After my well-received Business Blogging 101 workshop at the Blog Business Summit in San Francisco last week, my strong exhortation to the audience that PR is Dead was the buzz of the Summit. Even publications like the San Jose Mercury News and InfoWorld were talking about it, even though I’m certainly not the first to propose that the traditional job of public relations has been supplanted by the blogosphere.
The most interesting discussion I had on the topic, however, was with Doug Free, Group PR Manager for Microsoft and Lynann Bradbury, Senior VP of Microsoft’s PR agency Waggener Edstrom. To set the scene, Lynann greeted me with “Hi. I’m not dead yet!”
But as we talked about the impact of blogging and, more generally, findability and the online world on traditional public relations, something became very, very clear…
What we agreed upon is that there are two types of public relations firms and that any informed public debate about the impact of the blogosphere and Internet on the profession of public relations must take these into account.
Large companies like Waggener Edstrom offer companies counsel on how to present themselves and their message to the public and their market segment. They are truly focused on, quite literally, public relations. But they’re in the minority.
I contend that there are in fact a significant number of so-called PR Agencies who believe – and their clients believe too – that PR stands for press release. Poll a dozen businesspeople about what their PR Agency does for them over and above managing and issuing press releases and too many of them will say “uh, nothing, actually.”
From personal experience, I’ve been involved with a number of companies where the executive team issues an edict that states the company will issue a press release every two weeks and then it’s up to the PR Agency or PR department to figure out what the release needs to say.
It’s primarily that type of PR that I’m targeting when I say “PR is Dead”, because frankly that type of PR never worked in the first place. Reporters don’t make story decisions and editors and publishers don’t assign articles based on press releases. Frankly, in my experience in newsrooms, the one place you can guarantee press releases go is straight into the recycle bin.
At the Blog Business Summit it was telling that the PR professionals all came up to me and defended their profession – and reasonably so! – but that the attendees all were delighted that I had come out and publicly stated what they already knew, that the PR that their company does is pointless, ineffective and far more expensive than any value their companies derive from it.
And then there are companies like Wagg-Ed and professional PR teams like Doug’s group at Microsoft. Are they dead too? I don’t think so. At least, not yet.
In fact, one positive outcome of the inevitable death of what I’ll now suggest we call Press Release Agencies is that it will force the shakeup and reinvention of public relations to focus more specifically on the company message, the “story”, if you will, and how to convey it effectively into the public arena, which includes the blogosphere, but is also the mainstream media, influencing thought and opinion leaders, and much more.
But there’s a bit of a dark cloud hanging over true public relations too, because it’s built upon the assumption that the message can be controlled or crafted in the first place. One of the more interesting effects of the rise of bloggers and citizen journalists (and, for that matter, “citizen industry analysts”), is that the message is taking on a life of its own and that it’s more and more frequently getting into the public eye before the company is ready.
In a world where messages are born, evolve and disseminate without controls, it does beg the question of what’s left for a public relations professional. But that’s a question for another article, one that would most usefully begin with a few PR professionals explaining what PR is all about to them and their clients, I think.
Meanwhile, after much thought, I believe that I’ll stick with my original statement: PR is still dead.