Evolving PR – ready to learn a new dance?

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On the doorstep to Christmas, I thought I would mention my favourite game this year. ‘Spore’ lets you evolve from a tiny cell into a creature that you nurture over time. In order to play you must move from cell to creature stage to form a tribal group, then on to determine your own brand of ‘civilisation’, before finally evolving into a sentient intergalactic space being (only one of my sons has managed this so far). The reason I like it – and why it is relevant here – is that in order to get a bigger brain you must first build workable relationships with the other creatures, all in various stages of development, on your shared turf.

You can of course, opt for mindless violence and try to further your species simply by eating everyone (you have the choice at cell stage of being omnivore, carnivore or herbivore) but interestingly the creature-eat-creature approach doesn’t guarantee survival. In order to survive in the later stages of the game you must nurture your planet’s eco-system and – as you head off into space – make sure everyone left behind can continue to evolve and survive in your absence.

From the off you have to try to match communication patterns between groups, understand what makes a ‘conversation’, work out how group conversations are initiated and  pick the appropriate response, which, in the early days, tends to involve a lot of singing and dancing. Only when you have become accomplished at communicating and building relationships are you allowed to evolve. Then you get your bigger brain.

Anyway, while stuck in a taxi in Wellington in the rain (it being summer here of course), Spore popped into my head. On the taxi radio was a fascinating lecture on the subject of evolution by a professor whose name I never caught. One comment he made stayed with me as I left the cab with my squashed fudge brownie and broken suitcase (another story for another day). He said – and I paraphrase – that when Darwin put forward his theories, everyone assumed he meant we had reached the pinnacle of human evolution at that point. But – and it was a very big professorial ‘but’ – we are still evolving and scientifically speaking, we all have a very, very long way to go.

This then got me thinking about the long-standing debate about the purpose of PR, which we have chewed over long and thoroughly here; the financial troubles; the ridiculous mainstream media hysteria that continues to talk up the financial crisis in a bid to fill the vacuum left by the US presidential election (rather than look for urgent and under-reported stories elsewhere) as well as the potential next steps in our evolutionary processes. This thinking carried on further this weekend with the news that a critical undersea internet cable had been cut yet again, creating more chaos for those seeking to communicate and sustain their virtual relationships.

In Heather’s post we talked about the car industry and the need for a change of business model because we can’t continue to operate in a framework created to serve a different world and a different society at a different time. The dance has changed. Mainstream media has to determine whether it is going to stay trapped in a business model that increasingly demands sensation in order to promote falling revenue. The song is different. And as for public relations? Well, I’ve been doing an interesting dance the last few weeks, vociferously arguing the toss over the meaning and definition of public relations. My suggestion is that we are still evolving and while building and sustaining relationships is still absolutely our core business, the way in which we operate and communicate will continue to change dramatically in the years ahead so we must be prepared to be flexible and adapt – lots more new songs and dances to learn. None of this went down too well as at least half those involved in the conversation were of the fixed view that ‘PR’ was only about ‘press coverage’. I ended up feeling a bit like someone breaking into booty-shaking  hip-hop in the middle of an old English Tea Dance.

So, like my creatures in Spore, we need to be able to work out what stage of development everyone is currently at, anticipate the dances, learn new songs and make sure that we help all those we deal with become accomplished at building relationships.  This might mean we have an outside chance of evolving more fruitfully – without the need for wild carnivorous bloodshed – and perhaps a bit more peace and goodwill for all in the years ahead.

Merry Christmas.

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