Digital & Social Media

Is Facebook Validating PR Fundamentals?

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Many of you are aware of Facebook’s changes to its algorithm. The updated algorithm detects overt commercial messages and does not release them to the public unless they’re paid for. It’s a change that reinforces fundamental PR strategies – and alters the strategy of brands that had been posting ad-like content without actually buying an ad.

The New York Times examines what the changes mean to brands, but there’s one line in the article that stands out to me:

“Facebook says that it’s [the change to the algorithm] all for the good of the users and that creative, engaging posts will still attract attention and bubble up into the feed.”

The core of the PR industry – reputation driven by earned conversation/earned media – is arguably more important than ever. Social media platforms such as Facebook recognize this, making it clear that overt marketing/sales messages will be apparent and belong as paid, while truly engaging conversations can and should still bubble up organically as earned. This is what news media have always done.

This means that we, the PR industry, should go forward with great confidence in today’s communications landscape; maybe even have a little swagger. We have the upper hand – and the substance – to back up our swagger.

Let’s think about what we have always done:

  • The world today craves authenticity. Our core counseling value is how to ensure just that.
  • People thrive on conversation and reject the invasive monologues of old. Our ability to create conversation is our fundamental skill set.
  • Organizations want relationships with their stakeholders, not just transactions. Relationships and conversations with stakeholders are what drove the creation and growth of our industry.
  • Consumers move fluidly and seamlessly between communications channels. We have always been channel-agnostic. It’s never been PR vs. advertising or direct mail. It’s always been that PR uses advertising, direct mail, media relations or other channels to match up with the media consumption fingerprint of our intended audiences.
  • Great content is created from all parties in authentic relationships. We appreciate, encourage and facilitate that.

I think you get the point. Today’s social media-driven world has resulted in the demand for effective communications coming our way. In a phrase, “It’s all PR” today.

It’s no wonder that other communications disciplines are trying to manufacture what we already have. More than any other communications discipline, we have the expertise to understand what is appropriate for paid and what is appropriate for earned.

“It’s all PR.” This is not just a claim, it’s a point of education – and it’s a call to action. It’s a way to wake people up to the real role of public relations in society today, and the fact that they don’t need to look beyond the heritage and expertise of our powerful art and science for the right solutions. We need to head off the opposition, take the intellectual high ground and prove it. Then prove it again, and prove it once more.

Chief communications officers already “get” this.  Now we need to collectively win over CMOs, in particular, one at a time, until we have created a legitimate movement, a tidal wave of understanding, appreciation and adoption. At the same time, we can co-opt our competition. They need us. In many cases, we need them. It’s not a winner-take-all game.  Collaboration still will be paramount. But now we can – and should – come together from a position of strength.

Like any communications challenge, we need to get our message to stand out among a cacophony of competing messages.

Let’s face it: We are in a battle for the hearts and minds of communication decision-makers. Let’s also face the fact that there are certain times in history when it pays to move as an industry. This is one of those times.

We – as a unified industry – can become a rousing chorus and pin back the ears of the opposition with the volume and harmony of our message.

And we can do it with a little swagger, too.

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About the author

Dave Senay

Dave Senay has held a variety of key roles during his nearly 30 years with FleishmanHillard. He is an avowed globalist, having spent much of his tenure on the road, collaborating with colleagues around the world. Senay joined the firm in 1984 as an account executive, rising to become FleishmanHillard’s third CEO since its founding in 1946, a position he held until 2015. Along the way, he served as general manager of the St. Louis headquarters office and as regional president for the U.S. Midwest, for Canada, and for EMEA. A former PR jury president at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity and chairman of the Council of Public Relations Firms, Senay is a relevant leader who continues to shape the industry in which he has spent his entire career. He currently serves as a special counsel to the firm.

A FleishmanHillard employee.