The “days of perception management as the defining PR construct are over,” Richard Edelman told the World PR Forum in Australia last night via a video link from New York.

He believes perception management and advertising are based on an “antiquated model of persuasion, the pyramid of influence with elites at the top, mass audiences at the bottom.”

Communication today “is no longer top down and one way, but rather horizontal conversations,” said Edelman.

He said the “simplicity of well-scripted words or polished images are being surpassed by embracing the complexity of real-life action.”

Communicators “can no longer rely on the hidebound notion of audience; rather today’s reality, which is communities and co-contributors who crave authenticity, spontaneity, and the communion of conversation. Stakeholders want more than expensive video and celebrity endorsements. They demand action around the issues that matter,” said the CEO of the No. 1 independent PR firm.

PR Must Re-Earn Trust

Edelman cited an online survey conducted last month by Edelman Berland for Adobe to illustrate the public’s low esteem of the PR business.

Consumers ranked PR as the least valuable profession. Advertising/marketing-- tied with dancer and actor/actress-- ranked just ahead of PR.

The top four professions are teacher, scientist, programmer/engineer and social worker, respectively.

Edelman also spoke of a survey from the Public Relations Society in Sweden that showed the poor reputation of PR in the Swedish press.

More than 80 percent of the coverage regarding PR is negative though the use of language such as “PR-machine,” “PR-stunt,” “PR-coup,” and “PR-trick.”

It’s up to PR people to move from “managing perceptions or projecting images to changing reality,” Edelman said.

That’s done via the evolution of PR to public engagement, which centers on communication that is bottom up, social, radically transparent, values-led and rooted in action that delivers a demonstrable impact.

Edelman quoted Arthur Page’s observation that “Public perception of an organization is determined 90 by what it does and 10 percent by what it says.”

The typical PR department “has only been able to influence the 10 percent part. Public engagement is the path to impacting the other 90 percent,” according to Edelman.
“It’s our time to lead,” he concluded.