The Future of Advertising? It’s PR!

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.

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4 Comments

Filed under Public Relations

4 responses to “The Future of Advertising? It’s PR!

  1. Richard Cole

    Advertising is a marketing function. Public Relations is a management function. The former sells products. The latter earns relationships. Call it what you want, but using messages that are paid or free in order to sell things or ideas falls into the category of advertising — marketing or propaganda. Using messages that are free or paid to express or reinforce committment to the public interest is good business — public relations. The issue is not a war between advertising and public relations — its a struggle to get otherwise thoughtful people to understand the differences. Both have their place — and are different.

  2. The idea that PR trumps advertising, or that advertising is dead, isn’t exactly a new one. Al and Laura Ries said it 7 years ago (The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR), among others. Frankly, this doesn’t offer much new insight, as many of us have known that the future of communication is public relations because of its natural emphasis on interaction and dialogue, and its recognition of public needs over creative ad copy. I echo what Richard Cole says, above, that each has its role, and the better insight here would be on how the two work seamlessly. Advertising will always be a critical component in communications, as will PR, direct selling, and others. The point isn’t that one is dead, but that we have to move our consideration from the parts to the whole–taking a holistic look at communications and the various parts that it comprises.

  3. Andrea Giangreco

    Yes, advertising as a soul entity is dying out. But it has not disappeared off the face of the Earth. It now works harmoniously with PR to spread messages. Even journalism can be used with advertising and PR to create a communications trifecta. Today, advertisers cannot be “Don Draper” in the work place. They must be Renaissance Men/Women to get ahead.
    Saying this is a total cliché and cop out- but the economy is one probable reason for the sudden surge for PR. PR is FREE. Advertising costs MONEY. What does everyone seem to lack now-a-days? MONEY. It really is a no brainer why PR is triumphing.
    That being said, though the costs of advertising campaigns are quite high, it is not totally out of the question. The way I see it, advertising is like a luxury car. The big companies with big wallets can splurge on the Lexus with all the fixin’s: GPS, Mp3, Bluetooth etc. Then there are some companies who can go two ways. There are those who want the “brand name” (or, advertising campaigns) but can only afford the bare minimum of the brand, sans bells and whistles. The others, who can afford the bare minimum, save their money and use PR. I’m not by any means saying that PR is a poor-man’s advertising. Not at all. I’m saying that PR is a logical choice for budding companies in a economically hard time.

    Ps… love the tom sawyer reference!

    • Robert Brown

      I wonder how the conversion of Facebook LIKES to advertisements (more or less) will affect the advertising business. Investors have been initially skeptical that Facebook shares were worth $38 because FB hasn’t any business model to monetize ads on mobile screens, and mobile is where the action is.

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