For many weeks I have been considering a really interesting question. It is one that has relevance to all professional communicators but will not be the subject of much debate or discussion. It is – have we lost the public element of public relations?
That might sound like an odd question after all public relations is all about communicating with people. But I am not sure that we are considering this anymore as we get focused on channels, messages and developing the creative idea. Yet, in all of the work it is the recipient at the end of it that should be at the forefront of our minds.
In recent weeks and months I have gone out and about talking to people about issues and while it was all about consultation it was old-fashioned public relations. The sort of work that was at the heart of work many years ago but that we are increasingly moving away from. I have spoken to many colleagues working in the public sector and direct communication is used less and less. It requires a huge investment of time and we are all time poor, with too much to do and teams being squeezed.
Stepping away from that direct interaction with customers and service users is something that we will regret in the future. It can lead to a gap between what we believe people think and what they actually think. Ultimately, it can mean products get developed that fail because they don’t meet customer requirement, or there is a loss of confidence in the service that is not responsive.
The world of communication is increasingly complex and diverse. It is changing and the boundaries are increasingly fuzzy. We are finding ourselves driving customer service through social media, revising the approach to advertising and being our own publishers. In the midst of all this change where does the individual sit? For me, it has to be at the heart of what we do and we must ensure that the public exists in public relations.