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Peter says....

Curiously, as the media industry gets more and more integrated one of the oldest of ‘old school’ divisions seems to be getting wider, not narrower.  Journalists and Press Officers are depicted as bitter rivals and even the trade press panders to the idea that the two are opposites that repel rather than attract.

Which is all very odd when one considers that the communications community sees PR skills as a media discipline and recruitment to PR posts, in-house and among consultancies, is just as likely to be from the ranks of journalists as from public relations professionals.

This is because, of course, understanding the news agenda and the priorities of the 24/7 media world is key to successful PR operations.  It is not – by any stretch – the only requirement but it does play into the balance between a business-led corporate strategy and a reactive press-led campaign.

Corporate PR people – says the accepted wisdom – are driven by loyalty to an employer or client and directed by the business objectives of the corporation paying their wages;  so the assumption now seems to be that in pursuit of those objectives they will deliberately lie, mislead and misdirect.

Journalists are, by contrast, all high-minded seekers after wisdom and truth dedicated to quarrying out those facts that the PR people are employed to deny them.

Well, not quite….try getting a pro-Obama piece on Fox News; look at the coverage all parts of News International have given to the phone-tap allegations;  seek out the sympathetic editorial in the Morning Star towards the poor beleaguered bankers.  News has its agenda just as PR does.

The best – or perhaps we should say the most successful – press and public relations operators have a news nous and the (sometimes begrudging) respect of the reporters that they deal with.

And journalists will – usually privately rather than out loud – will acknowledge that in a rolling news, 24/7, economically-pressured media world they could not do their job without the feed of information, news and stories that emerge from PR practitioners.

Two of the most high profile communications operators in the political sphere in recent years – Alastair Campbell and Andy Duncan – came to their high profile posts not from the ranks of PR practice but from tabloid journalism and it was their intuitive grasp of news that made them the right choice for those jobs.

So let us in the industry set aside the arbitrary division between hack and spin doctor and accept that in 2010 we are all communicators now.

Peter Smith has experienced both careers of Journalism and PR and currently teaches at The university of Lincoln.

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David Says...

Has there ever been a PR campaign, for any major brand, that has been bigger than a political campaign? Not just any political campaign too, I am not talking about the UK, but about America, where the campaign starts years before, not months.

Just look at Sarah Palin’s activities right now, if The Guardian is to believed, her presidential campaign has just kicked off – let’s hope Obama is well prepared.

A political campaign has traditionally been very… well, traditional. (This is not so much of a revelation, there can only have been so many political campaigns with the opportunity to use social media; also known as new media – because it is… new).

While even the recent UK election did not fully use social media to the max, Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign made full use of this new media, more so than any of his predecessors, and while this is not the only reason he was elected, it certainly didn’t do any harm.

Anyone who has read The Long Tail will know that for every niche there is an audience. While Obama did not go for every niche, he did go for a lot of social networks that were not so obvious in 2008.

Obama is followed by over 5 million on Twitter, over 13 million like him on Facebook, his Flickr albums generate thousands of views each, over 150 million people have viewed his videos  on YouTube and he has nearly 2 billion friends on MySpace; including Tom 😉

It is strange that this amount of activity was only in support of a traditional PR campaign, however, such a large amount of activity backing up a campaign is surely going to benefit a campaign greatly.

Many put the success of Obama down to his ability to engage with young voters. Well, if it is just down to that fact, then maybe his success has a lot to do with the use of social media – typically used by the younger generation (not necessary true of all networks, but as a general statement it makes some sense).

Look at the facts; Obama gained twice as much web traffic than McCain, had 4 times as many YouTube views, 5 times as many Facebook friends, and 10 times as many online staff. (Click for source)

While support from massive influencers such as Bill Clinton, Colin Powell and Oprah Winfrey count for instant masses of support, and the column inches, street campaigners and expert speeches do the same, it is undeniable that social media provided that something extra that resulted in a landslide victory.

Is this a social media campaign? No. Is it a traditional campaign? Yes. But it is the first major traditional political PR campaign that used social media properly, and so far, it is the best.

So who should Obama thank? The young voters? All his voters? His digital PRs? No. He had the edge thanks to; Evan, Mark and Tom.

About David

David J M Clare works at 33 Digital, an international digital PR agency. He is also the Social Media Section Editor at Behind The Spin, the online PR magazine for young PR practitioners and students. He blogs atThe PR View and had a degree in Marketing and Public Relations from the University of Lincoln.

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