The death of message “control”

For years I’ve been talking to anybody who would listen about the basic principles that make online communication efforts work – and the ways in which the Internet has completely altered the rules for successful PR in all arenas. When I talk about openness and transparency, though, the train often jumps the tracks because corp comm pros who have been around since the pre-Net days are obsessed with message control.

What they don’t always grasp is that everybody who encounters a corporate message today – be it advertising, marketing collateral, PR, whatever – instinctively smells the topspin. There’s a tone that inherently attaches to message control efforts that consumers have simply learned, and when they hear it they instinctively file it under “sales pitch.”

Even more importantly, control – in the sense that our profession came to understand it – is obsolete. Dead. As a doornail. As viable as buggy whip manufacturing. Period. We might own a channel, but there are millions of channels now. Web sites, blogs, mobile marketing, alternative media (online and print) – it does no good at all to control a channel that has no credibility.

However, the fact that you can’t control doesn’t mean you can’t win. If you have a program that understands the online world, for example, and that puts working the relationship ahead of controlling it, the Net can be a better friend to you than the old one-way gatekept model ever was.

Have a look at the US West case study I posted earlier today. By the old rules it should have been a trainwreck. Instead, it was a booming success – we walked into a world that hated us and a month later had moved the negative:positive impressions ratio from 6.1:1 to almost 1:1.

And let’s get over the idea that online PR is some kind of wild, incredibly new idea to be careful around. Yeah, that’s what some folks think, but the USW case – happened in 1999.


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