In Rebuilding Brand America, I cited research showing that media tended to follow the political and social views of their target audience. Conservatives don't watch Fox News because it's conservative; Roger Aisles made it conservative to attract conservative viewers. Al Jazeera reports the news from an Arab perspective because that's the environment in which it was founded and operates.
To find what Carl Bernstein called the "best available version of the truth," readers and viewers need to seek out journalism told from multiple perspectives. The Internet has made that easier than ever. One site currently in beta, Newsy, analyzes and synthesizes news coverage of important global issues from multiple sources. Its unique method of presenting how different media outlets around the world are covering a story provides context to help viewers understand complex global issues.
Back in the 1970s, Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote an article that helped explain why the Vietnam War protests represented a sea-change in American society. The key, he said, was demography -- the Baby Boom generation, which was then of draft age and personally affected by conflict, had sufficient critical mass to dominate public discourse and change the course of history.
However the Iranian election turns out, the country's supreme Ayatollah would be wise to dig up a copy of Moynihan's article. About 65 percent of Iran's population is under 30, well-educated, and eager to end the country's isolation from the West. While the ayatollahs control the country's mainstream media, they have little sway over the media that its young people actually use -- blogs, instant messaging, Twitter, Facebook and the like.
That's how they organized the mass protests that evaporated President Ahmadinejad's lead in less than a month. Taking a cue from the last U.S. presidential election, the poster in the photo above reads "Change for Iran."
Whether Ahmadinejad loses or wins, Iranian politics -- and society -- may be changing in ways no one expected.
Meanwhile, it's no wonder many people are beginning to ask, "what's that smell?"
The popular definition of PR has two parts -- (1) keep people happy and (2) failing that, keep them oblivious. Easy access to real-time information and the rise of the social media to spread it have made both tasks much more difficult, if not impossible.
Of course, as someone who spent his entire 32-year career in public relations, I know that the popular definition of the function is a crude caricature. But when push comes to shove -- which describes the current environment quite nicely -- you'd be surprised how quickly corporate bean counters adopt it as their own definition of the function. "Who needs an entire department dedicated to keeping people happy when we're bleeding cash from every pore?" they ask. "Let's fold most of it into marketing or HR and dump the rest."
So no matter how you define it, I fear that PR as a function is doomed. But there is hope.
One of the most significant trends I uncovered in researching Secrets of the Marketing Masters is counter-intuitive -- four leading companies have put PR people in charge of marketing: Jon Iwata at IBM, Beth Comstock at GE, Mich Mathews at Microsoft and Robert Mead at Aetna.
I'm convinced it isn't a coincidence. All four companies are icons within their respective industries. They have discovered that they need to sell their values, as well as their value, to win the trust of customers and all the other stakeholders who influence their operations. That requires more than endless pitching, word-smithing, political correctness or knee-jerk do-gooding. It requires the peripheral vision to see where the public's needs and values intersect with the company's competencies and interests. And the business savvy to capitalize on it.
PR hasn't taken over marketing at those companies; nor has marketing subsumed PR. They've created something new that doesn't have a formal name yet, though they all call it something like "marketing and communications." In that sense, PR as a stand-alone function, fighting for a seat at the table, is dead. It is being replaced by a management philosophy focused on building enduring relationships. The best of the old PR function's leaders -- those who already broke free of PR's popular caricature -- are taking those seats.