Her au pair asks, “Ready to go?” She doesn’t respond, her thumb on Instagram. A Barbara Walters meme is on the screen. She scrolls, and another meme appears. Then another meme, and she closes the app. She opens BuzzFeed. There’s a story about Florida Gov. Rick Scott, which she scrolls past to get to a story about Janet Jackson, then “28 Things You’ll Understand If You’re Both British and American.” She closes it. She opens Instagram. She opens the NBA app. She shuts the screen off. She turns it back on. She opens Spotify. Opens Fitbit. She has 7,427 steps. Opens Instagram again. Opens Snapchat. She watches a sparkly rainbow flow from her friend’s mouth. She watches a YouTube star make pouty faces at the camera. She watches a tutorial on nail art. She feels the bump of the driveway and looks up. They’re home. Twelve minutes have passed.
Thus begins 13, right now, a fascinating story from Jessica Contrera in May 25’s Washington Post, focusing on one 13-year-old girl’s relationship with the Internet. Much of what she learns and experiences comes from a supercharged combination of mediated messages, entertainment content and online peer relationships.
This topic is also explored in a recent documentary titled Screenagers, about teen addiction to smart phones. “Only three percent of teens’ screen time involves creating stuff, according to Common Sense Media. The rest of it is devoted to consuming video and music content, playing games and using social media,” notes a February article in Forbes’ by Keith Wagstaff.
How our relationships with screens affects communication today in terms of marketing, advertising, public relations, news, entertainment, etc. is speedily evolving. For those in the industry, the challenge of reaching people with our messages is daunting. If this 13-year-old engaged with a half a dozen platforms and saw scores of images in just 12 minutes, how will our messages reach her and her demographic? Can we penetrate the harmonies and cacophonies of the Internet and its maddening number of entertainment and information options? What skills do PR professional now need in a communication environment of total immersion? Your thoughts?
“Mad Men”, the landmark AMC series which ran for seven award-filled seasons, is coming to an end. Like Walter White, the central character of my other favorite drama, “Breaking Bad“, Don Draper was “Mad Men’s” sympathetic bad boy, though we could never consider either as a role model. I loved the show for its complex characters, compelling stories and quintessential attention to detail as it recreated the 1960s’ style, language and social perspectives. I also enjoyed its setting — a Madison Avenue advertising agency — and experiencing Don and his partners pitch traditional, media-based ad campaigns.
While watching, I would sometimes think about the operation of ad agencies versus PR agencies. In practice, the business model is similar; both advertising and public relations professionals seek out potential clients and compete with other agencies for the opportunity to work for them. However, once a client signs on, what PR and ad agencies do and the results they can achieve are significantly different, as the chart illustrates.
But social media has changed some aspects of the chart. For example, it notes advertising has “complete creative control” while in public relations, “media controls final version.” This is no longer true in the world of online communication. PR people DO control the creative content in their clients’ blogs, web sites, social media platforms, online video, and photography. And as the chart notes, public relations — especially in the new media age– can have far more impact than traditional advertising. And that’s the point: the agencies of yesterday have been forced to accept change or become irrelevant.
The same goes for traditional media. After a great run in the second half of the 20th century, print journalism, AM and FM radio, and broadcast television have seen shrinking audiences due to tremendous shifts in how we consume news and entertainment. There’s no way to accurately predict how they’ll ultimately survive.
Like the agency in which he worked, Don Draper has ended his run. He’d never recognize today’s ad and PR agencies. Fortunately, most advertising and PR professionals have been adapting to the changes. They’ve had to. Your thoughts?
For many college students, Summer Session I has begun. Whenever I start a new semester teaching Fundamentals of Public Relations, I ask my students to try to define PR before I even ask their names. Inevitably, several students will include the word “advertising” within their definition. I quickly admonish their answer.
When you advertise, you control everything. You decide the venues where your ads will run. You write the copy and choose the images. You determine how much time or space you buy, and where and when you buy them. You pretty much know who will see them. There is very little left to chance. The ads run as you wanted, where you wanted, and when you wanted.
Public relations, on the other hand, is about hope. You control nothing. You write the press releases, send them to your targeted media outlets and hope they’ll be printed. You pitch stories and hope reporters care enough to respond. When your stories do get media attention, you hope the outcome is positive, hope they get good placement, and hope they effectively communicate your message. That press conference you’re staging? You hope reporters will show up. Those blogs and social media posts you’ve created? You hope that readers respond.
It’s also about credibility vs. control. People understand that ads exist to sell them something, and audiences are hip and cynical. When people see informative messages in reliable media, they tend to believe them.
Of course, your success in PR actually depends less on hope and more on the relationships you develop with reporters, the audience you build in social media, and your ability to communicate effectively for all your targeted media venues. When you’re able to work these relationships and tools well, PR becomes less of a crapshoot and more about your skills.
So please don’t think that PR and advertising are the same thing. They’re most certainly not. Your thoughts?