It was a bustling and energy-filled evening at the Horn Group's offices. People crammed into the partitioned space and settled behind rails and in the balcony upstairs. Most attendees were in PR, some in "Social Media," others in Marketing.
The session was set up as an informal conversation. Sam Whitmore of Media Survey, did a good job engaging the audience and taking questions as conversation leads.
What's interesting to me is that people are missing the point. The issue isn't about social media vs. PR but rather about evolution. PR, like many other fields (book publishing, farming, music, even our government) is evolving. The real dichotomy is not an external one--not between this or that practice--but rather, it is an inner dichotomy between staying the same and accepting change.
When people work so hard to turn things into perfect little packages (that often they are not), it is extremely difficult to see when things no longer work as they once did. PR by its traditional definition is about making a sale. To do that, PR people have to be experts at making things look nice and appealing, turning them into the cough syrup someone needs or into a brand new air you now must breathe.
Evolution, if you think about it, becomes a frightening proposition to those who are not accustomed to it. The very people who are so good at PR, often find it just as hard to look inside the practice--which is to a large extent their identity--and critique. They're used to creating beautiful fronts--not to look at the cracks underneath.
Tonight's gathering was a great sign that things are changing. The conversation is beginning, bit by bit. Perhaps it doesn't flow but it sure seem to be trickling. Over the coming months and years, I predict we'll see people becoming leaders in the industry not for doing one or the other, but for bringing together traditional PR and what's termed Social Media (another post on that soon) and for creating a full-spectrum system that doesn't speak to this or that tool, but to finding creative ways to address what a firm's client is looking for.
Boundaries have been blurring for years between applications, solutions, and devices. The flow between divergence and convergence is at play here too--PR used to be separate from Marketing which was separate from customer experience which was separate from, say, support. Most successful companies who have lasted through the last 15 years have seen exactly that. What makes them unique is that they adapted and evolved. PR, like any other practice, is going to do the same--by will or by force. It's the old adage, I guess: change or be changed.