I find it impossible these days to attend an PR industry meeting without someone asking the question. Sure, the question has some variants and morphs into different forms. And it sometimes is elusive. But inevitably, it rears its head and commands center stage.

This particular question is rooted in an existential journey that my chosen industry, public relations, is undergoing in this era of rapid convergence, as the lines between advertising, marketing, customer care, corporate communications, interactive, public affairs and about everything else related to communications are blurring.

Okay, enough preamble. What is the question?

How can the PR industry grab its rightful place as the leader of digital?

If you’ve read this far you’ve probably heard the arguments. Digital is about listening first and about aligning with context, and this is what PR does best. Digital is turning into a medium for dispensing great content and weaving it into compelling storytelling, a PR hallmark. Great digital must be authentic, and validated by influencers and inspire participation. Yep, more PR strengths.

So why isn’t PR able to assert its primacy naturally?  Do we not appear sufficiently business-minded?  Are we unable to measure ourselves effectively?  Are we too soft in our measures? Are we – gulp – not creative enough?

This is a question that the Council of Public Relations Firms, our industry trade group, is stepping forward to address by bringing together a working group of incredibly smart people running digital in their agencies to tackle it together. And I am honored to have been selected to chair this prestigious group.

Last Thursday we had our first meeting, with about 30 in attendance in APCO’s New York office.  We had an open, smart and energetic discussion during which we put aside our own inter-agency competitive pressures to start a journey focused on answering The Question.

We are starting by focusing in four big areas:

  1. In a converging world, what is the right way to define digital?  Are there subsets that belong more naturally to the different specialists within the communication sector?  On what aspects should PR aim to lead?
  2. What is the value of a PR-driven approach to digital?  Why is it that PR is best equipped to lead?
  3. Is it possible to define “good” digital and what is the best way to measure it?  Can we elevate the discussion away from the tactics and their platform-specific measures?
  4. Can we help the industry tackle the ethical gray areas inherent in engaging in the digital media environment?

You will hear more from me, and us, in the weeks and months ahead as we report back on these big questions and continue our journey as they lead to others.  And, hopefully, some great answers.

Don’t get us wrong. We have great respect for our brothers and sisters in advertising, marketing and the other disciplines. We believe strongly that we need to work with them because the best solutions are integrated and discipline agnostic.  And we know that digital as a delivery mechanism will permeate them all.

So maybe this journey isn’t about establishing our primacy after all.  But instead about clarifying our place. And helping us agree as an industry on what we do best and how best to leverage those strengths to create high value for our clients.

Wherever it leads us, I know this journey will be fun and I couldn’t be happier with the colleagues across the industry who are stepping forward to take it with us.

Which leaves me with one final question I’m hoping the crowd can help us best answer. Whatever should we call our group?

This post was originally published on The Council of Public Relations Firms’ blog.


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Evan Kraus

Evan Kraus is president, managing director of operations and managing director, Washington at APCO Worldwide. Read More