Songs in the key of life

31 August 2010
I have been thinking rather a lot about Chrissie Hynde, lead singer of the pop group The Pretenders. Perhaps I ought to clarify that last remark. Recently I have been thinking a lot about the song Hymn to Her, a hit record (as we used to say) in 1986. It is the lovely refrain of that song, performed by Ms Hynde, that has been in my head: “Some things change, some stay the same.” This is the potency of popular music, to paraphrase Noel Coward. It can say apparently very simple things but in a memorable and powerful way. (If you do not know the song, try to get hold of it on Spotify or YouTube or one of those other amazing networks that have burst on to the scene in the past couple of years.) There is wisdom in those lyrics. Clearly, from a logical point of view, there can be no exceptions to that statement. But it is helpful in a world where we are often told, somewhat loudly, that EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED and that NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME AGAIN. For me personally, over the course of the summer, some things have changed and some have stayed the same. Alert readers may have already looked to the text at the foot of this column to see that I am no longer earning my living at the Financial Times, but have joined Edelman, an international public relations firm. I am busy getting to know a long list of corporate clients, working with them to understand better who they are and how they should be presenting themselves to the world. I have already, you may not be surprised to learn, found out quite a lot more about them as businesses than I knew before. But some things have stayed the same – not least this monthly column in SM. I’m continuing to write, blog, tweet and generally sound off about the world in a range of media. Paradoxically, in that continuity is an example of change. In the good old days, when journalists crossed over to PR, that was meant to be the last you heard of them in the media. There was an Iron Curtain between the two disciplines. Hacks talked in superior terms about people going over to the “dark side” of PR. But in the web 2.0 world, where every citizen can be a journalist, the communication industries are being transformed. One colleague, a former FT journalist who now works in PR, described it to me in these terms: there is a flow of information, a bit like the production line that cars emerge from. Journalists stand at the end of the production line. The PR industry just gets involved a bit earlier on in the same production line. It is part of the same process. Media is not the only sector, of course, where old rules have been overturned and relationships with customers have changed. I am lucky to have an interesting new job, and delighted to be able to carry on doing what I like most. So, unless enough readers write in their droves to complain (now there’s a challenge for you), I shall continue to offer thoughts on business and management in this space every month. Only now I will be seeing things perhaps a little more clearly from the employer’s point of view. As that beautiful musician from Akron, Ohio, says: “Some things change, some stay the same.” Stefan Stern is director of strategy at Edelman, the PR firm
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