If you’ve spent any time reading the PR bloggers in the past two years, you won’t gain a lot from “Putting the Public Back into Public Relations.” You’ve heard it all before. And while PPBPR could be useful to an audience of late adopters, I still can’t recommend it, even to the novices.
Here’s my rationale.
PPBPR, by Brian Solis and Dierdre Breakenridge, sets out to explain “how social media is (sic) reinventing the aging business of public relations.” It purports to tell us what’s wrong with public relations, and how social media will fix it. But the problems addressed in the book really aren’t with public relations at all.
The “aging PR business” described in PPBPR is a process of one-way marketing communication centered on pitching stories to media gatekeepers. That’s called publicity, and it’s simply one of many tools used (and abused) by marketers, publicists, and PR folks, too.
If you’re one who believes PR is primarily about pitching media, see my posts here and here. It’s critical to know that public relations is way more than just telling and selling stories. It’s about creating and maintaining productive relationships with all of the organization’s publics. And yes, social media are helping us do that.
Part I of PPBPR offers up a dose of social-media evangelism and talks of how SM is changing the PR landscape. This lesson has value, but the Cluetrain Manifesto (1999) and The Long Tail (2006), covered that ground well, and PPBPR adds little more to the discussion.
Part II of PPBPR is a primer of social-media tactics. SM novices may find value in these chapters, which offer solid advice on using social media tactics such as blogs, social-media releases and video releases. But to be fair, most of this information is presented more concisely by authors like David Meerman Scott and Shel Holtz.
Part III offers some good tips on measurement and metrics, but if ROI is your focus, read Katie Paine’s Measuring Public Relationships.
Some additional concerns:
PPBPR is way too long. The book stretches 100 pages worth of material to 300 pages of text, much of it at an abstract level. I blame the editors at FT Press for this failing. They should have demanded extensive revisions to purge redundancies and trim rambling passages. The book reads like a first draft, not a polished work.
PPBPR ignores most of the PR literature and fails to acknowledge PR innovators. The idea that “PR is about relationships” didn’t originate in social media circles or with this Social Media Manifesto. PR scholars like Jim & Larissa Grunig, Otto Lerbinger, Albert Sullivan and practitioner-lecturers like the late Pat Jackson began the relationship discussion in the late 1970s and they wrote about it extensively for 25 years. More of my thoughts here.
All of the folks I mention deserve footnotes or credit lines in PPBPR. Ditto for Everett Rogers, whose famous “innovation curve” and his adoption process are discussed in PPBPR (p. 224) with no credit whatsoever to the creator.
Too much opinion, not enough evidence. Given that social media are no longer all that new, I’m puzzled that PPBPR relies almost exclusively on anecdotes and opinions to make its case. For example:
If you polled those decision makers responsible for managing communications strategies about how they characterize PR, the following common themes would undoubtedly emerge:
- PR just doesn’t “get it.” …
Eight more bullet points follow that one. But since no one actually did this poll, how can the authors be certain how it would turn out? This is conjecture, not fact, which I suppose gives it validity equal to this blog post. Here’s another:
Unfortunately, a significant percentage of people (whether bloggers, reporters or analysts) still think that PR professionals are merely spin artists who focus on pitching, blasting, and cranking out poorly written news releases. (p. 93)
And we know this to be true, how? Does research to support the assertion, or is it simply the authors’ opinions once again? I can read blogs for opinions. A book must be held to a higher standard.
So, I won’t be recommending PPBPR to my friends, my colleagues or my students. While the book might be somewhat useful for late adopters of social media, getting through it is a chore. You’ll find the same information in other books that are better organized and more tightly written.