We recently launched a site for the Houston Theater District (awesome design Tim!). In a meeting with them on Wednesday we talked about the reality of a content driven search engine friendly web site with distributed authors. It not only gets a different reaction from the public, but it also requires changed behavior from the organization itself. A brochure becomes a vehicle to provide content, to serve the public.
The Houston Theater District gets this, which is precisely why I am highlighting them, but I have seen many clients that do not get this fundamental shift in their way of thinking. It is more cultural than marketing, more servant than arrogance, and certainly more demanding than static sites.
But this is a very old lesson. In the article below on Ivy Lee, arguably the father of public relations, the author highlights that Lee sought to actually change the behavior of John D. Rockefeller. I don’t imagine it was easy, but it was the right thing to do.
At a time when other cutting edge (Public Relations) practitioners were trying to explain their clients’ activities in ways that were palatable to their publics, Lee was realizing some things just couldn’t be explained in a palatable yet honest way.
When Lee went to work for the Rockefeller family, John D. Rockefeller had a long and well-deserved reputation as a robber baron because he was one. He and several other well-known tycoons had achieved success and wealth by being ruthless, profit-driven businessmen whose actions were often harsh, arrogant, and uncaring. Some of what they did could be explained away, but much of it was beyond any hope of gift-wrapping. The public would never approve of such behavior.
Faced with this realization, Lee came up with a suggestion that was totally contrary to the robber barons’ prevailing philosophy of the public be damned. He concluded that changing Rockefeller’s behavior — or at least his companies’ actions — might be the best public relations of all. Initially, Rockefeller resisted, but Lee’s persistence and persuasiveness wore him down.
Instead of limiting his role to writing press releases and public statements and arranging special appearances for Rockefeller, Lee was soon advising Rockefeller on the public relations advantages of a broad range of business decisions and management policy that included mechanisms to redress workers’ grievances, the selection of new plant sites, setting employee wages and working conditions, and negotiating contracts with suppliers and vendors. In many ways this presaged the interactive adjustment and mutual satisfaction approaches to public relations that weren’t fully articulated until 70 years later.
(emphasis added by me) .. Finish the article on Ivy Lee here.