I spent a useful day today at the latest Delivering the new PR conference in London.
The event was headlined How blogs, podcasts and RSS can work for you. It featured a number of well known PR bloggers and commentators, including Stuart Bruce, Neville Hobson, Tom Murphy, Philip Young and Chris Rushton.
There's no doubt that blogging and social media are having a major impact on the media and corporate reputation. There are now around 60 million blogs worldwide, while consumption of mainstream media amongst teenagers and twentysomethings is plummeting. Any PR person whose sole focus is what the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and the Today programme say is in danger of missing a serious trick. That's not to say the mainstream media is irrelevant: it isn't. But it's just part of the picture. Tom Murphy gave an example of how an American software company got huge publicity coast to coast - online and in traditional media - by just contacting seven bloggers. The Mexican wave nature of blogging did the rest.
One of the key messages of the event was that social media will end any idea that PR people can control the message. It's always been a myth, fuelled by the short-lived success of people like Alastair Campbell, but it's now on its last legs. The irony is that this is happening just as senior management is demanding miracles of PR teams. Issues management is a full time job, especially in sectors under the media, consumer and regulatory spotlight, but it cannot banish nasty headlines. We must not pretend that we can. Above all, we must maintain absolute integrity in the face of the pressures. I sense that people new to PR, thrust into the limelight, may be tempted to cut corners and wing it with claims that are economical with the truth. It's a temptation that could - rightly - be career threatening.
Neville Hobson talked about how his new venture, Crayon, launched in Second Life, and explained how he and his far-flung associates get together in the diner in this virtual world. I wasn't the only person in the audience who was sceptical about this. Yes, big name companies, including sober-minded Reuters, have bought a presence in Second Life. And yes, I was sceptical about blogging a year or so ago. So I may become an evangelist for companies getting involved in 2007. But I'm not convinced. It strikes me that Crayon is using the Second Life connection to create a buzz. That's not in itself a reason for the rest of us to jump on the bandwagon. But we should certainly keep a close eye on how Second Life develops.