Good PR means giving up control, but it doesn’t mean abandonning your brands. I have been thinking a lot about the need to control. Pitching a story to a journalist has always meant that you have to have faith that if your product or service has an integrity about it, it will be treated that way. Social media has only heightened the need to have trust that ultimately people will respect companies that are straight with them. And at the end of the day, it really is public opinion that shapes brand identity – not the other way round – despite what some muckety muck marketing experts would like you to believe. All really great brands have found their identity in that place where fine products meet the public enthusiasm for them.
I have always had a fair bit of comfort with this because I didn’t inherit much of the “control” gene – and I do get impatient with people who display it in abundance. I am not reading the Steve Jobs bio because I just know I am going to find him really irritating. It is one thing when you encounter control in business, however, and quite another when it rears its head in the political arena.
Travel gives me a great opportunity to catch up on my reading. Thus I recently picked up a story from The Economist earlier this year about the media in Russia. Ekho Moskvy is a liberal radio station that has a history of giving a voice to guests blacklisted by state television. Now all that is under threat. The long time editor is being replaced and Putin has turned the dogs of war on the station by tacitly signalling permission to those eager to carve up the media market.
Still we don’t have to look that far from home for a government that seems to think it can control the media if it doesn’t like the message. Here in Canada recent budget cuts at the CBC reflect the Conservative government’s inherent dislike of the news agency. Question is, will muffling an informed voice really work? Somehow I don’t think so and the backlash when it comes could be the government’s undoing.
But back to PR and the control question. The occasion for my education on media repression in Russia was provided by a recent business trip with a group of journalists. Like many businesses, my client initially expressed a desire to ensure that the journalist experience was tightly controlled and limited to the client’s products. We spent a lot of time discussing this, and urging our client to have trust in their product’s innate ability to set the bar. The good news is that they saw the judiciousness in this and the results have been enthusiastic feedback and positive reporting.
Web 2.0 is showing more and more people the wisdom of a little trust. We just have to leave behind our need for control and send things out to the universe with a kind of blind faith that it will send good things back. And usually it does.