The Media Guardian published an article of mine in yesterday’s Media comment looking at the rise of Google’s SideWiki and what it will mean for the future of PR. To read the published version, click here. For the unexpurgated version, please keep reading!
Given the amount of fear other Google innovations, like their library project, have caused, it’s surprising that alarms bells have not been heard ringing throughout the PR world since SideWiki’s launch in September. The internet is an evolutionary tool and for the world of PR, its daily use is as significant as the use of the wheel for stone age man. Except revolution has taken the place of evolution as the net brings about change at an astonishing rate.
Few people in PR, it seems, have considered the way that SideWiki will change the lives of beleaguered PR folk. I believe that, in time, this tool will significantly change the way brands strategize, think and exist. SideWiki is going to challenge PR by providing the masses with the tool for the ultimate expression of people power, something uncontainable that will need constant monitoring.
As the name suggests, this is a tool that allows anyone who wants to (and who has the right browser – Firefox or IE) to comment on anything on the web and have that comment displayed in a pop out window alongside for all to see. All they have to do is download the Google toolbar and they’re ready to go. SideWiki will change the way that everything is perceived, especially once it reaches more browsers.
A lot of the PR industry, however, is living like an ostrich with mange; only just summoning up the energy to bury its collective head in the sand. Too many PR folk are too busy pitching half-arsed ideas to see the real threat. The clear and present danger for sluggish PRs is the way that the net continues to develop and construct devices that enable individuals to increase their power. These devices shift as quickly as riptides and, at the moment, it seems that the only people that can survive them are the consumers they cater for.
SideWiki will make it impossible to promote one message and not be held to account. Organisations that have traditionally engaged only in one way conversations or broadcast models will struggle to survive in a SideWiki world. Angry at the latest government wrongdoing? Why not post your grievances next the department where everyone can see them? Find out the ethical practices of confectionary giant aren’t quite as ethical as its advertising suggests? SideWiki is there to help and any PR firm that fails to provide acceptable answers will be open to further public assault by irate consumers.
Brand integrity has to be at the core of brand thinking if the brands are to survive this transparency. Companies will be compelled to consider taking a real position and relate to a set of ideas the marketplace cares about – SideWiki will surely force their hand into a position of fundamental and overwhelming transparency. For fashionable PR execs this transparency will either be terrifying or inspiring. I hope that, thanks to SideWiki, we will see the death of the myopic PR clone and evolve to a position where serious strategic thinkers in PR will challenge the other marketing dinosaurs.
The recession has herded agencies into a pit; they have been humbled in particular by ad agencies who are moving in on proven PR processes, eager to keep making money but who aren’t necessarily experts in that field. The American company Crispin Porter & Bogusky declared in a recent Campaign article that they had asked the agency to stop writing ad script and start writing PR releases instead. Very 1980s. Also in the mix are highly creative and respected agencies like Fallon and Mother, who are taking a firm hand in the PR aspects of campaigns.
PR companies must offer and embrace sophisticated monitoring and tracking devices to keep their clients up to speed, offer solutions and encourage brand bravery and transparency. If they don’t, they will die.
Predictable PR is on the red list of endangered species. The evolution of SideWiki is a seminal moment, when the industry’s destiny is in its own hands. Development forces contributing to the evolution of the web are threatening PR’s demise. PR budgets on the whole bring about reactive, crisis thinking, based on negative responses that threaten their clients’ spot in the market.
The Innocent brand signaled the way forward back in 1997. Lacking bags of readies to spend on traditional marketing, they chose instead to launch a multitude of catalyst conversations around their packaging and experiential events. They were a word of mouth success well before the full web revolution and have paved the way for many more campaigns using the new technology.
Applying the ancient conventions and old codes of conduct of communications to the new world of parallel influence will only accelerate the inconsequence of traditional marketers. The Social Media world encloses our personal and professional actions – the only answer for PR folk is to take a more active role in being brand custodians, representing a higher degree of brands and reputation management.
Ad agencies once proactively shaped vision but now PR is demonstrably just as capable at understanding and cultivating future thinking, if not more so. PR has always engaged in a two-way conversation and should be capitalising on this to earn their clients’ trust. SideWiki is a call to arms – there is no excuse for complacency, as failure in today’s landscape is public, searchable, and enduring.