A Generation of PRs will Die
The University of Westminster hosted an evening with Mark Borkowski - the publicist, pundit and founder of the eponymous PR agency - at The Old Cinema, on Regent Street. Never one to shirk from controversy, Borkowski did not hold back on his opinion of what the new digital arena meant for those of us working in the media. Tim Hoang attended the event.
Mark Borkowski has handled some of the biggest names in showbiz; from Graham Norton to Macaulay Culkin and is rumoured to have resigned the Michael Jackson account. However, while much of the talk at the University of Westminster’s Old Cinema was about Borkowski’s career to date, he was extremely candid about his thoughts on the current state of the media, PR and the power of the brand.
Interviewer, Trevor Morris - himself one of the UK’s most senior practitioners - began proceedings by asking Borkowski about his thoughts on the current state of the media.
"Sex, celebrity, fame and culture are at the heart of everything - this has never changed," was Borkowski’s response. For those working in PR, this was no real surprise; the PR industry has always sought to provide newsworthy stories to the press by ‘newsjacking’ trends. However, according to Borkowski, publicists are struggling to get into the news and it is much more difficult to shock an audience than previously as "decency and levels of pornography" have significantly changed.
One of the factors mentioned was that in the web 2.0 world, traditional media organisations have become worried about falling readership numbers and are desperate to spoon-feed their audiences with whatever content they want. And traditional media outlets should be worried - citizen journalism, blogging and the like are now creating stories as much as the media. Borkowski cited a public appearance with Noel Edmonds of Deal or No Deal fame where the public had not only come to see Noel Edmonds but many were videoing him on their mobile phones and some were actually blogging about it.
PR agencies will have to alter not just the way they work, but also they way they think of the traditional audience. As Borkowski explains, a "generation of PRs will die" if they do not get to grips with this new phenomenon. "The digital age is fantastic," said Borkowski. "The speed is fascinating but agencies that have a separate digital division are in trouble. Digital should be at the centre of PR."
And Borkowski should know. He has been justifiably lauded for his "bring back Wispa" campaign - one of the definitive case studies for those looking to promote products through social media. However, when questioned about whether the campaign would have had the same success had the traditional media not picked up on it, Borkowski had some very encouraging words for more traditional PR execs. "A good story will always get picked up. It was something that was genuinely happening at the time and the product had already shifted before media picked it up."
Although hardly impartial, he believes that in the web 2.0 world, PRs will become more important - a conscience for brands rather than just a voice. But the industry will have to consolidate its operations with marketing divisions in order to survive as budgets diminish.
"PR still has a huge role to play in brand life and will become a more central unit as PR and advertising blurs into one," said Borkowski "Corporate communications will fundamentally change and everyone will have to combine dialogue."
Although press releases "had died ages ago", Borkowski does believe that the old adage of ‘content is king’ still rings true. "People will always pay for good content," he said. "There are different ways of making content compelling and people shouldn’t be lazy about creativity."
In this web 2.0 world, brands will have to listen to the conversations. The general public are more informed than ever and are able to communicate to potentially millions of people if they see any discrepancies in the way a company operates.
"Brands who rape the planet have no future. Consumers expect more from brands in the digital world."