Is Public Relations Dead?

Public Relations, PR Strategy, PR is Dead

A few weeks ago I read a piece in PR week by former Edelman EMEA CEO Robert Phillips pronouncing that public relations is dead.  It’s something I’ve long said and Robert made some very valid points:

“PR is dead.  Its business model, dominated on the consultancy side by bloated networks selling bureaucracy over transformation and generalists over deep expertise, is broken. Its philosophy – rooted in selling stuff to consumers, rather than addressing societal needs – is exhausted. A transparent world exposes the tired deceits of message management and spin. “

I couldn’t agree more.  The industry’s business model – pay us a large amount of money on the promise of something we can’t measure – is done.  Sure, companies still line up to purchase, but retainer fees are falling – they have been for the last 15 years – and scepticism about the value is at an all time high.  The ‘PR’ process – [it’s actually publicity, but…] of press releases, media pitching, interviews and coverage [if you’re lucky] doesn’t work in the real-time internet world. As for transparency… who knows what their PR company actually does?

Had he stopped here, I’d have agreed wholeheartedly with Robert.  But he didn’t.  He goes on to talk about public leadership; a new, Robert claims, democratic form of communications strategy where everybody has a voice.  He is also co-founder consultancy that offers advisory  and transformation programmes around this new approach.  And, you’ve guessed it, a book that will be published later in the year.  I’m not sold on the new public leadership model and his argument starts to sound more a veiled attempt to disguise old PR tactics in new [Emperor’s?] clothes.

Then, over the weekend, I read a piece by Robert White, principal and founder of PR Matters that details 10 things that PR is NOT.  Dead is not one of them.  I also read Robert’s response to the other Robert’s PR Week article, entitled Why claims that PR is dead are dead wrong.  White makes some interesting points but I found myself disagreeing with many of the points he makes.

He starts by stating that, “In PR, we believe good communication (content) and a great reputation are built upon integrity, transparency, and evidence-based results – and that spin is bad PR, because it has no values or ethics.”

I’m not sure that communication good or bad is synonymous with content.  Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s not.  But this view does reflect the shift by many agencies away from media pitching and towards content.  The number of agencies now offering content marketing has grown significantly in the last year.  If you don’t understand the difference between PR and marketing, which many PR ‘professionals’ don’t, check out my definitions of PR, marketing and publicity for clarity.

Spin is next up for Robert White, offering three reasons why Phillips’ assertion that the industry needs to escape the association with the image of PR as helping to bend the truth is incorrect.  I’m not convinced that any of them stand up to scrutiny.  White states that, “PR professionals hate spin and what it stands for. Any self-respecting PR person, agency, or group will do everything we can to convince management of the dangers and tremendous risks to an organization’s reputation if they do try to spin.” 

Which sounds a bit too much like spin to me. While there are some like White [and Robert Phillips and me] that may consider it bad form, you only have to read the website of a PR company to see how common it is.  Pick any agency’s site that come up in Google organic search results and tell me I’m wrong!

I could go on, but I’ll spare you a blow-by-blow commentary of the two articles. You can read them yourselves and draw your own conclusions.  To use Robert White’s conclusion, quoting Launcelot [Gobbo] in The Merchant of Venice, “the truth will out”.  I agree.  And it may come as a shock to many PR ‘professionals!

White concludes by saying that, “public relations is and always will be an effective channel of communication to make sure this happens.” Of that I’m not convinced. I’m not sure many of the traditional industry’s customers are either – most of the people I talk with think that traditional PR is over-priced, a combination of smoke and mirrors, un-transparent and delivers little tangible value.

To apply one of the frequently-used adages of our industry, ‘perception is reality’ what we think is irrelevant.  If our customers believe it to be true then it is time the industry woke up to it.

For what it’s worth, I think ‘PR’, at least the way that the majority of companies sell it; charge for it; talk about it; define it; and deliver it IS DEAD.  Public Relations professionals that don’t see that remain blissfully unaware of this fact are, I’d argue the walking dead.

