During my studies, I took journalism with a focus on public relations, among other things. At the time, PR was a discipline that languished in the shadow of advertising and was confused with press work and propaganda. The quality of PR consultants was measured by how often they could get their clients into the media. Today it is rather the other way round ...
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The professional world has long seen things quite differently. One of the first sentences from the first - British - textbook on the subject hangs in my memory to this day: "Public relations are the management of an organisation's relations with its publics." - "Look here," I thought to myself, "so there is not just one public!"
When I look at today's mixed situation in the field of marketing communication, this sentence seems to me to hover over everything like a mandate. The boundaries between the disciplines are becoming increasingly blurred, publics and sub-publics are forming, mixing with each other, and also disappearing. And it's about relationships and meanings, no longer about products and services. Wasn't it always like that? Actually ...
Thus the saying "The more things change the more they stay the same", which the wise Jon Bon Jovi and his beautiful collaborators thankfully planted in our ears a decade ago on the waves of a heartfelt melody, proves its everlasting validity day in and day out hardly anywhere more closely experienced than in the dazzling business cosmos of media, communication and marketing.
In the distant past, it was still a matter of telling the other inhabitants of Neandertal that you were the first and only one to invent a tool called a club, made several of them and were now ready to exchange them for other useful tools. At first, this was achieved by presenting a few new technical club features (lies better in the hand, has a smaller swing radius or a bigger boom than the others). But soon even that was exhausted, and me-too products had to conjure up the made-for-me feeling in the primal heart of potential customers in other ways. So something new came into play: the look and image of the gadget. At some point, it was mainly a question of taste which model one chose. Maybe this was the big bang moment when the stars of marketing, brand and brand story rose?
Not too much has changed since then. Not even as far as the primeval human heart is concerned. And the clubs? Well, aren't they called smartphones now? When you see what they do, there's a strong link from Neanderthal to Silicon Valley, because a smartphone with a twitter app does a similar job. A beating like back then, and Jon Bon Jovi steps to the edge of the stage:
Ah, is it just me or does anybody see
The new improved tomorrow isn't what it used to be?
Made for me.
When does someone, when do you and I get the feeling that a product is made for you?
That one suits me. That is for me, is like me.
That one, not the other one over there, is made for me.
Of course, appearance and function play a role, as does the price. But as we know, we don't buy what we need, but what we want, and then above all what we want to be.
With our purchasing decisions, we define ourselves to a large extent. This is, of course, heartbreakingly stupid, but nevertheless a fact with which our subconscious keeps most of the economy alive.
We buy what we want to be: I'll buy this one, because it's made for me.
Lately, a good part of the image is created where it becomes clear what a brand stands for, and, underpinned by the necessary amount of hope, one can indeed speak of a good part.
Studies from various sources paint a picture here over which a glimmer of confidence hovers. People are increasingly choosing products from brands that contribute to social value. Consumers - to use this disgusting term - prefer to buy from companies that have a positive attitude towards necessary improvements for the common good, show it and get to work, rather than buying from other companies.
While expectations of companies and their CEOs are growing in this direction, it is precisely here that trust in politics, especially in politicians, is shrinking. No coincidence, I think. Especially not the latter, as anyone who has opened a newspaper at some point in recent years can probably confirm.
This source of Made for me gushes into jars labelled Meaning, Purpose or Anliegen. However, not only is "The more things change the more they stay the same" true, but also "The pitcher goes to the mouth until one breaks" (although to my knowledge Jon Bon Jovi does not sing a note about it). So on the marketing side, we consistently do what we have been doing for centuries. Quite successfully, by the way. As soon as something is in vogue, they go for it. Nothing new, is there? There's a method to it. Borrowed interest is what they used to call it, or image transfer. We know it from testimonial campaigns, from superhits in advertising campaigns, from being featured at major events like the Olympic Games. Whatever. That's okay, so be it. Pop culture meets pop culture.
But when it comes to substantive issues, as is the case here today, these rules don't apply, because it's a different game. You don't instrumentalise such social trends. You don't sit on the treading board, you don't surf along on this wave and you don't divert the good that bubbles up from the source into your own bucket with a gierschlauch - is that why you say something "... is in the bucket"?
For there is no doubt that this is where it will be if those forces that are serious and honest don't gain the upper hand as soon as possible and join forces to slam their buckets around the ears of the shameless abusers. Greenwashing, Meanwashing, Wokewashing, You name it ... - Jon Bon Jovi would sing:
Yesterday keeps comin' 'round, it's just reality
It's the same damn song with a different melody
The market keeps on crashin'
What fascinates me immeasurably in this kind of collective we-are-so-good row is the profanity with which thoroughly intelligent people commission thoroughly intelligent people to croak the same rubbish over and over again, with quite a lot of money and thoroughly elaborate campaigns, and still imagine that, firstly, they are the only ones, and secondly, that it would bring something. Well, it does bring something. Take, for example, a video by YouTuber Microsoft Sam, in which he packs the Corona "Together" machinations of the mega-brand geniuses into one. In principle, this video explains quite clearly what to stay away from. Always!
