There’s a lot of buzz about PR these days. Is it dead? Has social media taken over? Does everyone do PR now? What’s wrong with PR? Why is it broken? Is it even necessary anymore?
The latest rant about how PR is broken comes from Michael Arrington of TechCrunch. I was on vacation when this post appeared so I did not participate in the comments parade (145 and counting!) following his post. But I have to say that I don’t blame him. Like Mike and his post-muse, Steve Rubel, I have recently experienced what it’s like to receive really bad, really off-focus PR pitches (since I started blogging outside of PerkettPR for This Mommy Gig, Women for Hire, etc.). The pitches I’ve received have embarrassed me, knowing that these are the professionals representing our industry… and doing such a bad job that reporters and bloggers are compelled to publicly cry out against PR in general. I don’t have time to read – let alone respond to – lazy, off-topic pitches and I’m pretty sure that I’m not even half as busy as guys like Mike.
All of this hoopla – combined with recent incoming new business inquires where prospects told me they are looking for a “Web 2.0 PR Agency” – has me thinking. Is there a difference between “traditional PR” and ” Web 2.0 PR?” Is PR really broken or are executives under pressures from clients who don’t understand, now more than ever, what PR is about? What is a Web 2.0 PR Agency, anyway? I think it depends on who you ask.
One prospect defined a “Web 2.0 PR Agency” through a series of posts describing the agency as having “current clients in the Web 2.0 space with funny sounding names” and the ability to demonstrate “out-of-the-boxiness” – preferably by wearing jeans and t-shirts to the pitch meeting and not bringing paper presentations. Numerous other prospects defined Web 2.0 PR as having a blog (you’d be surprised how many companies haven’t even taken this step yet). Still others said they were heavily weighing their decision on a new agency around the amount of Twitter followers or Facebook friends each agency had (although, since most agencies don’t yet have – or keep up – a corporate entity like @PerkettPR, they instead looked at one individual most of the time).
None of the above makes a successful “Web 2.0 PR Agency.” You can still abuse Twitter and Facebook if you use them to send bad pitches (or any pitches, in some cases). You can be a savvy PR firm and still wear suits (in fact 99 percent of the time if we showed up in jeans and a t-shirt, we’d never get the job). You can have thousands of followers on Twitter and not one of them who cares about your clients or their products (hence delivering no value). Anyone can create a blog.
PR has always been about “people skills,” as vague as that sounds. It’s not only about how many existing relationships you have, but rather about the ability to connect with others in a valuable and meaningful way – whether we’ve met or not. It’s also about mutual benefit and communication – not just calling when you need something. And finally, it’s about time – we’re not brain surgeons, but just as you could paint your own house, you most likely have other things you need to do, so you pay someone to do it for you. PR is not dead because everyone wants promotion. Some are good at doing it themselves, some need help and still others simply want to pay someone to do it for them.
A “Web 2.0 PR Agency” is simply one that understands the new ways that people are connecting and building relationships. They understand that today, “people skills,” go beyond attending networking events or taking a reporter to dinner once in awhile. They take the time to join the conversation, read and comment, share a bit of their own insights and give something back to the community in terms of participation. As Arrington said, “… participate in the fascinating conversations [and suddenly] you are a person that gives and takes. Someone who makes the overall network stronger.” PR executives can do this as well, if they make the time for it – think of what you can learn! In this regard, a good “Web 2.0 PR Agency” isn’t afraid to experiment and take chances – breaking out of the usual PR mold (which clearly isn’t working anymore).
Any “Web 2.0 PR Agency” understands that it may take more time to read, comment, write, build and share original content, and provide information – but that consistent participation is the key to success. You can’t watch from the sidelines anymore. PR agencies are suffering because they are used to maximizing billable hours by skimming the surface – they find a basic formula, teach junior executives what it is and apply it to all reporters, analysts, bloggers, etc. They don’t want to spend hours personalizing efforts for clients when they can service more clients – hence, more retainers – if one formula fits all.
This doesn’t work anymore yet they don’t know how to change. Managers demand reports of who received a press release, rather than recognizing the value in ongoing conversations and the time it takes to actually read and respond appropriately to individual constituents or to execute direct-to-customer communications. But it isn’t just agencies, the demand for such reports and lists – and the failure to recognize value in building relationships through two-way conversations – also lies with clients. They don’t measure conversations, they measure clips and ask for your Rolodex. Blasting news can quickly create a pretty list of reporters who the firm “pitched” and, sadly, can often create more quantity – not quality – “hits” than the time it takes to work with a reporter for a feature story or to build a viral campaign.
PR isn’t dead – it’s alive and well in almost anything you read on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and more (disclosure: The Style Observer and Constant Contact are clients). Traditional PR (media, speaking, awards, analyst relations, events, etc.) can still be effective – but in conjunction with these new social channels. I believe a “Web 2.0 PR Agency” understands this, has come to grips with the fact that a reusable formula no longer works, takes the time to participate, and is flexible and wise enough to adapt to this reality – and teach clients how to do so as well.