Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Redefining Public Relations: Are You Persuaded By 'Earned Influence'?

Posted by Tom Foremski - February 17, 2015

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Paul Holmes (center) gives an award to Inner Circle Labs in early 2014.

Paul Holmes of the Holmes Report, writes that, "The importance of defining public relations has never been greater than it is today."

That’s because as various communications disciplines converge, as corporate reputation and brand image begin to blur, as clients seek solutions that encompass paid and earned and owned and shared media and engage multiple stakeholders, PR people find themselves competing with rivals from advertising, from digital, from other disciplines to offer critical insights, develop truly differentiated strategies, and to provide multichannel execution.

... a focus on “earned media” is surely too limited... Chris Graves, the Ogilvy Public Relations chairman ... believes he has the answer, or at least an answer. Rather than focusing on earned media, he says, the industry should be emphasizing its ability to deliver “earned influence.”

In his address to the PR Council and its members on his recent appointment as Chair, Graves said that public relations means that,

We understand the art and science of building relationships. When successful, those relationships allow us to engage others with purpose and respect, to share, educate, inform and entertain. Through these relationships, we earn the right to try to join conversations and maybe even change minds. We earn that right to influence others.

Call it [PR] earned influence.

Foremski's Take: I'm not persuaded by Chris Graves' argument to rebrand public relations as "earned influence." It sounds too much like PR spin and it shouldn't.

["Brand journalism" is another nonsensical PR spin on what should be plainly called corporate media.]

The only thing "earned" is the monthly PR retainer. Surely, it's better to choose words that are honest and accurate. Trying to link "earned influence" with "earned media" just double-underlines the misuse of the words.

Let's remember that the best PR in this new media age is all about authenticity.

"Earned media" sounds as if it happens all by itself, a natural phenomenon that is based on the merit of the subject itself, rather than paid agents actively promoting their client through relationships with journalists, Tweeters, social sharers, and any other influencers they can find.

"Earned influence" sounds as if it happens all by itself, the influence is earned on the merits of trust and mutual respect with influencers, rather than motivated by client dollars.

Words matter. Let's be straight with ourselves and everything will follow.

PR agencies are paid to persuade, to use their relationships for mercenary purposes. There is no need to disguise it. Everyone accepts that PR agencies have a business service to provide. 

PR "relationships" are viewed with suspicion by journalists, and everyone else for a good reason: the relationships come with an agenda to persuade — based not on the merits of a client's story — but on the merits of the client's budget.

Journalists need PR people to help them feed the daily beast. At its best, it's a mutually beneficial relationship that produces high quality media content, at its worst it is cynically manipulative and ethically bankrupt. 

PR agencies are paid to persuade influencers.  PR is the art of Persuasive Relations. It's more accurate and honest.  

Graves' efforts to establish a new definition of PR is to set it apart from competition with advertising agencies, SEO services, and every other form of paid persuasion service. But it's far more important to understand that PR has become just one of many types of persuasion services. Now what do you do? Do you pretend that PR is something else?

PR's challenge is that it is an artisanal, hand-crafted service operating within a brave new digital media world that rewards scale.  Ad agencies, SEO services, Facebook, Google, Twitter, know how to scale their promotional work through technology. 

Where are PR's scalable technologies of persuasion? 

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The Holmes Report names Tom Foremski one of the top 25 Innovators of 2013.




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