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Photo from Flickr User MonsieurCaron                                                      Creative Commons

Context. It’ll Be The Death of Social Media Platforms | The THINK PR Espresso

Public Relations Espresso

As a rookie PR I remember being told by a colleague that the only thing you can control when sending an email is the intention when it’s sent. You can’t control how the recipient interprets what you say. This has stuck with me every since.

It’s the same with public relations, marketing and publicity. You often have no control over how a message, a call to action or a piece of content is perceived by the person receiving it. A lot of the uncontrollable is a result of context. Context has been a recurring theme for me lately, particularly in discussions about social media.

A lack of context means that social and digital platforms have a real disadvantage to some of the more traditional delivery mechanisms used in public relations, marketing and publicity. Is a lack of context meaning your audience is missing something important from your PR, marketing and publicity messages?

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What is the value of press coverage? | The THINK PR Espresso

Public Relations, PR Strategy, ROI

Almost every entrepreneur I meet says that they need media coverage to grow their business. When I ask them why, very few have an answer.

The PR industry sells “awareness” as a solution to almost every business ailment – but it’s simply not true. Media coverage can be a very inefficient, expensive and indirect way to talk to the people that matter most to your business. You’re putting the opportunity to build your businesses most important relationships in the hands of a third party, that has to convince another third party to publish something. You then hope that the people you want to read about your product or service actually see it when the coverage appears.

With traditional media-based publicity – because that’s what it is, not PR – you’re effectively buying a lottery ticket. Let me explain. If we apply the 5% direct marketing rule to publicity look what happens:

The website has 300,000 uniques every month.

5% will see the piece [15,000].

5% of the 15,000 will read it [600]

5% of the 600 will be have a possible need for your product or service [30]

5% of the 30 will have a need right now [1.5]

5% of the 1.5 will… well you get the idea!

With traditional media you had weekly, monthly or, in some cases, quarterly publications – where the magazine sat on their desks for a week, a month or three. Compare that with a refresh rate of one story an hour – or, in the case of the likes of Mashable and other online tech publications, once every 15 minutes. So, not only are you hoping to attract the attention of one and a half prospects with every piece of coverage, the chances they will read your piece is one in forty every week compared to the days of traditional media. The number rises to 1/160 over a month!

So, you’re paying five to ten thousand dollars a month for ‘PR’. Let’s say you’re getting 10 pieces of coverage a month. You’re getting your message in front of 15 prospective customers per month [most B2B businesses would bite your arm off for 15 new qualified leads every month]. Lets say, for the sake of argument, 33% of these make contact with you – that’s 5 leads. Each one has cost you $1,000 if you’re paying $5,000 a month. In PR terms, that’s pretty good ROI. If 20% convert to a customer, you have one new customer for your investment.

But then there’s always the chance that you get nothing from it. Think what you could do if you identified 5 – 10 prospects and spent even $500 on each to capture their attention. $500 a month to start building a relationship with them that increases the chances of them converting to a customer. What if you could spend $500 and figure out how to make sure you delivered the right message to each of these validated customers, at the right time and delivered via the right channel?

In reality, you could spend a lot less and get significantly better results. So, do you still want to play the publicity lottery?

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How To Plan For Public Relations Success

Public Relations Espresso

We’re half way through the year and today my advice is that you take a long hard – and most importantly – honest look at your PR, marketing and publicity plans to see whether they are moving you closer to your commercial objectives for the year.

Today’s THINK PR Espresso explains a little more about how to create a plan that will enable you to see quickly and easily whether your PR, marketing and publicity is working.  Tomorrow I’ll explain how to tell if your current plan is working or not.

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Why this ‘PR guy’ agrees with Mark Cuban

Today I was reading a piece on LinkedIn where a PR professional was explaining why he disagreed with Mark Cuban’s assertion that startups should never hire a PR firm.  I found myself agreeing – with Mark Cuban.

