Glancing back to move forward

12 Jul

At the start of Global PR Blog Week 1.0 and at the point when there’s a critical mass developing around public relations blogging, I’m keen to step back and thank two pioneers who got here first and who have, it seems to me, done most to foster this growing network.

First, let’s establish some key dates. 1993 is absolute zero in terms of adoption of the web, and in reality 1995 is the start point for most commercial web ventures. The year 2000 was when the dot com bubble burst and hype, optimism and venture capital millions vanished. Yet web traffic has continued to rise year on year, and several commercial (and many non-commercial) ventures have flourished since then. 2003 was when blogging went mainstream, with Blogger being snapped up by Google and Typepad launched by Movable Type.

Jim Horton thinks public relations Thoughts

Our first pioneer PR blogger is Jim Horton. His Online Public Relations site began in 1997 not as a weblog, but as a resource for his links and articles. Here’s the home page from November 1998 as stored on the Internet Archive (links and images don’t work).

He realised early on that a static site would need some fresh content, so he started publishing daily Thoughts based on his work as a public relations consultant. He has latterly transferred the Thoughts section of the site to a weblogging platform, but his style remains the same.

Jim’s thoughts are this: reflections. He stands above the fray of frantic links, cross-postings and multimedia gimmicks that typify many blogs. He was writing daily thoughts long before the rest of us began – and he’ll probably be going long after we’ve become bored with the medium.

He had identified a need for a general resource on public relations on the web and set out to provide this. He modestly claims that he benefits from ‘finding others who are interested in the field. I have learned far more from running the site than others have taken from it’.

He is motivated to continue providing this service because ‘I think it is still useful. It is a resource my agency uses continually’.

Indeed, Jim is trotted out as the internet communications expert whenever one is required. ‘That is quite often’, he says.

He claims about a thousand hits a day to the site and some 400 inbound links (resulting in a Google PageRank of 5/10), but Jim takes more pride from his papers being quoted around the world and used in university studies.

Jim’s perspective gives him a strong position to commentate on the changes brought to PR by the internet. So here’s the definitive statement – and a sanity check for all of us:

‘The basics of PR remain the same, while the medium and presentation change. The internet is one more communications tool in the kitbag that every PR practitioner should use. It happens to be a powerful tool, but it is just a tool. It is not a lifestyle or mystical shift in human consciousness or any other folderol that the internet groupies were blathering not so long ago. Because it is a tool, PR practitioners must learn it and use it well.’

Tom Murphy expresses PR Opinions

My second pioneer, Tom Murphy, is modest about being placed on the same pedestal as Jim Horton. His PR Opinions site first appeared as recently as March 2002, though Murphy was not new to posting PR-related content. His first PR focused site had appeared in 1995, though ‘it quickly died from neglect’.

The motivation was similar to Jim Horton’s. ‘I was looking for a way of aggregating a whole set of links to online PR-related content’, he tells me. While researching different ways to do this, he came across Blogger. So, PR Opinions was based from the outset on a weblogging platform.

Murphy subsequently moved the site to another blogging system, Radio Userland, but his approach has remained the same. PR Opinions has always seemed to me to be the best-connected PR weblog and that’s how Murphy likes it: ‘The major benefit has been the growing network of fellow practitioners who are very open and willing to share their thoughts, insights and experiences, both through their blogs and offline.’

‘The biggest motivator for me is feedback. Whether a reader is angry or happy with a post, nothing beats an email from someone regarding something you’ve written. The only metric that matters to me is that readers find the content of PR Opinions useful or thought-provoking. Getting feedback, positive or negative, is fantastic and makes all the effort worthwhile.’

‘A lot of bloggers are investing huge amounts of time in networking and promoting their blogs around the web. I simply don’t have time to do that. I have a steady readership that is growing nicely; I get great feedback and discussion from readers. I enjoy the growing relationships with other PR bloggers and that’s enough for me.’

Murphy is also keen not to claim too much for blogs. ‘I fundamentally believe that this is all about evolution and not revolution. The age-old techniques of PR are still as relevant today as before. Good written and oral communication skills, great relationships with the media and an understanding of how PR can contribute to the bottom line are still essential. New technologies such as blogs and RSS are simply new tools to help PR people reach their audience more effectively.’

‘Communication is one of the most important factors facing organizations today. I believe that PR practitioners are best qualified to manage that communication, but to do so we need to embrace these new channels of communication. We need to understand them, use them and manage them.

‘We simply can’t afford to stand idly by as other marketing professionals start to carve up communications. Instead, we need to apply our traditional skills to the new media and face up to the challenges and the opportunities.’

I’m grateful for practitioner-thinkers such as Jim Horton and Tom Murphy for helping us all to rise to this challenge through their daily contributions to public relations online.

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