This week’s Report on Business “corner office” featured an interview with Luc Beauregard, founder of National PR.  Beauregard is a respected PR veteran, well-schooled in the tactics of traditional media relations.  He has done a lot for the profession in Canada, helping to elevate our role at the boardroom table in times of major change or crisis.  I think of Beauregard as the Jean Béliveau of PR –a gentleman and a stand up player.
Beauregard identified social media as the “game changer” in our industry but then went on to lament the “old days” when “journalists acted as gatekeepers, as a filter to what made sense”.  In today’s new media, he argued, there is no exercise of judgment – “it is often raw stupidity”.  Perhaps because he finds “it hard to take (new media) seriously”, he says he doesn’t participate in social media himself.
That is quite a candid admission from a man that could write a text book on PR.  I was a little surprised by his faith in the supreme accuracy of journalism. He ought to know better than most, that traditional media isn’t insulated from bias and error in reporting.  In fact, Beauregard has built a business on trying to influence media to write what his clients want the public to read.
The beauty of social media is that the public is in control, and far more difficult to influence.  As H+K Strategies Global Chairman, Jack Martin, likes to say, the “democratization of information” puts power and influence into the hands of publics that are far more difficult to spin.  Perhaps the difference in my perspective with Beauregard is a function of our backgrounds. He was trained as a journalist.  I am from the world of politics.  I see the “anarchy” of new media as the healthy exchange of ideas.  Last year’s Arab spring would not have been possible without Facebook as a platform for organizing opposition, Twitter to mobilize and blogs to issue the profound calls for social change.
Because of these tools, PR must now work harder to understand the perspectives of many more stakeholders directly, often bypassing the journalistic filter.  To me this is something we should celebrate.  Yes, some people on social web platforms are rude, as Beauregard says.  But we get to hear what people say and judge it by how they say it.  In the old days, the media elite had far too much power to influence.  Many a politician and businessman had careers made or broken by how the media chose to cover a story.  I am old enough to remember how the media used the famous photo of Robert Stanfield dropping a football to prove its narrative that Stanfield’s campaign was fumbling.  What they didn’t report was that Stanfield caught the ball 19 times before the fumble.
The ’got you’ journalism of the 1970s and 80’s is what precipitated the growth of PR.  Now politicians and business people are so key messaged the public is tuning out what they recognize now as spin.
No, Luc: new media may be messy and at times “rude”.  But it gives power to people and that is good for democracy and business.