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PR is not dead… or dying for that matter

November 13, 2008

pic7982656_stdThanks to Jeremiah Owyang over at Forrester I have finally been inspired back to the blog to tackle one of my favorite issues… the evolving PR industry. His thoughts on business opportunities in PR are both insightful and vitally important for the survival of the agency industry. Note that I do not say the survival of PR. “Public relations” as a practice will always be an incredibly important part of any organization’s business, and I’m going to tell you why. But before I discuss what awesome change IS taking place, I think we need to tackle an important myth:

PR does not equal media relations. PR has not been defined as media relations in DECADES. PR is only defined as media relations by AGENCIES. 

That’s not the definition of PR as it is taught in business school and communications schools, and it isn’t the way most internal PR departments work. It’s the way most traditional AGENCIES in PR work. And they are a different animal entirely, and also much less likely to be able to change with shifting economic and industry demands, because an agency’s entire business is designed around the media relations model. Asking a PR agency to act differently is like asking Coca-Cola to start selling cars. It’s not that easy to change a business model overnight. 

Public relations in today’s world is a term that refers to managing an organization’s relationship with its various publics. This can include any number of constituencies: customers, employees, local community members, investors, environmental activists, moms, teens, politicians, you name it. Any given organization manages a large number of diverse and vital relationships with different publics. This does also include bloggers, mainstream media, industry media and analysts. But they are a small part of a much larger pie. 

So I want to make a quick argument here…

If we rethink our definition of PR, we would arrive at a much better practice of communicating in all channels, including social media. We should be managers (consultants, counselors, thinking big, thinking strategy…) We should not be thinking just about the media, but about our clients’ businesses, the bottom line, the sales cycle, new markets to explore, new insights into doing business that includes new ways of communicating, building relationships and strengthening brand awareness and brand loyalty. If we’re helping to launch a product, we should be involved in development, market research, user-interface design, website content editing, beta-testing, feedback analysis, and finally launch. We should have a hand in marketing and advertising strategy as part of the entire communications package, we should have a strategic approach to PR, marketing and advertising that all works together with a cohesive message. And that message should have been developed with clear business goals and strategy in mind. 

There are thousands of tactics and tools out there to tackle these efforts. But before you start telling your clients to join twitter and start a blog, tell your clients you are going to help them THINK about what strategy can be assembled to take their business to the next level. The most valuable differentiator you can offer your potential clients is your MIND. Your IDEAS. This is a knowledge-based industry first… showing your clients that you’re thinking about their business in a unique way, that you didn’t pull most of their proposal from one you did last week for someone else, and that YOU bring something to the table others don’t will go a long way in showing that your work is a notch above the rest. 

Finally, it’s time to realize that there is a burgeoning group of new consultants and agencies that GET IT. In a blatant act of self-promotion I’m here to tell you that this is EXACTLY why I joined Kate in the Other Side Group venture. We like to think we take a new approach to communications consulting, and that often takes a variety of forms depending on the clients we work with. But it does NOT center on media relations. We are business consultants, and we are focused on helping our clients improve existing business and communications practices or develop unique new ways of interacting with constituents, identify new markets and opportunities and achieve the best results possible. 

So if you’re thinking PR agencies are a dying breed, you’re thinking in the wrong direction. They are evolving, they have new ideas, a foundation based on strategy and a nimble and personalized approach to what for decades has been a cookie-cutter method of media blasts. Check it out. PR isn’t old, it’s new. You just have to be looking in the right places.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. castercomm permalink
    November 13, 2008 9:48 pm

    Anya, this is a great post – I advocate this model all the time, especially when I first entered the field and saw that PR was much more than simply relating to the media. I think this is primarily because the media does not have the same weight and power that it once did – social media has given the power back to the individual, to search out and find knowledge, to contribute to the global conversation. And as PR professionals, we have to learn how critical this is.

    -Ashley, Caster Communications

  2. Richard permalink
    November 17, 2008 6:27 pm


    Enjoyed your post last week. My company’s corporate communications department does far more than publish press releases and jockey for spots in publications. We’ve come to rely on that group to manage our entire public-facing communication strategy, including social media. They help us communicate with one clear and consistent voice to the mark, analysts, and yes, the media. Jeremiah has some solid points, but sometimes, like all of us, is a bit too myopic. At least his heralding of the imminent death of PR generated some good conversation in the industry.



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