Debate is Being Replaced by ‘Argument Lite’, and the Public Relations Industry is Poorer as a Result
- May 15, 2018
- Roger Darashah
Adfactors PR understands long-termism and understands our business.
Ashok Reddy MD & Co-founder, TeamLease
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The idea of ‘specialisms’ has come under increasing scrutiny, from world politics to sport. Why is the PR industry moving in the opposite direction?
Specialists and experts have had a difficult few years. In 2016, UK MP and Brexit advocate Michael Gove claimed that the United Kingdom has “had enough of experts”, while Donald Trump’s election victory the following year has been described as a triumph for ‘anti-intellectualism’. It’s become clear that experts aren’t as influential as they think (or once were); today, it’s the ‘uniformed masses’ that decide elections.
In cricket terms, the emergence of 20/20 has led specialists to be dispensed with altogether; with disastrous results in England’s case. Only last week, England’s cricket team of ‘35/35’s, as I call them (i.e. the entire team effectively shares the same bowling and batting average) were roundly beaten by Pakistan’s humble Test match ‘specialists’.
Non-specialists appear to be taking over the world! For better or worse, the Internet has created a generation of ‘finitely’ informed, but disproportionately opinionated citizens; the ‘vocal generalist’. Basically, people who have precisely 280 characters’ worth of knowledge on any given subject! The disconnect between objective knowledge and influence is made complete with the addition of ‘celebrity’; it wasn’t ‘expert’ (in the traditional sense) who knocked $1.5 billion off Snapchat’s value in February!
As previous analysis has demonstrated, the less ‘informed’ a person is on a particular subject, the more susceptible they’ll be to persuasion; and the better bet they’ll make for a brand to engage. This is the logic behind the ‘consumerisation’ effect; every brand is – in the final instance – a consumer brand, as long as it employs people, pays taxes, and plays a role in the community.
We may deplore the replacement of genuine ‘knowledge’ for ‘popularity’ in debate – I certainly do – but it is a reality which organisations have to navigate. Today, a brand’s fate is more likely to be at the mercy of a ‘semi-informed’ but popular blogger, than any qualified, but discrete, academic. Which makes the PR industry’s current obsession with ‘specialisations’ hard to fathom.
The latest global firm announcement cites no less than 14 industry specialists designed to combine ‘deep industry expertise with specialist capabilities’. If you look deeper into the announcement’s implications, you’ll note: ‘Over the past 12 months, meanwhile, (the firm) has laid off a number of staffers, many of whom were senior-level generalists…’
I’m all in favour of industry expertise – my own firm includes some of the country’s leading banking and finance experts, for example. But not necessarily at the expense of more generalist career. Let me explain the shortcomings of the ‘cult of the specialist’ (in my view):
So a note of caution on this particular version of the cult of the specialist that appears to be sweeping our industry.
Since the majority of the planet (with whom our clients desire to communicate) are in some sense ’non-specialists’, it makes sense for PR teams to be well represented by them in their ranks. I’m not suggesting that the generalist is a solution for everything – England cricket team’s current predicament probably goes deeper!
But in PR terms, at least, I’m all in favour of sector expertise, but not at the expense of what should be our real specialism — communications.
Published by Roger Darashah
Roger Darashah brings close to 23 years of international communications experience with stints in the UK, France, Spain, India and Brazil. He is part of the senior management team at Adfactors PR, working in the capacity of Chief Operating Officer.