The medium is the message.” — Marshall McLuhan

Just this week, I added “public relations” to several sections of our website to increase the SEO ranking for that term. When I founded The Vandiver Group 22 years ago, we positioned it as a “strategic communications firm,” not an agency. We thought that was an important distinction. I still think we got it right. But after 30 years of reading industry articles on what PR is and isn’t, I came across this article in PR Week. It includes interviews Steve Barrett did with various heads of agencies. What I was most struck by was the quote from Fred Cook at Golin, “It’s getting harder to define what a PR agency is…we had a lot of discussion about whether we’d call ourselves a PR agency anymore, but our philosophy was we’d rather reinvent PR than build a new category.”

So, like Fred, I’ve come full circle in my thinking. PR has always been the best place to tell your story. We are the best at engaging people. It doesn’t matter what platform. If you really want to get your story out and engage with people important to you, doing it strategically and with the right messaging has always been the way to go. And, that’s PR.

The idea of “re-imagining” PR has been discussed in forums for 25-30 years. Along with questions like, why are ad agencies trying to be PR firms? Why are consulting groups trying to muscle in on what PR does? The discussion in the industry goes on and on. The bottom line is this: Who can best tell your story to the audiences you care about? What method will be most effective at reaching people at their emotional core?

Andy Polansky of Weber Shandwick put it this way, “Everybody recognizes the swim lanes are blurrier, firms across different marketing disciplines have a lot of different strengths and creative chops, and the best ideas emerge, but we’re comfortable with a go-to-market positioning around being a PR firm,” he says. “We’re just reimagining what being a PR firm means in this dynamic environment.”

A similar thought process inspired the PR Council’s recent rebrand. One of the reasons they shortened their name from Council of PR Firms to PR Council, according to president Kathy Cripps was to “sharpen the focus (on PR).” To further align and prioritize the organization’s thinking, they created a “manifesto” which distills our industry’s core strengths and value to clients. Fittingly, the last line is “whether it’s now or next, It’s all PR,” which captures the new reality in this media-driven, consumer-centric, 24/7, multi-channel communications world that we all live in.

At TVG, we’ve always found that it’s all about the strategy. It’s about developing compelling messaging and using the best methods to get it out. So, that might mean you push it on social, then you push it out in traditional PR. What’s important is to figure out the message, then figure out the method. So, perhaps if I use this interpretation of what Marshall McLuhan said back in 1964, he wasn’t far off.

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