We can define one as “influence,” that being the acquisition, maintenance and defense of social capital. Under this category we can put community relations, investor relations, crisis communications, outrage management, and any other broad duties that involve making friends and influencing people for our clients.
The second mission may be defined as “diffusion,” meaning the dissemination of ideas or innovations throughout a given community, as described by sociologist Emmitt Rogers. Here, we can place anything related to media relations (traditional or social), as well as any other tactics that involve techniques we adapt from marketing, advertising or promotion.
At our best, every public relations counsel is an applied social scientist. We examine and analyze the problem before us, we select the right tools, models and methods to solve the problem, and we develop a strategy to coordinate how we can apply our tactics more efficiently and effectively. We then execute the strategy, assess the results, and either declare victory or revise our approach.
Like all professionals, we deal with our share of mundane duties. Make that call, write that document, launch that site, order 500 stress toys, attend that trade show, and so on and on and on. If you’ve been in this business for more than one workday, you know that’s true.
But we should also concern ourselves with the search for better ways to solve problems for our clients, whether problems of influence or diffusion. We should be eager to identify new technologies, new media, new strategies and new tactics, as well as new insights and models from the social sciences. We may not revolutionize PR. We can damn sure enhance it.
“Flackhacking” is about that search at its most extreme. Yes, new ideas are cool. So are new gadgets, and new platforms, and new research findings, and new strategic insights. But we need to move beyond just the cool. We need to push those ideas to the edge through adaption, adoption, combination, deconstruction, reconstruction, or mutation -- and then harness them to serve the needs and demands of our clients, whether we are engaging in influence or diffusion.
That’s the goal of flackhacking: To explore the bleeding edge of PR.
To prepare for that journey, we must:
- Embrace our inner flack: Every profession has its detractors. Lawyers are shysters. Doctors are quacks. Professors are eggheads. And we are flacks. That’s just the way it is. Learn it, live it, love it. Become the flackiest flack that ever flacked.
- Adapt and adopt emerging technology to serve our clients: The technology is changing faster than our clients can deal with. That’s an advantage. If we can introduce clients to new technologies that make their public relations more effective and likely less expensive, then we become more valuable assets.
- Stop creating campaigns; start creating movements: Campaigns advance wars. Movements advance civilizations.
- Apply game theory: Learn to strategize in the moment. Understand strategic thinking better than anyone at the table. Have a system for creating effective strategies on the fly. Professionals who solve significant problems faster than their peers become heroes in the C-Suite.
- Learn to manage community outrage: “The most important truth in risk communication” Peter Sandman says, “is the exceedingly low correlation between whether a risk is dangerous, and whether it’s upsetting.” The public gets upset and angry for reasons that often defy corporate logic. That’s not to say the public is irrational. People just get angry about the things that executives consider benign, and often ignore the things that executive consider hazardous or offensive. Be the person at the table who understands the factors that actually trigger outrage, be ready to predict public reaction before your client takes an action, and know how to manage public outrage to the company’s benefit.
- Practice edgecraft relentlessly: One of our jobs is to help our clients get the enthusiastic attention of prospects, customers, investors and other stakeholders. Most executives expect to accomplish this with half-measured, half-baked ideas. We need to be ready to guide our clients toward the edges, where all the most interestng and remarkable ideas are found. Seth Godin says, “Instead of slogging your way through incremental improvements in the core element of your offering, then, the edgecrafter seeks out another element and pushes it so far it becomes remarkable.”
- Prefer the indirect over direct: Public relations is like billiards, Edward Bernays said; to win, you must learn how to bounce your message off the cushions before you strike your target. If you transmit an idea directly to an audience, you are marketing. If you first bounce the idea off a third party, such as an opinion leader, a well-regarded organization, or a media outlet – you are conducting public relations. Always know the difference, and be ready to articulate it.
- Prefer the slow burn to the big bang: Marketers prefer massive, artful, expensive campaigns that frequently fail. Public relations should advocate for the social science of diffusion, as described by the sociologist Everett M. Rogers. Diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of specific a social system. Diffusion requires time, but it’s relatively cheap and can be extremely effective. Become its champion.
- Prefer the micro over the macro: “I don’t how to write for everyone,” Howard Gossage once said. “I only know how to write for somebody.” Too often, we talk about “targeted audiences” and “key demographics.” That’s marketing crap. With so many messages out there today, it’s impossible to be heard unless you start at the micro level. Focus your energy on talking to a tangible someone, not to the Googleverse.
- Give audiences somewhere to go: Every message should include a call to action. Or, as Gossage put it: “If you are going to build a mousetrap, always leave room for the mouse.” What good does it do to interest folks in your idea, and then fail to guide them on what steps to take to support your cause? Direct marketers refer to this as the "call to action." Show them the way.
- Cultivate advocates and collaborate with them: Give your community members something to champion to their peers. Share the knife. Let them participate, offer ideas, take ownership. Get away from “them and us.” Always be us.
It’s a journey without an end. So, in the words of Blake in David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross: “Go and do likewise.”
− Rusty Cawley, APR