Benjamin in ConversationThere are some conversations that we are afraid of. An awkward subject raised with a boss. A difficult exchange with a close relative. Explaining bad news. These are understood.

There are also conversations that are awkward for a business. A discussion on the web about problems with a product, poor financial results, internal conflicts – all made public. I have seen all of these recently, and as a marketeer I know that they ‘damage the brand’. The conversations may or may not be factually accurate. Regardless, people still take something away from them, and a mark is made.

Most people see PR as about getting the message out. It has turned into Press Relations or Media Relations, rather than Public Relations. The new world of PR will be about engaging in conversations to persuade people, which was the very old world of Public Relations.

If you are in the business of persuading people, it is much easier if you are persuading them of something that is believable, credible. Something that is true and defensible. Thus the demand today for authentic companies, for ‘authentic brands’.

I observe, with an ironic twinge, the parallel growth of the personal branding industry. Will people and companies swap places? Will we end up with a juxtaposed world of authentic businesses, with people trying to project an image? Don’t misread me. I think that personal branding has a contribution to make, but as a marketeer I know that it also opens up Pandora’s box.

Good branding today is about being authentic, but most branding theory comes from the old ‘one way’ days of “sticking lipstick on the pig”. There is a big difference, one focusses on the message, the other on the messenger. You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people, all of the time. With one way media and PR, the branding conversation was a tricky one to manage, but it could be managed.

With social media, some of the people are connected with some of the other people. Customers are better connected and the media doesn’t own the conversation anymore. It isn’t clear who will own it, if anyone. And, actually, it doesn’t matter. A new set of skills is required. Now we are all PR people, but we must focus on the messenger, more that the message. Who is it that you are? What’s your brand?