There was a provocative piece in The New York Times that came out recently, entitled: "Spinning the Web: PR in Silicon Valley" written by Claire Miller.Says Miller, "Gone are the days when snaring attention for start-ups in the Valley meant mentions in print and on television, or even spotlights on technology Web sites and blogs. Now P.R. gurus court influential voices on the social Web to endorse new companies, Web sites or gadgets — a transformation that analysts and practitioners say is likely to permanently change the role of P.R. in the business world, and particularly in Silicon Valley."
While I certainly agree that the days of traditional PR are over, the idea of influencing the influencer, where PR remains the intermediary between a company and the customer, carefully orchestrating public opinion, makes me gag.
The world of intermediaries is going away to replaced not so much by influencing the influencer but by authentically connecting with customers and listening and responding to what they have to say. And you don't need an intermediary, you need genuine way to reach out and listen.
A favorite example of both the worst and the best of the new PR is Dell. Dell had a real problem. I think it was around 2006/7, the company had perfected the mass customized PC and in the midst of that they lost sight of the customer. There were problems in product quality and customer service was poor. Frustrated customers began to blog about the trouble they were having with their new Dell computers and even posted a video of a Dell PC self igniting. "Dell Hell", a phrase coined by a blogger and disgruntled customer Jeff Jarvis, held the number 2 spot on Google when you searched for information the company.
Dell had a PR problem of historic proportions. But what they did -- and what turned the whole situation around -- was the company began to listen to customers. A long time impassioned Dell employee, Lionel Menchaca, began a corporate blog to discuss and respond to customer concerns. Initially, Menchaca was drowned in complaints, but over time as Dell began to respond and customers had a person they knew to reach, there was a shift in customer attitude.
Now Menchaca was in the company PR department, but instead of trying to influence the influencer, he served as a listening post for the company. And he and Dell were able to truly turn the situation around. [See excellent post on Learning from Dell from Mei Lin Fung, Institute of Service Organization Excellence, Inc.]
There is a lot more to the story that I will be discussing later on this blog. The example of how Dell uses social media to support and build its customer base is truly impressive, and can serve as a paradigm for the truly "New PR".