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Book Review: Putting the Public Back in Public Relations

March 1, 2010 at 5:22 pm
By Laurie O'Melia O'Neill

Putting the Public Back in Public Relations

Not for PR practitioners only—a good read for marketing communicators, as well.


Aside from my desire for substantially fewer pages and less repetition (the latter which would, of course, result in fewer pages), Putting the Public Back in Public Relations: How Social Media is Reinventing the Aging Business of PR, (2009, FT Press) by Brian Solis and Dierdre Breakenridge, provokes serious thought about a new world for PR practitioners.


Edward Bernays, one of the originators of modern public relations, once wrote, "The three main elements of public relations are practically as old as society: informing people, persuading people, or integrating people with people. Of course," he added, "the means and methods of accomplishing these ends have changed as society has changed."


Society has done a whole lot of changing since Bernays wrote those words possibly 70 years or more ago, but not a whole lot has changed in the practice of public relations. As a student of public relations, I recall learning that the discipline of public relations is about creating or clearing a channel for true communication to flow, and then managing that flow to achieve an environment of interaction, whether it be sales, services, participation, etc. In practice, I was sometimes dismayed to learn that clients themselves didn’t understand PR, and wanted, instead, a quick fix to their reputation,  deserved or not, or publicity—also deserved or not. (There’s a faded post-it always at my elbow on which I long ago scribbled, “Is it newsworthy?” It’s my reminder before bothering news media with non-news.)


The authors of Putting the Public Back …, both principals in their respective companies and noted writers and speakers on assorted marketing and public relations topics, have compiled an impressive amount of evidence to support the fact of stagnancy in at least some PR practices. They make a strong case for the gradual but persistent erosion of PR’s own reputation and suggest that embracing the new world of social media will help PR recover its standing.


Solis coined the term “PR 2.0” back in 1999, eons ago in social media time. He recognized that new channels of influence were arising, and it was time to learn the ropes. “PR 2.0,” say the authors, “was born through the analysis of how the Web and multimedia were redefining PR and marketing communications, while creating a toolkit to reinvent how companies communicate with influencers and directly with people.”


So it’s time to recognize that two-way communication is back where it belongs. Clearing or creating a channel for honest conversation is once again the goal. A single news release disseminated to media outlets is no longer adequate (if ever it was). Rolling up your sleeves and learning about the journalists, about their on and offline publications and programs, about the bloggers and their blogs and their readers is now de rigueur. And if you don’t, you’ll be left behind. Way behind.


The real meat of this text (and it really is a textbook), lies in Parts II through IV. Solis and Breakenridge have provided in-depth recommendations for the PR (and marketing) professionals of the future:


·      Blogger relations. Not every blog is created equal, and the sheer numbers of them can be off-putting. Fortunately, there are tools that rank them and determine their authority on any given subject, and the book cites a number of them. Learn, too, about how to communicate with bloggers and how to be thought of as a resource rather than a PR spammer.

·      Social media releases (SMRs). A well-written release is still a valuable tool and is not to be replaced by the SMR. But SMRs are a whole different animal and can spark conversation in a multitude of ways.

·      Video news releases (VNRs) 2.0. Arguably even more valuable than the earlier version, VNR 2.0s are less expensive and can reach far more people than their predecessor.

·      Corporate blogging. This chapter is worth the price of the book itself.

·      Technology doesn’t override the social sciences. This is about modern communications and about what people online will and won’t tolerate.

·      Social networks: the online hub of your brand. If nothing else, read pages 173 and 174 for a valuable top ten list on how to target people through social or traditional media.

·      Micromedia. The power of these bite-sized nuggets. And it’s not just about Twitter.


The authors are upbeat about PR today and in the future. They call it a renaissance for public relations. Not the best-organized text in the world, but wade through it anyway. As Seth Godin, author of Tribes, suggests on the book jacket, ignore this information at your peril.

Tagsreview, Dierdre public Breakenridge, relations, PR Brian 2.0, Book Solis,
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