Future of PR: PR May Be Headed To Oz

Public Relations

Public relations is about everything, we say this all the time, and named our news site because of this. Everything changes too, even as hard as some try to keep it the same. An article yesterday pretty much puts another nail in the coffin of “old school” PR, or at least the trend it has been headed in these last few years. As Tim Cavanaugh so aptly puts it; “the industry is overbuilt, and has been overpaid, to the point that a massive rationalization is very probable.” No one could have put it more succinctly or correctly, but there is more to be said.

I cannot tell you how many early stage startups which have dumped PR companies, seeking other value, out of having been over billed and under supported in the end. Something like half of the companies we talked to in the last 2 years have requested some form of engagement which avoided the retainer system. Why you ask? Because many of them got taken to the cleaners for what amounted to lip service and pipe dreams. True, not all PR companies are guilty of such “maneuvers”, but the bad eggs have hurt the geese doing the hard work. Aside this tidbit of shocking (not really) news, PR these day is as much about spinning some fantasy to fix impossible ills a client suffered due to their self-made disasters. A double edged sword as you see, a sign of the times and how they must change.

Dorothy Would Drench Em

Dorothy, or the legitimate and hard working business person, would be carrying a water hose with her instead of accidentally throwing water from a pale on these wicked witches. As for Auntie Am, and the rest of the folks back home in Kansas (that would be ordinary people)? Well, pretty soon a “hyped” company or product will have about as much chance of survival as the Tin Man as a deep sea diver. People are fed up, broke, stressed, over fed, over worked, tired bruised and about to be out of hope – they just don’t realize it yet.

Traditional PR, the game savers in the 4th quarter, should and will be forced to tell the truth sooner or later. We have always professed that public relations is about “telling a story”, rather than “inventing one”, and competition is going to force some hands before we get out of this “depression.” Yeah, I said it, depression – not recession, down turn, recession, or any other term which suggest we have not all been literally done in.

Cavanaugh’s article speaks about news people and journalists flocking to the doors of big city PR companies as their “paper” made publishing world goes to pot. The problem, as he states it, is that PR itself is “retracting” and there is little room for journalistic types to migrate to PR. A good thing for them if you ask me. Half the people I know who work for big time PR call their bosses things worse than “the wicked witch” when they get two seconds to talk. With companies like APCO Worldwide doing damage control for accused human rights villains, and 1,000 other examples of what the industry now calls “crisis management” (though not precisely what APCO’s job is here).

Crisis management? Well, today there are lots of crises that is for sure, but I don’t hear the news through the grapevine that PR companies are overwhelmed by the influx of business (though some no doubt would take it). I think it would be good for PR personally, if crisis management were another whole profession aimed at calling oil spills “minor and temporary inconveniences which actually have hidden benefits.”

Kansas Is Not That Far Off Now

Good business will prevail, especially in the digital age. Once the good Mommy Bloggers, the “on the level” product review people, the best companies and the rest of the good things surface amid the wasteland of worthlessness people have to deal with, a human being may actually be able to discern the truth of a story, rather than cling to some false hope out of a PR fairy tale. On the soap box? You bet. And you had better be too. “We only go around once”, as they say, and everything you are sold which takes without giving back shortens your time. Think about that for a moment. You worked 55 hours last week, the family wanted some quality time, you took them to some hyped destination, you all got sick from the food and the bed bugs bit you. That two grand or whatever it was is gone – no value added. You just gave a week of your life away for free.

The real “art of crisis management” is not to be stupid enough or crooked enough to have a crisis in the first place. Hopefully for all of us, the day will soon come when no amount of “communicative creativity” will rescue tyrannical or incompetent practices. Good products, the real ones, will surface and the rest will go away altogether. A pipe dream? Maybe, but a logical and realistic one when we get down to brass tacks. In another article by Cavanaugh, the author talks about this “migration” of reporters toward other communication venues. One aspect I would like to quote from, speaks of the essence of what good PR should be about – relating verifiable (true) information in the best possible way.

“Flackery requires putting together credible narratives from pools of verifiable data.”

Investigative reporters are less creative and a lot more factual, at least the ones we used to trust. This is where trust comes from, a long verifiable trail of truth. As far as many PR and communication firms are concerned these days this might mean “revealing the good and hiding the bad”, but that is not what good communicators do. The old (damage control) PR might as well look in L.L. Bean for a good wetsuit, because the race for the great clients is about to begin in my view. Dorothy is getting back to Kansas one way or another.

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