The public relations business can be categorized in two parts. Pre-internet and post-internet. While some may argue that there really is no difference between how PR was handled pre-internet and how it it handled now, it cannot be argued that journalism is the same. And, with journalism being at the crux of corporate and crisis communications, the internet has become the ultimate game changer.
What has always made the PR profession so challenging is that PR professionals have had to work through the ultimate gatekeepers — the press. When a PR professional tries to obtain media coverage on a company, they have to convince a reporter — and usually also an editor — that the coverage is newsworthy. Then, after that hurdle is passed (and it is a large one at that) the communications professional has to hope that the coverage is positive and flattering.
But since the invent of the internet, everybody that wants to be a journalist can function as a journalist. There are tens of millions of blogs on the web, not to mention the hundreds of millions of social media posts that happen each day. Everybody has a voice. Even if that voice is heard by a small group of friends, it has the potential to be passed along and looked up via a Google search by anyone at any time.
Those who work in PR have learned, and are still learning, how to use this new technology to the advantage of individuals and companies. After all, now there are many, many more outlets where positive information can be disseminated and a PR pro is not limited to just one major newspaper or a handful of television and radio stations to promote a product or a cause.
That said, the flip side is the potential for misinformation, rumors and even blatant lies to find itself on the internet. How does one control what is said about them or their company when everybody with a laptop and internet connection can post whatever they want? Well, they can’t.
It is a two-edged sword. While pre-internet, PR people had to prove the newsworthiness and veracity of a story, which can be difficult, at least there was someone who would fact check before information found itself into the public arena. Yes, there have always been irresponsible and over zealous media, yet there was some manner of control.
When talking about the internet, the buzz word is usually transparency. But just because information is more difficult to hide or spin because there is so much information floating around, it doesn’t mean that the transparency yields truthfulness.
The function of the PR professional in today’s internet world is not to spin, cover up or hide information, it is to make sure that what is out there is accurate and truthful. When an individual or corporation finds itself in a crisis, the worst thing that can be done is to try to cover it up, as usually the consequences of a cover up are worse than the original (alleged) misdeed.
The world today is on information overload and those in the public eye need to manage their outflow of information as much as possible while trying to keep the record straight. This is not a simple task, but then again, we don’t live in a simple world.