Be careful what you wish for in your new year PR resolutions

A great British tradition at this time of year is the pantomime, a popular form of theatre that tells (and retells each year) a range of family-friendly stories. These tall tales normally include a wish (or three in the case of Aladdin), ensuring villains and bad luck are overcome and a ‘happily ever after’ as the end result.

Public relations could be thought of as a mysterious, even magical, function which uses creativity to help achieve wishes. Sort of like the genie in the magic lamp called upon by Aladdin to grant his heart’s desire.

Often the aim of PR is thought of as an ability to magic up publicity, making people famous, getting individuals or brands talked about, and ultimately helping them to make money. But as with Aladdin’s genie, granting such wishes comes with consequences. We also have to remember that once the genie – and his/her wishes – are granted, they are almost impossible to put back in the bottle.

I’m not against the use of publicity within public relations, but believe it should be used to help achieve long-term strategic goals, not just to add a bit of Tinkerbell sparkle, misdirect public attention away from the bad-guys or to get noticed in a “he’s behind you” obvious way. When the curtain comes down on a campaign, we should think about what happens next – as with Sondheim’s Into the Woods (to quote from Wikipedia), we need “to explore the consequences of the characters’ wishes and quests“.

As public relations practitioners, we should be aware that getting media or social media coverage is not the end of the story. Indeed, this tactical approach may not be the best way to achieve a desired outcome – we need more in our toolkit than a magic lamp. And, as with New Year resolutions, we should be careful what we wish for.

Looking forward to the year ahead, I have produced a Guide to using Social Media in 2015 drawing on my experiences leading the PR Academy Digital Communications Certificate course (See my post at PR Conversations and course details at PR Academy). I wouldn’t describe my focus on six trends as wishes or even predictions, but looking at where things seem to be heading.

New year predictions can be found readily via any search engine, with CIPR publishing a crowd-sourced trends book #PR2015 (seeStephen Waddington’s blog).

It seems that integration (or blurring as it is commonly described) of PR and other functions such as marketing, is a trend that is predicted to continue into 2015. Indeed, this is the topic of our MIPAA PR Masterclass on 23 January. The theme of The Road Ahead, focuses on increasing congestion, convergence and questions about the continuity of traditional PR, marketing and journalism practices.

Over the past few years, terms such as native advertising, brand publishing, content marketing, corporate journalism, narrative storytelling, sponsored content, employee social media advocacy, brand hijacking and paid/owned/earned/shared media have emerged and highlight the increased blurring and overlap between what were once clearly distinct roads.

What the MIPAA PR Masterclass aims to do is step outside the day-to-day on-stage activities and consider the implications of trends, and identify possible directions of travel to take best advantage of the new opportunities and overcome the barriers to future success.

The challenge comes not in spotting trends, or making predictions, but in determining what these mean and what we should do about them. We also need to be mindful that envisaging the future is not the same as wishing it will come true.

In pantomimes, the happy ending leaves us with a good feeling as we leave the theatre with applause ringing in our ears. A similar buzz can be found in PR when we take our curtain call having supported a successful performance. But where the villains are vanquished or transformed on the stage, our challenges continue, year on year.

That’s why our number one resolution for public relations – should be to think ahead. Consider the consequences of our actions and wishes, and take the time to educate ourselves in the spirit of continuous improvement. If we wish the future to be better than the past, we need to take control of our story and our role in the pantomime. Traditionally fairy tales did not have happy endings and we rarely get to see what happens to the wish-makers in pantomimes. If we believe public relations should take a strategic, high profile role in the face of predicted trends, we’d better do more than just make a wish for this to be so.

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