The author of the piece I was reading, written recently, was talking about a bullet point in an article published in Entrepreneur magazine more than two years ago. It was called Mark Cuban’s 12 Rules for Startups.  He was explaining that PR professionals play a valuable role in helping early-stage businesses to grow.  I agree. In part.  But what he was describing wasn’t public relations it was publicity – media coverage. Awareness. Brand-building.  Call it what you will the majority of the companies that claim to sell PR are actually in the publicity game.  On that basis, I wholeheartedly agree with Mark.

I wrote a piece recently that explains what PR companies don’t tell their prospects or customers.  Over the last few days I’ve become even more convinced that the traditional PR industry is scared to death that you’ll discover these things.  It is the key to their business model and without the illusion of value the industry as we know it quickly unravels.

The author of the piece I read today – I would mention him by name but I can’t find the post again*.  Having viewed it via the LinkedIn app on my phone it updated between leaving the subway and getting on the bus – makes some interesting points about the value of using strategic communications strategists, and I agree with that.  Startups need advice on building the relationships they need to grow their business; they need help in communicating their value proposition, developing messaging, figure out how to deliver it and at the right time for the audience.  But, it’s not what most PR companies offer.

The majority offer, at best, a tactical approach that focuses on pitching journalists [a single audience or public] in order to get the right to talk with every other one of a company’s audiences.  What’s more most PR companies act as a barrier between an organization and journalists, rather than helping their customers to build relationships with journalists or any of an early-stage business’ critical audience groups. Imagine if every conversation you had with the important people in your life used the same ‘strategy’.  Your relationships were managed by a third-party and then had to be approved by another arbiter who decided whether your message would be passed on to the intended audience.  Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?!  It’s definitely unworkable.

Yet, for this ‘strategy’ they charge exorbitant amounts of money. Every month. And, they ask for a minimum commitment, irrespective of whether the arrangement delivers any value.

This is, I suspect, why Mark Cuban says that startups can do without it.  And it is why this PR guy agrees.

———-

*I spent about 30 minutes looking for it using the information I remembered – the company was called UberStrategy, and the author was called Mario – and still can’t find it. Everything you need to know about the effectiveness of ‘awareness’ -based public relations [or publicity as it should accurately be described] is demonstrated right there. When I type UberStrategy into Google I get results about taxicab industry disruptor Uber’s business strategy.

How To Measure PR Success

Public Relations Espresso

If you believe most PR agencies they’ll tell you that awareness is the key to public relations success.  But awareness without a focus on the right audience, the right message and delivered at the right time via the right channel is meaningless.  So, if you’re not measuring awareness – in the form of page impressions and social media platform shares what should you measure to work out whether your PR activity is working?

Relationships, that’s what.  Think about it, most PR programs are media-focused and agencies guard their journalist contacts as fiercely as they guard your contact details from journalists.  Their perceived value is in the brokerage role they play in securing coverage and if they allow you to build a direct relationship then you don’t need them.  Right?

I’ve written before that public relations is far more than media relations and, the resulting ‘awareness’ that most agencies peddle.  It’s about building and relationships with the people that can help you grow your business; with customers that want to buy – or have a need for –  your product or service.  With influencers that can help people you have no direct relationship with find your business.  With investors that have money to invest in businesses doing what you do.  Very little of that is delivered as the direct result of media coverage.

Awareness and media ‘relationships’ – I describe this as a lease arrangement at best – are a really bad measure of PR success because when you stop paying an agency for their brokerage you often have nothing of tangible benefit.  If you measure public relations on the strength of the relationships you build as a result of your activity – and I mean firm relationships, not fast friends or friends of your agency ‘friends’, then you can calculate whether your public relations activity is helping you move towards commercial outcomes.

There will be my peers that argue that PR is about reputation and trust. And credibility. And authenticity. And awareness.  And, I’d agree.  So long as it is you building relationships based on demonstrating these things, rather than you leasing media relationships based on your agency pitching them on your behalf. Or on journalists being arbiters of your message and the owner of the delivery mechanism.

If you have awareness and coverage but don’t have relationships as a result of your PR activity then we have something different to offer.  Find out more at http://thinkdifferently.ca/