Wednesday, February 10, 2010

PR’s model is outdated

Over the past year, I have seen two major trends in PR. Many, too many, good and experienced people have been laid off. We like to think experience is valued, but agencies and corporations are saying experience is too expensive. Looking at who has been laid off in PR, and not been rehired, makes you realize the industry is undergoing a transformation. Part of the transformation involves the PR industry trying stress its value a digital world.

Like it or not, the PR model that has served us for the past 10 years is broken. Thanks to Al Gore and the Internet three things have smashed the model:

  • Companies can get the word out on their products via their own Web sites;
  • There are too few media outlets to pitch;
  • Social Media makes it easy to engage directly with the consumer.

Let's face it, search and company Web sites have reduced the need for advertising. I am not telling you anything new when I say that if you want to buy a new computer, you don't run down to the magazine shop and pick up three or four magazines on computers. Instead, you'd read them online for free, visit CNET or consumer reports online, fish around Amazon, look for discounts on the computer maker's Web sites, and well, you get the picture. You can do an awful lot of research without leaving home or spending a dime on publications.

Companies need PR less if a buyer can pull information about a product when she wants it, as opposed to having information pushed at the consumer when she's just glancing at the headlines looking to find out how many schools closed early even though the predicted blizzard never materialized.

Conclusion: you don't need PR as much as you once did. I am not sure PR people understand that, or more accurately want to admit there is a problem. It's always been hard to measure PR. Now, companies are finding it hard to justify PR. The industry's recent desire for self-promotion is a way to address this conclusion. I'm not sure it will work.

To be honest, PR's image problem and its apparent need for self promotion requires a post of its own where we can explore the issue at length. Look for it on this same Bat Station.


Anne Marie Donadio said...

I could not agree more Tony. I think PR at its core offers a company or a person control. With the explosion of social media and citizen journalism, the control factor has diminished considerably. That being said, PR is still relevant in terms of building brand awareness and creating thought-leadership as PR folks are still the best people to help organizations or individuals navigate the multi-media/multi-technology landscape. I think the media relations side and how to best influence buying decisions is the part that is evolving.

Kelley Lynn Kassa said...

Many great points Tony.

One thing to add: most of the PR people who do understand the model is outdated are the very same people who are among those laid off and still looking.

One could argue many of the thought leaders in the "new world" of PR had to think differently. Whether they are looking for full time work, doing consulting, or hanging out their own shingle, they have the motivation to change the PR model. More importantly, perhaps they do not have any vested interest in keeping the status quo.

PR agencies deliver valuable insight to their clients. Now they just need to adapt to the new world order; embracing social media, integrating PR with marketing programs and sales goals, and understanding that agencies can't survive selling outdated "products" that the industry doesn't want.

Once agencies understand and commit to that change, they'll continue to serve as valuable advisors.

Until then, the opportunities abound for those that "get it."

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