Since When Does PR Need a Facelift?

In a recent post for Social Media Today (SMT), Tactical Transparency author Shel Holtz makes the case that traditional PR can still be just as effective of a marketing resource as the hot new grassroots options like “trusted peers” and word-of-mouth.  The catch?  In Shel’s view, traditional PR needs to start operating a little more… non-traditionally.

Holtz advocates newly-popular concepts like acting transparently, forsaking astroturfed messaging, etc.  Common sense, really.  It should go without saying that PR agencies ought to engage people in ways the people themselves find meaningful, rather than using new tools to reinforce old, erroneous and ineffective messages.  And yet… why have Holtz and countless others had to go out of their way to say it?

The popularity — and, in some ways, the mere existence — of books like Holtz & John C. Havens‘s Tactical Transparency and Chris Brogan & Julien Smith‘s Trust Agents would seem to signal that audiences now crave a return to authenticity in media.  But how did the practice — or the perception — of PR ever stray so far from these principles to begin with?  Why is social media heralded as an antidote to unsavory, top-down control of a company’s messaging?  And how have common sense observations about the need for honesty become so resonant?

It’s flattering to believe that social media is somehow immune from the excesses (or improprieties) that have become associated with the black hats of PR.  But that’s a false sense of entitlement.  If we’re all smart, the next stage of social media’s integration into mainstream messaging will focus less on how new messages are spread and more on what those messages are actually saying in the first place.