Every once in a while a communications industry organization invites me to speak about social media. There are typically two reasons for this: 1) Steve Rubel wasn’t available (this happened all the time when I was at Edelman), or 2) the organizers didn’t realize until too late that the only “A-list” I’m on is the one run by Southwest Airlines.
These events make me extremely uncomfortable – not because I’m afraid, in fact just the opposite. I do speaking gigs and seminars all the time; often for CEOs and executives of some the world’s leading brands.
No, I’m uncomfortable because every time – I mean every damn time – the questions devolve into a turf battle over whom should “own” social media (as if any one discipline can or should “own” a public conversation.) If it’s the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), it’s PR people beating the drum. If it’s a group of marketers, well take a guess what they think.
This exact scenario played out last week during an Orange County PRSA speaking engagement. A PR Purist argued with a more open-minded colleague that “marketers” had no business being involved with social media. It was all about PR, end of story. What began as intelligent dialogue devolved into a personal, defensive, almost angry stand.
Keep in mind, we were taking about Facebook, not something that actually matters like curing cancer, Middle East peace or whether the Angels’ bullpen can hold a lead this year.
This needs to stop. Not only is the whole argument stupid, but the people who really matter – the public – could absolutely care less. The only ones who see a difference between marketing and PR are, well, the ones who consider themselves either marketing or PR professionals.
So here’s how we end the madness: Disband the professional associations.
That’s right, no more PRSA or AMA (American Marketing Association), no more 4A’s (American Association of Advertising Agencies), no more anything that’s defined by a legacy discipline that no longer has relevance.
These groups were established to mark their territories, not to collaborate with others and open new frontiers. As such, they force people to defend their turf and close their minds.
If you see yourself as a “PR person,” then of course you are going to do whatever it takes to preserve that designation. And while there are many in PR who break this mold and are able to adapt to change, the hardheaded of the lot just become more resolute in their vehement ignorance. The world sees a naked emperor and they see beautiful robes.
I asked the aforementioned PR Purist at the Orange County meeting whether my former agency, Edelman, is a PR firm. She raised her hand signifying “yes.” Just one problem, I said — My former boss, Richard Edelman, doesn’t agree.
That’s right: The largest PR agency on the planet doesn’t consider itself a PR firm, yet we still have organizations like the PRSA “representing” agencies like Edelman.
Richard prefers the term “public engagement,” because connecting with customers can be achieved in many effective and complementary ways. The public doesn’t care how it’s done as long as it’s honest, real, relevant and valuable. “Public Engagement” is discipline agnostic, as it should be.
It’s time for the rest of the industry to catch up. Stop trying to “own” social media and focus on what social customers expect. Do the real work necessary to improve how we communicate, tell stories and, yes, sell products and ideas.
You don’t really need an association to tell you how to do that, do you?