Todd Defren over at PRSquared (an awesome blog for PR folks that you should read) raises an interesting question about the future of PR and poses that the role of PR is shifting.  Here’s an excerpt:

When people talk about the “Death of Public Relations,” it doesn’t
bother me at all.  I know what they are talking about.  They are
talking about the death of MEDIA RELATIONS.

That’s what PR’s been all about for the past 50-odd years.  After
all, during that era, the only way to reach the masses in a reliable
way was through mass media.

Now that that’s changing, our approach can change.  PUBLIC RELATIONS
can fulfill its mandate to improve RELATIONS with the PUBLIC.

Media Relations will still have a role.  PR will not be subsumed by
Customer Service.  PR has a role as an overlay; a facilitator; we serve
as both a counselor and tactician  across these areas.

That got me thinking – who should own customer relationships inside a company?  Aren’t product marketers (or perhaps product management) the natural folks to own that?  Why do customers want to have a relationship with you in the first place?  It certainly isn’t so that you can serve up marketing messages to them.  They want to have a dialogue with someone who can answer their questions, provide additional insight about the product or service, someone who can act on their suggestions.  Is PR equipped and mandated to do that?

I posted the following comment on the blog post:

In my experience, building customer relationships has been the
domain of product marketing (and sometimes product management), not PR.
It’s the product marketers that have been running Advisory Councils and
User Groups because they have the product knowledge that customers are
looking for and the ability to take the feedback they get and bring it
to development to act on.

I don’t believe PR will be subsumed by Customer Service but if PR is
going to expand into building/managing relationships with customers
(and I like the idea of that) they will need to make sure they bring
more than just messages to the table.

My point being, that wouldn’t it make sense to apply the same principles of 2-way dialogue, collecting feedback, answering questions that we use in User Group or Advisory Councils to building relationships with a broader set of customers?  And secondly, does PR have the product knowledge and the connections to development necessary to do that?

Todd responded:

Hi April – Those advisory councils, etc., will continue to play a big
role, particularly in enterprise b2b settings. I am talking more about
b2c examples, I think, i.e., where there are potentially THOUSANDS of
prospects/customers to deal with…

So instead of having hundreds of people who want to have their questions answered, there are now thousands of people who want them answered.  Instead of a roomful of people who want you to listen and act on their feedback, there are legions.  But just because there are a lot of them, are they really going to be less demanding?  Will they really want to build a relationship with someone that can’t answer their questions or act on their suggestions?

I love the idea of PR moving into the customer relationship business and I think it’s entirely possible that it may end up there.  I think that would be very valuable for companies.  To do that though, would require a change in skillset as well as changes in the way PR operates with the rest of the business, particularly Product Management and Product Marketing.

What do you think?

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