On the other hand, I am firmly convinced that this new game, in which a concern is actually a concern for a company, is pretty much the best thing that can happen to the economy as a whole. The beauty of this game is that, firstly, it never ends and, secondly, there are only winners. It only works in an interwoven cooperation, but then it works splendidly.
This may also be of great benefit to the committed companies. And how! Why not? But they should not do it because of that, but because it is necessary.
Imagine if advertising spaces were no longer used (only) for advertising, but for awareness raising.
Imagine if target groups became communities of positive activists.
Imagine if what is called Corporate Social Responsibility could be experienced as Positive Social Impact.
Imagine employees experiencing a new sense of purpose in what they do, even the importance of what they do as part of a bigger picture.
The first Corona shock wave would have been an ideal push in this direction. However, it was too small, the shock was too small. Much too small, despite everything! But the door is open and more and more companies are going through. Many because they have really understood. Many because they have understood that the customers are waiting over there, but that they have to relearn and understand the rest before they fully arrive. Never mind, the main thing is that they go. Only the you-name-it-washers should please stay where they are.
The fact that companies are transforming themselves as learning organisations must be conceded to them, and of course also that this usually cannot happen overnight. But one must demand that it happens.
The topics - the fields of action - are as broad and colourful as life itself. A serious, positive contribution to social change does not always have to be made in the obvious places where the climate, diversity or refugees are boiling.
Imagine that in our depressive times you contribute something to refreshing joie de vivre with your business.
Imagine using your brand to help reawaken people's enthusiasm for their primal human desire to create.
Imagine your team conjuring up book-reading lust in smartphone-addled children's eyes.
Substantive relationships would emerge here, relationships with the public, relationships with the publics and relationships with each other. The source of this would be purpose. Unfortunately, there is no other word, even though it has been chewed up and gargled in its abuse as a buzzword.
Relationships are born out of purpose. That would be a spectacular transformation if public relations became purpose relations. Purpose relations - the best PR of all, because it is sustainable in the truest sense of the (buzz) word: no more is harvested than grows back. If done with a happy hand, even more grows back than is harvested. Because when the publics share a story among themselves, it grows like a snowball, like luck and like love. Then we would also have a new story - a New Story. A new, a better story for all of us that is about all of us and multiplies our strengths instead of exploiting, defeating and fighting the weaknesses of others.
Attention: here comes the bad news. If public relations don't turn into purpose relations as far as possible by a spirited forward somersault, they will revert back to what they once were: propaganda. Richie Sambora is already tuning his guitar.
And while we're on the subject of transformation, the good old marketing mix will also change from a four-leaf to a six-leaf clover. People and Purpose are now sprouting in lush green alongside Product, Price, Place and Promotion. I have written some more about this here.
Oh yes. The USP, the Unique Selling Proposition, cannot escape the magic of transformation either and is best called Unique Selling Purpose or Unique Sensemaking Purpose or, even better, Unifying Sensemaking Purpose from now on. You can read all about it here.
Now the task of leaders in teams, companies and organisations is getting a new, noble facet, namely that of interpreter. From now on, the boss of a team is no longer the head of the department, but the common cause. Leaders are the interpreters between concerns and team members. They are the ones who communicate the importance of their task to each individual in the team. This is the axis around which everything revolves. This is where everyone - whether a programmer or a marketing specialist, whether a designer or a salesperson, whether a controller or a service worker, whether a cleaner or an executive assistant - can experience that they are part of something big. This is where meaning is created in the team, because one's contribution fulfils a task that fulfils oneself.
Did I mention that this blog is the only one in the world that can read the minds of its audience? That's why I know what you're thinking now. Which is: "But what difference can I make on my own?" Right? For a change, the answer is not Jon Bon Jovi with his team of brave like-minded people, but Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Purpose relations make us strong - as people, as teams and as a society. Purpose Relations are the source of a new story, the New Story, which we urgently need in our civilisation that is bent towards over-multiplication. It is a new, a better story for all of us that is about all of us and multiplies our strengths instead of dividing us like the old story.
I think that 's what my grandmother, old Story Dudette, meant when, many moons ago, as special guest on Bon Jovi's "I'll sleep when I'm dead" tour, she plugged her midnight-black Fender Telecaster into the amp and roared along with the raucous crowd in the stadium, "No Story. No Glory."