By Keith Morrison.
The future is the same, isn’t it? Even a ‘digital’ future doesn’t mean we forget how we communicate or we change how we communicate. Cut through the gadgets and the gizmos: the fundamentals of communicating are the same. And they’re simple.
I started a career in Public Relations in London before the first internet bubble burst. There were two reasons.
A flooded pitch and cancelled match meant I was able to pop into the University’s Career Centre for a talk given by two trendy Public Relations pros. They spent the hour being cool and clever talking about dunking biscuits and the fun they had planning and bringing a campaign (about biscuits) to life. They only once mentioned what consultancy company they were from; and it was while cycling home that evening that what my friend had said a few weeks earlier about the difference between Advertising and Public Relations suddenly rang true.
Jake had a ‘Souf’ London accent.
“A man walks into a bar. He walks up to a beautiful woman and says, ‘I’m great in bed!’ The woman ignores him.
“Another man walks into the bar. He walks up to a beautiful woman and says, ‘See my friend over there; he’s great in bed.’ The woman wants to know more.”
The first was Advertising; the latter was Public Relations. Admittedly, I had trouble reconciling that either man was successful but I was able to concede that one had more chance of influencing than the other. The fact that the two speakers at the Careers Centre hadn’t boasted about their company convinced me that I too wanted to learn to persuade as they had. I was drawn to the subtler form of promotional marketing.
These two moments converged and a career in public relations awaited.
Today, advertising, public relations, promotional marketing are all blurred and converged thanks to advances in digital technology. The traditional, strict demarcations no longer exist. Communications is the common theme and I now consider myself a communications professional (although I could also easily call myself a marketer).
Ready. Aim. Fire.
That’s it. That’s all there is to my profession. This doesn’t and won’t change.
Back to the pub, “You can’t walk up to a group of people having a drink, interrupt and then loud mouth about your interests. There are rules. It’s the same with a message board.”
Context in communication is everything. If you want to influence, you have to understand your audience, create trust and do it all with the outcome in mind. Message boards, blogs, twitter, snapchat.
What’s got everyone excited is data but often to the determent of remembering what we do best as communicators.
The possibility and availability of data led to the age of social media ascendency and a legacy of ‘digital ninjas’ being empowered to mishandle twitter accounts. Huge marketing dollars went into managing multiple digital channels and overeager, rash companies getting embroiled in scandals to pay social influencers. The bright lights of readily available statistics and visibility of conversations – conversations that have always taken place but just perhaps not documented – have somewhat dwindled and attention is now being focused on the backend rather than the frontend. IBM’s Watson. Marketing automation software. The dawn of the ‘marketing scientist’. Digital analytics.
Today, it’s all about connecting ISPs, emails and CRM systems. Business intelligence for sales. Business-to-Individual marketing.
It’ll take a while for us to come up for air again and firmly get our focus back as an industry on influencing, persuading and generating targeted outcomes through planned communications efforts.
The future, no doubt, will sharpen our understanding of our audience, our Aim, and what tool we chose to Fire with. But it won’t change why we pull the trigger in the first place, our Readiness to Fire: empathy, understanding the human spirit is what will endure in our profession and differentiate good communication from bad communication.
You can never replace the human dimension of walking into a bar and everything that follows. Prepare for that and you’ll understand the eternal art of communication.
Although I can’t join Eoin in human bodily form in Cong, I hope this provides a lighter perspective alongside his session on the future of PR. I look forward to seeing the videos and participating digitally. Emoticon, out.