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Why PR needs more geeks

Blog post   •   Nov 14, 2013 14:01 GMT

Does PR need more geeks? This question surprisingly sparked quite the debate at Mynewsdesk and PR Moment's latest Mynewsnight. Here is a summary of the four presentations which were at times a little controversial...

"All the algorithms in the world can't beat a story powered by emotion" 

Mark Borkowski argued that while technology has complicated communications strategies through expanding the range of mediums which PR pros must master in order to effectively engage with their target audiences, the Public Relations industry has essentially remained the same since its beginnings. Psychology is at the heart of PR as it has always been - it's about understanding how your audience thinks and using this to influence and manage perceptions.

However, Mark believes technology can help PR practitioners to regain control from journalists and Ad-agencies, empowering them to create campaigns which are both disruptive and result in significant, positive and sustainable change. Tech will help PR practitioners to move away from creating messages to developing experiences, in order to lead rather than follow audiences.

Now this is really where the geeks come in: technology is making it increasingly easier to measure and analyse the effectiveness of campaigns and messages. However, Mark stressed that evaluation must not be based on likes and hashtags but should always be contextual - never loose sight of the story.

Mark's key takeaways for successful PR campaigns:

  1. Don't be too obvious. Tease your audience.
  2. Address both traditional and digital media - choose your outlets wisely.
  3. Cast yourself as a brand for the common man. 
  4. Don't be afraid to take risks.
  5. Accept the fact there will be haters. 
  6. Be ready to make fun of yourself. 
  7. Confound expectations.
Marilyn and Miley


Much to the audience's amusement, Mark used this image to show how PR has essentially remained unchanged.

"Bring your data and leave creativity at the door."

Dressed in a suit, clutching a black book with the notes for his presentation, Alex Aiken, Executive Director of Government Communications, is the archetypal office geek. His hyperbolic proclamations of creativity being both dangerous and damaging to PR seemed to rile the audience and stirred up a debate on Twitter...

Reaction to Aiken

However, the crux of his argument was that without "getting with the geeks" and learning how to measure and analyse data effectively, PR professionals cannot prove their worth and risk losing out to the likes of digital agencies and other marketing disciplines who are starting to focus on this. Regardless of whether they intend to limit their creativity, this is most definitely an issue PR practitioners must take seriously. 

Alex stated that it was his aim to "abolish the old press office" and establish a new way of communicating based on insights and data. He argued that the success of Virgin was not down to a whacky CEO and publicity stunts but thrived because of "insight."

PR geek chic

Adam Cranfield, CMO of Mynewsdesk spoke of how unrecognisable the language of PR would be to the PR pro of only 2 years ago, reflective of the changes in the industry. Reminiscent of one of the world's most famous geeks, Adam asked the audience if anyone knew what this meant - 

EC = MC 

The answer being "Every Company = Media Company," a term first coined by Tom Foremski nearly 8 years ago. Today this phrase is often used by PR and marketing professionals although many still fail to practice what they preach. Adam argued that to do this PRs must "Get semantic. Become a trusted expert. And optimise for meaning and intent."  

Furthermore, a very brief summary of the way Google has developed their algorithms supports this - 

Google Panda - a war on thin content. 

Google Penguin - a war on dodgy links. 

Google Hummingbird - is about a more intelligent future.

Adam recommends that if you are to follow any geeks on Twitter it should be Matt Cutts, @MattCutts, who currently heads the Webspam team at Google. Also check out The Short Cutts for videos of his hints and tips.

Adam will go into greater depths in his own blog post which will follow later, however, the aim of his presentation was to highlight that in order for your creative campaigns to be successful you must embrace technology...and your geeks.

When technology and creativity collide

In direct contrast to Alex Aiken's presentation, Matt Neale, President International of Golin Harris, argued that some campaigns only work because they're creative. The Australian public safety campaign, Dumb Ways to Die, resulted in a 21% drop in the number of people killed in railway accidents.  Check out the overview of the campaign below - 

In saying that, he demonstrated the inadequacies of the traditional structure of PR agencies and argued that we must become geeks in our own areas of expertise. Rather than the standard Account Executive, Senior Account Executive, Account Manager and so on, Golin Harris have completely altered the structure of their agency into what they call the G4 model.

He concluded his presentation with the Bridge of Life campaign which shows the true power of bringing technology and creativity together. 

You must watch this video!

Did you attend #Mynewsnight, Does PR need more geeks? What were your highlights? We'd love to hear your comments below.