PR fails to catch em all

Pokemon Go has entered the decline stage. This is the fad phase after the belles-lettre stage that sees a flurry of pretentious musing on how said fad  is changing everything and the one before the stage where your parents get into it. Meteoric popularity followed by equally dramatic trailing off is nothing new. The Washington Post quotes a psychologist Robert Bartholomew who posits that digital living has accelerated the spread and decline of fads- Pokemon is only the most current example of this phenomenon of extreme effervesce.

Where Pokemon does seem distinct is the proliferation of click bait flies feeding off the fad’s rotting corpse. The glut of bogus articles–from Pokemon Go romances and divorces to the implication of the game for Black Lives Matter and Brexit- is unprecedented even by silly season standards. Attempts by brands to align themselves with the zeitgeist became as tenuous as Donald Trump’s self-styled “They’ll be calling me Mr Brexit”. This ubiquity surely quickened Pokemon apathy.

One explanation for this frankly unimaginative brandwagoning can be found in the nature of PR as it is currently constituted. The idea of the big story –built up gradually, seeded through the crucial influencers, sustained over a long period and fed at the right moments- is not something that you generally see. Nor is it something that many clients will have the patience for.

Storytelling is still the industry watchword. But the way is it understood varies massively. To look, for example, at the entries for this year’s Cannes Lions is to see the blurred lines between of the PR function and digital marketing and content creation. Many devised ingenious ways of talking about themselves to their peers, colleagues and likeminded agency folk. Your video may have received a million likes but if you are trying to reach a rushed off his feet carer in Stoke, Radio Two or page 5 of The Mirror are still going to be your more likely points of access.

It isn’t that PRs have given up on engaging the wider public in all their shapes and sizes. It is more that there is no longer the urge to cultivate the kind of relationships with traditional media that are needed for creating compelling news stories. As yet another damning survey of journalist perceptions of PR goes to show, a record number of publicists does not equate to record abilities or skillsets. As one journalist commented there is still a death of “sector specialists who have spent years getting to know journalists and thinking creatively about how to do a long-term job for their clients.” Given the sheer number of emails received  by newsdesk inboxes –the Sun gets around 1000 a day- it is remarkable that so many press releases are devoid of a newshook and read like marketing mush. The only way this PR will catch on is in an augmented reality populated by badly drawn, inarticulate gremlins.