Much has been said about new-age PR and its novel approach to communicating with people in the modern age. Guidelines have changed, visions have altered and processes have been updated, yet here I am, watching an industry evolve to satisfy a restless population on the lookout for the next best thing. Is it the industry that changed? Are people becoming more resistant to advertisements, promotions, and PR speak? If so, why are we still doing what we do? What are we attempting to achieve?
Edward Bernays, the public relations pioneer, and whose name is adorned on my agency’s brand, had a simple mission: weave a story to redefine a brand. The success of his ideas and philosophies, though, cannot be fully credited to him. True, he had an impeccable understanding of human psychology, bolstered by the fact that he was Sigmund Freud’s nephew, but audiences back then were accepting and gave companies the benefit of the doubt. Bernays understood that and communicated with them at a level they were willing to receive.
That was the golden age of the ‘it’s not how you say it, but what you say’. Consumers were starved for information and were susceptible to campaigns because they had no benchmark and had no reason to doubt the integrity of what is being promoted to them. After all, they once believed the world was being invaded by aliens just because a voice on the radio said so; broadcast media defined what was, and people had little to no reason to deny it.
As the years progressed, and as the message altered to ‘it’s not what you say, but how you say it’, consumers were no longer intrigued with a product or a message; they were looking for an experience. It’s not a burger you are getting; it’s the flavour and the companionship. It’s not a car with good mileage; it’s a road trip and the promise of the open horizon. Those were days when people dreamed of ideal futures and envisioned bright days ahead, full of potential.
However, things change. Just as we were getting accustomed to associating brands with the magic and mystery of life, the world, and the universe, we found ourselves as industry luminaries at the cusp of yet another era: ‘It’s not what you say, or how you say it; it’s who’s saying it.’
The new movement in PR is in the influencer movement, and for the most part, people seem to subscribe to that notion. I wrote recently about virtual influencers and the new step in influencer innovation. I heralded it and welcomed it as the new evolution in the ever-changing realm of communication, but they are far from being the next phase in public relations. I am consistently highlighting our need as communicators to work with the trends to best reach an audience whose access to information now far surpasses ours in regards to speed and validity. Where once we were the harbingers of what is, our job now is to be the sages who anticipate a change based on collated information. It is no longer on us to inform an audience, but to inspire and educate. This, I believe, is the real next step in public relations.
With a simple tap of a button on virtually any connected device, people are receiving their desired information from their personalised and curated lists of sources. They are not interested in what we have to say because, chances are, they have already built an opinion well before our campaigns and words reach them. In 2007, Time magazine presented its coveted person of the year to the population who were granted a voice louder than any media mogul, news anchor, or publicist. It was the beginning of a new era that only now is coming into full fruition. We are the ones who define narratives, not brands. We create our reality, not advertisements. We want agency over our desires and thoughts, and the more control we are granted, the more we are willing to trust a service or a brand.
You may be deterred from accepting random talking heads on your mobile device with a following that puts some celebrities to shame, but it is these same people who are driving the industry forward. It’s human to resist change, but it’s this resistance that produces the innovation that will carry us to the future.