PR by Any Other Name

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By guest PR columnist, Alison Kenney.

There have been quite a few blog posts with provocative headlines wondering if PR is dead.*  While PR certainly hasn’t “died” it sure has changed.  Led mostly by the advent of social media, an overhaul of traditional media and an overall democratizing of information, PR has evolved.  But what exactly has it evolved into?  Can we still call it PR?

The old notion that PR is responsible for putting spin on a story that appears in the media is certainly dead.  That job is more accurately called “crisis communications” now.  Also, the idea that PR is responsible for controlling a story is dead.  As Hubspot’s Brian Halligan pointed out last year, journalists have faster and easier ways to get information besides going through a PR person and the “public” no longer consists of just a handful of important media outlets (now, we have a broad spectrum of audiences and channels that need to be managed).

I think it’s interesting to see how PR is perceived in other places of the world, too.  As Janette van Kalkeren writes on the PR Conversations blog, public relations as it’s practiced in Europe has origins in wartime propaganda, which led to a media-focused approach.

“However, the negative connotations from this heritage of propaganda led to different ways of representing public relations. For example, in the Netherlands it is often called ‘communicatie’ (communication); in Finland it goes under three different names: ‘ytheystoiminta’ (affiliation work), ‘viestintä’ (communication) and ‘sudetoiminta’ (relationship activity). In most European countries, the term ‘public relations’ is rarely used, making it hard to define the practice across the entire continent.”

So what does it mean to “do PR” now?

Yes, social media is a big part of our reality but it certainly isn’t a PR killer – it’s simply a new way of doing what we’ve done for years with traditional media targets: identifying audiences and influencers, engaging with them, and giving them reasons to continue engaging (or following or liking or whatever) with us.  It also isn’t a replacement for traditional media – rather, the two can and should work together.  PR professionals are also involved with online communities, although the job of managing a community is typically a separate duty.

PR professionals have always had a role in forming strategy, part of which entails listening and monitoring industry buzz, competitive news and customer feedback.  Although we’ve always had tools and services to help gather and analyze the buzz, today’s tools are much more complex and capable and we’re more likely to hire a PR team member who can be dedicated to this job, especially if we are in a large organization.

Content creation is also a major responsibility for the PR professional and I will argue that telling your story has never been more important than it is today and there have never been so many mediums available for telling it.  As an example, Eloqua, a forward-thinking marketing automation solutions provider, just hired a corporate reporter.

What do you think?  Is Public Relations the right name for what we’re doing today?

*Blog posts about the health of PR:

Brian Halligan’s post on HubSpot Is PR Dead?

Norman Birnbach on Six Reasons PR is Not Dead Yet

3Point Communications’ blog post: 10 Public Relations-related Discussions I Could Live Without

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on You can find her at Learn more about Alison Kenney.

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