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#tnl Asks Is HR The New PR?

Dread Not The Un-Happy PR Story Beginning

Good stories require drama, struggle even conflict. Yet communications people spend much of their time working to get good stories told in media. Maybe there is room for a story with an un-happy beginning?

Doc Searls and David Weinberger certainly thought so in the Cluetrain Manifesto. In chapter four on Markets are Conversations they write:

PR Folks are paid to hate stories, even though stories are precisely what the press -- PR's "consumers"-most wants. The fundamental appeal of stories is conflict, struggle, and complexity. Stories never begin with "happily ever after," but press releases always do, because that's the kind of story PR's real market-the companies who pay for public relations-demands. The PR version of the Titanic story would be headlined 705 DELIGHTED PASSENGERS ARRIVE AFTER THE TITANTIC'S MADIAN VOYAGE. Page two might mention some "shakedown glitches inevitable whenever a magnificent new ship is launched." Releases have no room for the very elements that might actually interest a journalist.

What's a PR professional to do?

Doc and David continue;

The Best of the people in PR are not PR types at all. They understand that they aren't censors; they're the company's best conversationalists. Their job- their craft- is to discern stories the market actually wants to hear, to help journalists write stories that tell the truth, to bring people into conversation rather than protect them from it.

Dell Hell is a great social media story with an un-happy beginning because of the frustration of customers, and the subsequent response by Dell. Dell made changes to customer service, product development and using social media to engage customers directly. The story is one of disaster, but also of redemption, not because social media saved Dell, rather, Dell listened to customers using social media, took action and as a consequence moved Dell in the right direction. Instead of running from a bad beginning, Dell embraces the story and is rewarded.

I thought Dell was the biggest social media story of 2007, in 2008 the election was the big story, Obama struggled against the odds, but used social media to recruit and motivate a legion of supporters who raised funds and helped win the election. The next big social media story is the American automobile industry, the scene is set, disastrous sales, bankruptcy, and criticism because of a deaf ear to customers. The company that demonstrates it is taking action because of listening, and not be afraid to say how bad thing were, will gain the most because it is the best story.

What does an un-happy beginning mean for you? Focus on the problem in the industry you are solving, describe how other companies don’t solve the problem and why. Don’t create conflict but describe the reality of what you see around you. If you have a problem be open about that issue, but tell people what you are doing to solve the problem and make a happy ending.