Monday, 12 January 2009

Does PR now have less in common with journalism?

I had a reasonably heated, but friendly, debate with a friend of mine in PR, who comes from more of a journalist background than me [mine is Chemistry], about how social media means that PR types now have less in common with journalists. 

In simple terms [cos that's all I can do], my argument went:
  • "The future of PR is about taking the lead in social media
  • Social media is creating conversations and engaging with people, not writing releases and doing sell-ins  
  • Ergo, to be good at PR you need to be good at engaging with people and having authentic conversations, which isn't typically journalism skills."
His argument went:
  • "Stop being such a geek and go the damn bar
  • Brands still need to tell their stories in interesting and informative ways, even with Facebook and all that malarky
  • Journalism is still the best profession for telling stories that inform, entertain and educate.
  • Ergo, PR needs similar skills to journalists"
We agreed to disagree. I went to the bar and then showed him my iPhone light saber application.

A few days later and something happened to make me think the old 'press-o-saurus' might have a point. Ironically, it was during a run through for a pitch to build an online community. We were talking through all the whizzy social media functionality that the community was going to have and showing very cool designs of the site and everyone was reasonably excited. 

But it was when we got onto the content ideas that people really got into it. Talking about the stories the community bloggers would post and the conversations that people were likely to have, really brought the community to life. The people in the room really started to relate to what the community site was going to be about and got very carried away. 

All this led me to the conclusion that, Social Media and the future of PR will still be all about content that is interesting, appealing and have water cooler value. i.e content that informs, educates and entertains.

OK, so it's not exactly writing corporate press releases about the 'revolutionary end to end solution V2.0', but it is about creating content that people want to read. Which is pretty close to what journalists are trained to do.


Dan Thornton said...

I'd worry that the definition of the skills of a journalist aren't properly represented correctly.

A major part of journalism is managing a contact list (That would be a social network of the non-Facebook type), and being able to communicate with everyone from the CEO of a huge MegaCorp to a reader, and spot the interesting leads from both.

That's something that transfers directly to social media, and it's how I believe Journalism will survive - taking the 'on the spot' news that's provided by the likes of Twitter, Qik video, Facebook updates etc as journalists can't compete with witnesses for immediacy - but then building on it with context, insight, additional reporting of other sources, and ways to present and allow people to easily digest all the possible sources.

Essentially PR, Marketing, Journalism, Blogging, or just chatting with friends, is all just about presenting the information you want to share (for a number of reasons), in the way that makes it most interesting and worth passing on again.

Robin Wilson said...

Hi dan. Thanks very much for the comment. I think it's a very valid point about how journalists are using social media to manage contacts, find stories. [If I remember correctly the Beeb appointed a journo in Oct 2008 whose role was to use social media as a source of stories.] In my experience journalists were the first to get involved in social media and probably make more use of it than most professions.
Sorry if I haven't done justice to the skills of a journalist - I was trying to focus more on the content side of things, rather than the skills needed or processes used.
I guess my main thought was that social media is about useful content, journos are experts at useful content and so PRs working in social media can learn more than we think from journos.
I think you sum it up better than me in your final para - 'presenting the information you want to share in a way that makes it most interesting'.
Thanks once again