In 1999, just a year after the invention of Google, The Cluetrain Manifesto predicted ‘the end of business as usual’.
The book’s four authors argued that markets were becoming smarter and that because of the internet ‘a powerful global conversation had begun’. The Cluetrain Manifesto said that businesses needed to start having conversations inside and outside the organisation, quickly, or they wouldn’t survive the changes the book anticipated.
Thesis 74 in The Cluetrain Manifesto said that ‘we are immune to advertising just forget it’. Advertising is an element of marcoms and was historically described as ‘any paid form of non-personal presentation and promotion of ideas, goods, or services by an identified sponsor.’
Advertising grew with industrialisation and the rise of mass media: television, radio and press. However, over the last ten years and largely due to the internet and the development of social media, there has been considerable fragmentation of media outlets creating more opportunities to advertise, many free of charge such as YouTube.
The idea of ‘free’ advertising is very different from the definition of advertising as a ‘below the line’ practice, and blurs the boundaries between advertising and public relations.
There is more advertising now than ever before, across a huge range of outlets, but with greater competition for attention, advertising messages are becoming diluted in consumers’ minds due to too much exposure to them. In an offline world advertisers are turning to alternative advertising strategies such as sponsorship, product placement and celebrity endorsements.
In The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR, Al and Laura Ries subsequently argued that advertising should be used to maintain brand awareness rather than build a brand because of its lack of credibility.
The Cluetrain Manifesto authors described advertising messages as an ‘interruption’ in consumers’ minds, an attempt to stop them doing something and pay attention to the message. Permission marketing is both the idea and title of a 1999 book by Seth Godin. The idea of permission marketing is to ‘encourage consumers to participate in a long term, interactive marketing campaign, in which they are rewarded some way for paying attention to increasingly relevant messages’.
The most talked about concept in The Cluetrain Manifesto and its first thesis is ‘markets are conversations.’ The development of the internet has made conversations amongst the markets themselves – and between organisations and markets – more transparent. The development of the web has caused a shift from mass communication to micro communications such as word of mouth conversations.
This can be seen to fit closely into Grunig and Hunt’s ideal two-way symmetrical model of public relations. In 2007, Facebook’s creator Mark Zuckerberg argued that messages broadcast to the masses no longer work and that marketers (and PR professionals) should be part of the conversation.
Social media can be described as a ‘shift in how people discover, read, and share news and information and content. It’s a fusion of sociology and technology’, Brian Solis has argued, ‘transforming monologue (one to many) into dialog (many to many.)’
Social media channels include blogging, microblogging, video sharing, podcasts, RSS and wikis to name just some. These channels are described as ‘consumer generated content’ by Phillips and Young. Anyone in the world with access to a computer can make themselves heard to a global audience, an idea that The Cluetrain Manifesto pre-empted: ‘we like this new marketplace much better. In fact we are creating it’, Thesis 72.
Just as the role of advertising has changed since The Cluetrain Manifesto was written, so the role of public relations has also needed to adapt. Phillips and Young have argued that the internet is an ‘agent of change’. Traditionally it was the job of marketing and PR professionals to communicate an organisation’s controlled messages to key opinion leaders. However, because of the developments of the internet and the need for transparency, it is now the whole organisation’s responsibility to be ‘guardians of reputation’.
Technology and the developments in social media have caused a power shift from the organisation to the consumer. This presents new challenges for public relations in terms of how interactive the organisation is in building relationships, being authentic, and also monitoring online conversations.
In terms of ‘new’ online PR practice it can be argued that, ‘shouting doesn’t work, conversations do’ according to Groundswell authors Li & Bernoff.
Since The Cluetrain Manifesto was written in 1999 the world has entered the worst recession since World War Two. Recession undoubtedly brings mistrust and uncertainty for consumers and well as brands, which means that the role of public relations is even more important.
Relationships are crucial for brands during a period of recession in order for them to look genuine and build trust through personal relationships. The Cluetrain Manifesto’s thesis three talks about how conversations among human beings need to sound human which is crucial for brands in a recession.
Social media plays a huge part in these human conversations because of its authenticity, low cost and global reach.
The internet hasn’t been a solely positive development for businesses and their reputations. The internet has increased and widened participation of activist groups because of its global reach. ‘…whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.’ Cluetrain Thesis 12.
As well as blogs, Facebook and Twitter are popular for online activists. Online activist groups have a damaging effect on the reputation of a company as it provides a ‘global platform and an opportunity to link up with other people who attempt to harm your company or organisation, worldwide, 24/7’ according to Colin Byrne, CEO of Weber Shandwick, who has described these people as ‘badvocates’.
In July 2009 PR was introduced into the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, a practical example of how PR and marcoms have merged. Meerman-Scott described how ‘great content in all forms’ drives action which is the main purpose of both disciplines, meaning the best ideas will win no matter who created them.
The best job in the world campaign created for Tourism Queensland by Australian ad agency CumminsNitro, was advertising using public relations to raise global awareness through viral techniques. The campaign won the Cannes Lions PR Grand Prix award in 2009, with Lord Bell describing the campaign as ‘very simple, capturing the imagination of the world’s media…online and offline…highly contemporary.’. In this campaign the online communications was supporting the campaign’s communications offline.
Although the internet is seen as a positive change for a lot of people, both individuals and businesses, it is not universal and doesn’t change everything for everyone: ‘our social tools are not an improvement to society; they are a challenge to it’ according to Clay Shirky.
Shirky illustrates that technology might change but people do not. In the future, the number of people accessing the internet might be closer to 80% or 90% but there will still be a digital divide of some sort, as the population will always be made up of different demographics and the ‘global conversation’ and ‘end of business as usual’ that The Cluetrain Manifesto talks about still won’t be true for everyone.