughts. I simply haven’t had much contact with anyone else at Ogilvy. I should take a closer look at them.

      Edelman looms large for me because of people like Steve Rubel, Rick Murray and Phil Gomes. On top of that, Richard Edelman strikes me as a kindred soul in having avoided being swallowed by one of the holding companies. He’s carved out his own path, which took his company into social media long before others took it seriously.

  • Joe, thanks for the welcome. Lots to learn, and posts like this definitely confirm the “right choice” mantra I’ve been singing for the last week!

    Aaron, I’m going to have to agree with Joe. I’m a huge fan of the Edelman team and the work they’re doing, approach they’re taking and individuals like Rick, David Armano, Steve, Salima, Rachel, Stephan, etc in Canada/US and UK.

  • Congrats to all involved, I’ve known both of you (Joe/Jeremy) for quite a while. It should make for some added insight that goes beyond the traditional PR thinking.

  • My parents didn’t know what PR was before. Now they are really confused.

  • Dave, Your parents aren’t that much different from a lot of commentators that I hear criticizing the PR industry. They don’t understand PR either. In fact, they’re criticizing the stereotype of PR that they acquired years ago – and that stereotype has not kept up with the reality.

  • This post caught my attention because it defines public relations in an ideal way for me. As a PR student, I’m constantly searching for different fields, industries and tools that will help pave a career path for me in public relations. Two buzzwords stood out to me in this blog post: community and social media. These terms continue to pop up on Twitter, on company websites, and in class. I enjoy hearing how agencies are using social media to develop a greater sense of community.

    I’m happy to hear that public relations agencies are using new tools to create and maintain relationships with clients. You asked, “How far can we push social media’s ability to transcend the limitations of geographic proximity and bring people together in one conversation, regardless of where they are in the world?”

    I just wrote a blog post about the social network application called Foursquare, which enables users to “check in” via their mobile phones to venues all across the city. It uses geo-tagging abilities to suggest new restaurants and bars to try in the neighbourhood, and facilitates social networking on a new level. I’m intrigued by the idea of using social networking applications like Foursquare and Twitter to develop relationships with clients/useful contacts/strangers instead of more traditional methods of PR like you mentioned.

  • The increasing interest in social media networks illustrated a very different perception of the public in my mind. I imagined the desire for greater on-line social networks, represented a desire for a more technologically based world. “The New PR” presents a novel perspective on the relationship betweenthe public and on-line networks. If I understand correctly, people use these online networks to achieve a sense of community.

    I’m very much captivated by your attempt to understand individual relationships within a public to make up this idea of community. This goes beyond PR’s traditional attempt to go simply comprehend a publics relationship to the media. I think there is something completely ironic with the fact that society has a desire for the nostalgic. How much of PR’s previous school of thought should be completely abandoned? Or highly integrated? For example, how far should PR practitioners separate ourselves from the idea of a “target audience”?