PR Pros Beware: Don’t Disregard Consumer-Generated Media

I spoke at a Conference Board corporate-communications confab today with Vickee Adams, media guru from Hill & Knowlton. We did an old-school-meets-new-school workshop, with Vickee the established media relations and PR counselor and me the enthusiastic new-media guy, underscoring the power of consumer-generated media and the dichotomy with search engines, brand reputation and stakeholder relations. The discussion benefited from a healthy tension of differing perspectives, as well as our acknowledgement that a debate would be far more interesting than a full 90-minute presentation. There also were a lot of very smart, curious people in the room from a variety of big companies and diverse industries, which made the session all the more engaging.

My key takeaway from the day: While my observations are largely anecdotal, I become evermore convinced of a growing divide between PR people who understand and embrace consumer-generated media and those who don’t. I’m talking about a silo mindset – similar to my media-agency silo post here – that will decide the winners and losers in the public-relations and media-relations field. Consider that: 

  • Consumer-generated media are increasingly prolific and visible in top-ten search results
  • The majority of editorial research/reporting (print, broadcast, online, whatever) begins with and includes numerous Google searches about issues and brands
  • Consumer-generated media are often more trusted and highly targeted than traditional media sources
  • Consumer-generated media and traditional media are tougher to distinguish

Considering these trends, it’s a mystery why any PR people write off consumer-generated media for any reason, and I’ve heard them all. Here are some of the most frequent ones:

  • It’s generational
  • It’s niche and not mainstream
  • It’s not media relations, it’s separate from what I do

As with the emergence of virtually every other emerging medium in history, consumer-generated media will not kill the old channels. However, they will force the old to adapt, for there is an indisputable intertwinement. PR people – as well as anyone in other media and marketing disciplines – who don’t embrace this evolution face possible extinction. But PR people do have an advantage: they understand the nuances of uncontrolled media extremely well. Consumer-generated media are the epitome of independence and spontaneity, which is why they are so unique, engaging and trusted by key stakeholders.


My observations today paralleled several key points from my MediaPost SearchInsider column on PR and search, from a year ago, here. It’s still a pretty good, relevant read, in my opinion.

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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