I read with great interest the letter written by Harold Burson, the founding chairman of Burson-Marsteller, one of the most well-known PR firms in the world. I always enjoy input from executives such as Mr. Burson as they often have years of perspective, wisdom, and experience, but more importantly, also offer keen insight about PR and communications as it relates to today's issues and trends.
The letter that Mr. Burson had written was printed in the Fall 2010 issue of Comtalk, the magazine from Boston University's College of Communication, my alma mater and where I taught for years. In the printed letter, he makes several observations which are worth sharing as it relates to Public Relations becoming obsolete due to the Internet and/or social media. That being said, my post is a summary and review of his letter and the lessons I took from his well-thought out analysis:
First, public relations has been around from the very beginning of mankind and will be here through the years. The art of interacting, persuading, and communicating are all key components of PR.
Two, he shares an academic definition about PR: "Public relations is the applied social science employed to develop policies and behavioral patterns which, when communicated effectively, motivates individuals or groups to a desired course of action."
Three, public relations works with opinions and attitudes in the following manner:
a) Trying to change or persuade an opinion or attitude
b) Trying to reinforce a held opinion or attitude
c) Creating an opinion or attitude that currently does not exist
Thus, the overall purpose of public relations is to motivate or influence a person or group to take a particular stance, opinion, or action. This cannot be done through a new technological (Internet) or communication (social media) breakthrough, as this is the essence of PR.
There's no doubt that the Internet is a powerful tool but it is just that--a tool. It does not supersede or become the superset, rather, it is one of many devices in the communications toolkit, just like the telephone was when it arrived, the television, and email. That being said, the Internet is probably the strongest medium with the greatest capabilities ever seen for communications and public relations, but it still has its weaknesses. For instance, its ease-of-use and rapid speed allows anybody to become a de facto journalists even if the information is not correct or verified.
Public relations still has a seat at corporate boardrooms around the world. There's a great demand, maybe more than ever before, for PR executives to supply strong and ethical public relations support for institutions and organizations. PR professionals who can develop an argument and articulate it via mouth, pen, or keyboard are absolutely essential.
The challenge, moving forward, is for PR practitioners to continue to have an understanding of PR so that they can provide solid strategic advice and implement required programs to help a company achieve its goals and objectives. Ultimately, this cannot be done solely with a blog, with Twitter, or via the Internet. In the end, it still comes down to human interaction and well-thought out strategic and tactical programs.