Not long ago, as social media hit the fans, PR firms’ early adopters let out a curiously triumphant cry: PR IS DEAD! Something appears to be dead — but the former PR types mis-identified the body. The corpse appears to be advertising.
This is why. Everyone’s a PR person now. Influential mommies are blogging for Wal-Mart, though only if the products rate a happy emoticon. Your granddaughter has broken 100 twitter followers. Your boss is getting retweeted and recommended for Follow Friday.
Why buy a cow when the milk is free? Advertising is the cow fewer folks care to buy. PR is free — which makes it a perfect fit for the web.
NPR’s “On Point” devoted a segment (Thursday, October 8, 2009) to a close examination of advertising’s corpse.
It would seem that reports of the death of public relations are, to cite Mark Twain, greatly exaggerated. They got the wrong body — which, I believe, was one of Twain’s plot twists.
Here’s the thing about public relations: It can’t die because it’s wired into our very beings. We hunt, we gather, we do the fight-or-flight, we opine, we seek, we want, we need — and we promote. Ourselves. Just read Erving Goffman on the subject — The Presentation of Everyday Life. (And I suspect the great sociologist disdained PR, politics and advertising, except to the extent that they provided him with the material for an extraordinary and influential career as the innovator of “dramaturgy” theory: Life is theater.)
We humans are unendingly theatrical, with our self-promotions, our apologies (“Sorry!”), our ingratiations (“Lovely scarf!”), our phatic relationship creation on the fly (“Hey — yo!”), our Linked In requests for recommendations, our Trumpian dreams, our romantic sales pitches and come-on lines, our bad-news spins (“It’s not what it looks like”), our “civil inattention” (a Goffman term for looking away from the guy with the awful limp). Humans are relentless dramatic.
So it shouldn’t be any wonder that we’re wired for PR. Only now, with the 75,000 iPhone apps and the few dozen social media “tools,” our dramaturgical theatricality — our craving for love and attention — has been (Choose One: enabled; unleashed) by the 24/7, free web.
What underlies the FREEDOM! cries of the early adopters and web innovators is surely a matter of economics. But it’s also a matter of public relations. Not only isn’t PR dead — it’s roaming wildly across the landscape, a crazed but generally happy monster looking for love and fame and the chance to go viral. PR has become marketing’s sentinel, its lieutenant. Sometimes it’s the other way around.
Advertising? It’s a delicious and ridiculous and corny and fabulous and sometimes stylishly fashionable thing of the past. I’m a fan of “Mad Men,” whose popularity seems to me like the kind of love we have for treasures of the past — like the Orient Express or the Charleston. Only advertising isn’t coming back any time soon — that is, until some genius exhumes the body.