The “P” in PR Should Stand for “People”


This week, Shannon Paul suggested that integrating social media into communications strategies was putting the “P” back in PR, renewing a focus on public instead of media. I agree with Shannon a bit, but wanted to up the ante.

Shouldn’t the “P” stand for People? My wife and I aren’t a public. We’re people. I’m willing to bet you’d say you’re people, too.

Yes, I know that “public” refers to groups of people, but that still feels a bit cold to me. This is more about changing our mindset, for those of us who need it. People expect more personal relationships and one-to-one conversations. People want to share their dreams and fears. People want to be heard. People want connections.

I believe PR is well-positioned to lead the charge in creating more powerful connections between people and our brands. But we have to look for ways to foster those relationships, which goes beyond a great story on cold newsprint.

That’s not to say that those news stories aren’t worthwhile. They always will be. But we can’t stop there. Those brands that do stop there run the risk of losing out to brands that pursue ways to engage with people. I think this will become more noticeable as the social media sphere grows, along with the opportunities it presents to connect directly with people.

Have we gotten so focused on media that we’ve elevated placements above the people we’re actually trying to reach?

Do we pitch stories to outlets that don’t target our “people” for the sake of increasing impression numbers?

Do we send stuff out on newswires because you get some automatic online “placements” and “impressions” that real people could never find by searching the news site, even with perfect keywords? (We can only find them because we’re sent a direct link.)

I agree with Shannon. Media outlets are vehicles – tools, if you will – not the end goal. But I think the conversation needs to take an even bigger step back. In Yesteryear, we could get away with simply thinking about “publics.” I think, though, that might not cut it these days. Today, it’s all about People Relations.

*Image by Jairo.

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16 responses to “The “P” in PR Should Stand for “People”

  1. Nice work. PR would be much more effective if it can talk to individuals, rather than a general collective public.

  2. I agree – Public Relations is one-way communications designed to get a reaction or response to carefully crafted messages.

    People Relations allows direct access and dialogue with the people behind the business. A scary thought for some – but a reality being driven by consumers that demand it.

    Can’t hide behind a brand anymore – brands are becoming more human…

  3. It’s semantics, David. The solution is not to change the name but change the system. As long as the people sending out the message continue to do the same old thing, calling it People Relations is moot.

    The better question is why differentiate Public Relations, Media Relations, Community Relations, blah blah Relations? Why not streamline into one term, such as Social Relations?

  4. @Ari – I would argue that “Media Relations, Community Relations, blah blah Relations” all fit under the title “Public Relations.” To me, calling it “Social Relations” is just a name change, an unnecessary name change. I do think you’re onto something though. There does need to be a change in the way things are done.

    @David – Nice post. You’re right; we do need to get back to the people part. It’s not just about the media impressions. I am a big believer in the idea that the best way to connect brands with people is to bring the brand into their domain. If we can create the brand experience and make it personal to the people we are trying to reach, then we’re getting somewhere.

  5. I think a lot of what has gone wrong with our economy is how we treat people. I like a “People Relations” approach.

  6. I like the idea, but I’ve always thought that the focus on relationships is what differentiated public relations from advertising; also that we have to look different “publics”. We’re not all about selling products.

    Also, I must say that I totally agree about media impressions. I am only a senior in college now, and our professors often talk about the power of the third party endorsement. I think and argue, though, that that is not always important. If I’m trying to reach teen girls, why do I need to make sure that the story runs on the 6:00 evening news, or the Today Show. They will not receive that message. I think that sometimes we get blinded, thinking the news or media is most important, but in reality, what ‘public’ or group of people are we reaching that way?

    Nice article.

  7. @ari – on the surface it looks like semantics. whether we call it People Relations or Social Relations or anything else, but not changing the way we think about it, would lead to the same result. That’s why I said it’s about changing our mindset. We have to change the way we think about the business and about what’s important in terms of measurement.

    I’m not saying media relations is bad. It’s incredibly important. But the drive for more impressions can cause us to target media that aren’t on strategy for the sake of boosting the quantity of impressions that we get – not necessarily the quality of said impressions. And, if we stop at media relations, then we’re missing out on the great opportunity to create relationships with people.

    That’s where I was trying to go with the post.

  8. I agree, David. Great post. This thought especially struck a chord with me: “I believe PR is well-positioned to lead the charge in creating more powerful connections between people and our brands. But we have to look for ways to foster those relationships, which goes beyond a great story on cold newsprint.”

    Well said. In my relatively brief experience, I’ve found that a lot of what we call “public relations” work is really media relations. Fine. But I feel compelled to mention that almost every working definition of PR (and yes, I’ve seen quite a few) emphasizes two-way communication with publics – not media.

    @Liz You make a great point, as well. Why do we stress ourselves out for “top” media coverage if it’s not even going to reach our targeted publics?

    So what I’m left wondering is how do we veer away from our traditional media relations tactics in order to communicate directly with the people?

  9. Elizabeth McKinney


    You’ve certainly got a point. If there are no people for the pitch, for the release, for the communications tactics, what’s the point? The message has got to be focused (and, “unmassed,” as we say at my agency).

    No point in trying to talk to people if you’re (a) talking to the wrong people or (b) talking in the wrong language.

    @barrywise: I’m pretty convinced it can be done, or at least that you can talk to much smaller segments now than formerly possible.

    @Mark: If PR is only one way communication, then we’ll be out of jobs soon enough, because we’ll never know to tweak our campaigns to make them wildly successful.

    @ Liz: I’m of the belief that PR != advertising in that PR tries to change attitudes, opinions, and behaviors, while advertising simply tries to influence the purchasing decision. It’s not so much the relationship, but more about how the relationship is different for PR/advertising and how communication is different for PR/advertising.

  10. Said another way, it is no longer effective or appropriate to broadcast at the macro level when your customers expect micro, a personalized conversation. I love the sentiment of the post – and I’d add that as a culture we are seeing this trend toward individualization, not just in PR but overall in the ways that businesses interact with consumers. Brand is now about what people say on Twitter, post to blogs, AND the article run in the New York Times. It’s less controllable. And the only real way to keep on top of it is knowing your customers one on one and giving them a reason to come back to you again.

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  12. I think, at its core, PR has always been about the people:

    * The client
    * The audience
    * The media

    The problem is the view that many PR people take – “we know best so we won’t listen to other views.”

    This is what needs to change – stop being dinosaurs with an ego problem, join the real world and get back to listening as much as you talk.

    In short – RELATE.

    Nice post, David, as usual 🙂

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