Much has been written about the future of PR. My industry has beaten its own brow for years trying to figure out why it doesn’t command a place at the top table. Why it isn’t valued as highly as some of the other communications disciplines. Why it is often the first line item to be cut from budgets when savings are being sought.
The PR industry is either in denial or simply hopes that by asking the question often enough it will eventually convince its customers to give it what it wants. I have got news for my peers. It won’t! The future of the public relations industry relies on things changing. Here’s my list.
First, it needs a clear definition. Ask one hundred PR ‘pros’ and you’ll likely get one hundred different definitions. Simply, public relations is about building and maintaining relationships. I’ve been told this definition is too literal, too specific, too outdated and too vague, by people who either can’t define it at all or use a combination of buzzwords to do so, or insist that it involves playing middleman between customers and journalists.
The second thing is that the industry needs a clear value proposition. This is something that my industry has historically been, at best, poor at. It could also be accused of dodging the question or spinning it. The true value a PR specialist can offer is insight and strategic advice, based on experience learned both in school and in practice, to the individual challenges faced by his or her customers. It is not the arbitrary completion of activities to fit a budget.
The third thing that the industry needs to tackle is the retainer fee. Arbitrarily asking for 5, 10, 15 [and sometimes more] thousand dollars every month is a recipe for failure. When the minimum contract period is three months it shouldn’t be surprising that most can’t demonstrate return on their customers’ investment.
Charging for activity is the fourth thing that the PR industry needs to fix if it is to have any kind of future. The supposed PR industry leaders are always talking about PR not being given the credit it deserves, but as long as it continues to sell a pre-defined set of activities to every company it works with, assuring them that it will deliver similar value, it has no chance of being taken seriously. Maintaining this position will only continue to do damage to its credibility.
The fifth thing that must change is its current lack of transparency. It must help customers understand what public relations is all about and their role in using PR successfully as a business strategy. The PR industry must allow customers to see everything it does on their behalf at all times – something it has been loathe to do thus far.
The final thing my industry must address in order to have any chance of continuing to prosper is to provide a simple, straightforward framework for measuring the success of its advice. It’s something I continually hear the industry is working on: the Barcelona principles are, I’m told, proof the industry takes measurement seriously.
There are two problems with this argument. The first is that the principles are now more than 5 years old. The second is that they focus on replacing advertising equivalency and recognizing the role of social media to PR. Both of these are, sadly, measuring awareness rather than relationships – the product of publicity, not public relations.
But the PR industry doesn’t want to change. People like Robert Phillips, former President and CEO, EMEA, of Edelman, the world’s largest PR firm claimed the public relations industry is dead. I agree. If not actually dead, it has lost its soul. Most of the people working in the PR industry are zombies.
Focusing on the wrong things
I’m tired of hearing the self-serving expressions of intent; the justification of the unjustifiable – the assertion that the future of PR is social media, or content marketing or native advertising – to name just a few. They make all of the right noises, say the right things to deflect attention from the fact that the PR industry doesn’t want to change. It quite likes where it is thank you very much. It gets paid thousands of dollars every month to do who knows what and not explain the value its customers receive.
And so, while others only talk about the future of PR, I have created my vision of the future of the industry. It provides small businesses and startups with the advice and guidance they need to use public relations to achieve commercial goals – most importantly, when they need it. It also gives entrepreneurs practical and actionable strategic advice that they can use without the need for a specific communications skill set.
What’s more, I’ve redesigned the fee structure. There are no retainers. No long-term commitments. Our customers pay for the strategic advice and guidance they need, not a random set of activities done to justify a retainer fee. I have also created a new PR framework, based on lean principles, and a simple and easy to understand way to measure outcomes. The future of the PR industry has arrived.
To find out more visit thinkdifferently.ca.
— What is public relations?
Public relations is a process of strategically building mutually beneficial relationships with the people that matter most to the growth of a small or early-stage business.