Recently I came across the keynote presentation which Richard Edelman, President and CEO of Edelman, the world’s largest PR firm, had delivered at the 2012 Academic Summit at Stanford University. His insights about why public relations should evolve and take charge were inspiring. His explanation about how social media is a very powerful tool was an eye-opener. Mr. Edelman’s thoughts about why is it time for PR to take the lead can be accessed at the following link:

According to the presentation given by Mr. Edelman, the world has changed and now is the time for PR to lead. In today’s world people are skeptical. There is an increase in distrust in institutions. People don’t trust businesses neither they trust the government. These institutions haven’t given people sufficient reasons to trust them. Every day, there are reports of scams. Even big names with grand reputations like Yahoo and J.P. Morgan are letting people down. According to Edelman Trust Barometer, people no longer want to follow blindly that elite and top-notch management group has to say. Smaller groups consisting of managers, employees are more trusted by their peers. These changes in the society indicate that it is time for public relations to grab the license to lead.

Ann Lewes, CEO of Adobe said and I quote “PR is the most efficient and best way to immediate awareness.” I couldn’t agree more. Looking at the role PR plays, it would be useful to watch for following media trends which Mr. Edelman pointed to in his presentation.

  • New social giants are emerging: Social media is a very powerful platform to connect with people, stakeholders, and audience. The role social media plays in how effectively an organization or institution manages its communication efforts can’t be undermined.  Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr are some of the big fishes in an ocean. Utilizing social media effectively can make or break an organization’s relation with its audiences. I can’t emphasize enough, how important social media is and why companies should evolve and harness social media’s power.
  • Paid media now amplifies social: Social and digital media are getting intertwined with traditional media. Social media is not only a platform for social communication, but it’s also the source of information to people. Sponsors advertise using social media. Television, radio and print advertisements are not the only outlets. There has been a shift of power from traditional to social media. Gone are the days when the news cycle was once in 24 hours. In today’s digital world, news pours in every minute. With people receiving information on TV, tablets, laptops and smartphones, storytelling is interconnected across multiple platforms and it is time that companies adapt to that change.
  • Search is morphing with social: The keynote presentation also points out to the fact that people no longer need to resort to traditional search options to gather information. People post their questions on Facebook. Forums are very popular for discussions and opinion sharing. Great ideas are tweeted every second. News flash can be obtained as tweets. Almost every organization has their social media page. Now people seeking information about them don’t have to lookup bulky phone books or navigate using complicated maps to reach them. Information is compact, readily available and easily accessible.
  • Amplification now trumps circulation: With the existing information outlets, people no longer want to be passive receptors of information. They have various channels available at their disposal through which they can voice their opinion. Feedbacks and comments are seen everywhere. This indicates that information is not only circulated, but also analyzed, amplified, and responded to. The quantity of information that people are blasted with, is supersonic and so is the quality of information. Storytelling using visual mode is growing. Digital media has revolutionized the way any information is presented to people. Multimedia and technology allows companies to creatively explain their concept and sell it and all this is available instantly in people’s hands via tablets, smartphones etc.

After understanding the direction where the world is headed and how things have changed, Mr. Edelman presented that there could be three ways forward for PR.

  • Show and tell: People want you to be open and honest with them while communicating. They want you to be transparent and show them thing so that they could believe you. They don’t want to be kept in dark neither they want to be passive. Letting people express themselves in return (feedback) allows an organization to build lasting relations with their publics. It was also seen that there is infographic on trust in mobility. This means, despite the fact that millions are using mobile technology, they don’t trust it completely. I would empathize with this observation because people are bombarded with information. It would seem rather challenging to understand which information is credible. Hence, it is important that companies step up and communicate with people directly.
  • Be rational and emotional: This can be justified using ethos and logos. For a person to have faith in you, your idea should seem logical to people. It has to make sense to a person so that he understands what you are trying to convey. At the same time, human is a creature of emotions. Anything you try to explain has to appeal to the listener’s emotions.
  • Dig the data: Data is a solid proof to what you are saying. It is wise to back up your decisions using research and data. This provides a ground for you to lay your case on. Showing the proof using data will only help you to build the lasting relation with people.

Finally, after having given PR a direction, the presentation conveys what are the essential components which will make the communication efforts successful. The 4 communications “musts” are as follows:

  • Social engagement
  • Understanding data
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Visual story telling

I completely agree with Mr. Edelman’s insight and opinions. It is time PR moved on beyond perception management. PR has the power to change perceptions to reality. Public engagement is the very first step in getting public to understand and accept you. By communicating openly the company would earn trust. Every stakeholder is a spokesperson. Companies need to realize that and build stronger relations with internal and external publics. Acting on what you have promised is essential to make the relation lasting. Most important aspect is acting ethically. If an organization believes in public relations and gives PR a seat at the management table, the company is bound to succeed and have a good reputation in the society. As discussed above, social media is a very strong tool which can contribute to the company’s success.


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