I have a confession to make: I don’t know everything about everything.
PR consultants carry a heavy burden to be all things to all people – sometimes it feels like we have an expanse of knowledge well beyond that required of an astronaut aiming to negotiate a lunar landing.
Of course, being an expert in many different sectors is part of the job and something that most of us absolutely thrive on. In what other job could I have gathered such a sufficiently broad base of knowledge and insight that I could talk at length about the intricacies of corporate banking or the finer points of Scotland’s renewable energy debate, only to switch in the same breath to the problems facing the global poultry breeding industry or the opportunities in affiliate marketing for price comparison websites?
But there’s a deeper issue in PR because of that need – and that’s the stubborn acceptance that we must know everything, about everything – particularly the changing media landscape.
My confession is cathartic because I don’t believe the special circumstances we all face at the moment allow us to become experts overnight. I don’t know all there is to know about the pace of change we are currently experiencing in digital media, mobile technology, social interaction and participation, and much more besides.
I learned a long time ago not to accept change as good for the sake of it, and therefore to bide my time and watch and learn as change happens around us.
And to admit as much is hugely rewarding because it opens up a plethora of new opportunities. For me, it’s all about listening. And thinking.
It is increasingly important to stop and think – to collate as much information as possible about a brand, a category, an audience, a product, whatever it is – because every time we stop, we realise the world has changed again. The best strategies reflect that change and respond to it, so the one-size-fits-all approach really shouldn’t feature at all at a PR agency anymore.
At Grayling we have changed the way we live and breathe PR and we are increasingly social in the way we operate. That’s not because it reflects the outside world – it’s because it’s better than what we had before. It’s a strategic choice, not a reaction to look the part, and of course it is rooted in changing times.
What do I mean by that? For me it means innovating. Speaking at the IGD Annual Convention in October last year, Proctor & Gamble vice president and general manager for the UK and Ireland, Irwin Lee, said: “We need to look at how we innovate for the consumer, how we connect today and tomorrow and work together as an industry with the consumers’ best interest at heart.”
At the heart of this comment is an open acceptance that we must be the masters of change by understanding how to harness innovation for the benefit of our target audiences.
All it takes is a bit of courage. Get involved – dip your toe in the water – try a few new things. See what works for you. You will soon understand how communities are developing online, how some consumers are creators, others critics, others joiners. Check out Forrester’s social technographics tool for a full run-down. A picture quickly develops – though every time you try to ‘listen’, to analyse a certain type of consumer or community, you’ll learn something new.
That’s the beauty of our industry at the moment – there are no all-knowing answers to questions anymore. Not really. Keeping up with change is a vital part of PR but increasingly I believe it’s about understanding change and applying that understanding that will matter most. Laser-guided PR.
That’s what is really exciting about not knowing everything.
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