What the PR Industry Can Learn from the Little Black Dress

The LBD. The little black dress. We’ve all heard of it, but I bet every one of us conjures a different image when we hear those three little words. Coco Chanel coined the term in 1926 when her design was featured on the cover of Vogue. It was an instant classic. The magazine even called it “Chanel’s Ford,” referencing the popular and revolutionary first car.

Since its arrival on the fashion scene, the LBD has been a staple in every girl’s wardrobe- but it’s certainly far different from Chanel’s sketch on that October issue of Vogue. The little black dress has evolved continuously. It’s been floor length, long-sleeved, mini skirted and strapless. It’s been loved by celebrities of every generation, from Audrey Hepburn to Beyoncé.

But most importantly, it’s still here almost ninety years later, and it’s not going anywhere.

What does this have to do with Public Relations? More than you think. There’s been quite a bit of discussion lately surrounding the death of PR, and whether or not it’s an industry that will soon be antiquated and over with. Books have been published on the subject, countless articles written about it, entire blogs devoted to it, and even speeches given for it.

Is trust in PR too far gone for the industry to survive? Is PR worthless with the rise of social media and corporations’ abilities to stay connected with their consumers? Is PR really dead?

The answer is no. Public Relations isn’t gaucho pants or peasant tops. PR is the little black dress.

Sure, old school PR was about spinning stories and talking at people. So if you’re stuck in the archaic mindset that the industry solely exists to sell to customers and make disingenuous corporations look better, then yes—PR might be dead for you.

But let’s think about this. When Givenchy designed the iconic sheath Audrey Hepburn wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, did the fashion industry declare the little black dress dead just because this one looked completely different? No. It was praised as the latest version of the original. When Taylor Swift rocked a sparkly LBD with cutouts on the red carpet last week, did anyone panic or declare the demise of a wardrobe staple? Absolutely not. They said she “slayed the red carpet” with the newest iteration of a beloved classic. We should approach the PR industry with the same philosophy. Why?

Because quite frankly, the craft needed to be revolutionized.

In the recent past, trust became overwhelmingly important to consumers because advertisers, marketers and PR professionals became known for selfish motives and hidden agendas. Social media and the digital age spurred a need for absolute transparency and responsiveness. No one wanted to hear sales pitches, or see corporate executives kissing babies after public scandals. And the PR industry responded. We created a new design for the way we work instead of accepting that because things couldn’t be done the same way they were in 1980 that they couldn’t be done at all.

Today’s style of PR has to focus on telling authentic brand stories.

...not squeezing out a story where one doesn’t exist. It’s crucial to emphasize building bridges from corporations to communities, instead of building invisible walls between the two to keep the public in the dark. Companies have to stay connected to their followers, using ever-changing tools like social media to show their humanity. The same goes for admitting mistakes when they’re made rather than trying to bury them under publicity stunts. PR’s new look is based on trust, authenticity, humanity and transparency.

Let’s stop saying that PR is dead, and start celebrating its new design.

Embracing the newest approach to PR is how we keep it alive and well. If today’s fashion designers were still trying to sell the dress that Chanel imagined in 1926, do you think it would be successful? Probably not. But that design laid the foundation for the great and celebrated versions that came after it, as well as for the ones that have yet to come.

Traditional PR tactics aren’t relevant in today’s world, but they gave us a starting place from which we can grow and evolve. Just because we can’t keep doing things the same way doesn’t mean the death of an entire industry. It just means we have to adapt and continue to build better ways to meet the needs of our clients, and more importantly, their audiences.

PR is here to stay for those of us that are willing to welcome the challenge of changing it. We should celebrate the newest iteration of the industry, embrace it and get excited that we as practitioners get to help decide it’s next new look.


Written by Evan Scott on April 1, 2015


Add A Comment
Shannon Chapman says:

This is a great piece and very well written! The integration of social media into PR only makes it a more powerful communications strategy. This new era of PR allows for a two-way conversation with the public and is much more personal than it was in the past. That's what customers want from a business today.

So well written. Love this fresh and modern spin on how things actually are this day and time. It takes someone and something very different to be noticed and recognized now a days. It's nice to see someone break free of the norm.

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Evan Scott