This post is a response to last night’s event at the Horn Group called Is Social Media Killing PR? Sam Whitmore moderated Kara Swisher (media), and Susan Etlinger (PR) and me (analyst) for a lively debate, which resulted in the crowd chiming into the issues. I don’t think the conversation evolved as far enough as I wanted to see it go, so here’s what I wanted to share.
For years the Public Relations industry has ironically one of the worst reputations –esp since they are hired to look after the reputations of their own clients. Things only got worse as some brands got punk’d; the introduction of self-publishing tools that allowed anyone to connect to each other using social technologies, causing a shift in power. We’ve already talked to death about the risks and the changes that are happening to this industry, yet I’m hoping to elevate the viewpoint out of the gutter and focus on the larger opportunities –and risks at the industry level.
Four Business Opportunities for the Evolved PR Agency:
1) Enhance Existing Functions
First of all, some things that are already in place need more focus, for example, it was discussed last night that now that influencers (press, media, bloggers, analysts, customers) can directly be reached by clients –PR professionals can be bypassed. In fact, when you look closely, everyone’s doing press, analysis and media.
A) Be a filter for clients: There’s a tremendous amount of noise now being created, creating an opportunity for PR folks to filter, sort, and prioritize what matters. You’ll need both access and understanding of brand monitoring tools as well as the ability to see patterns in the noise.
B) Council rather than conduit: Although strategic council has been happening for many years, now that clients and influencers can connect directly, this could result in a business shift resulting in more focus on coaching, less on pitching. Mary Trigiani suggests the same.
C) Extend Social Strategy: Most firms don’t have a strategic response to social media across the whole firm. While the young digital natives may use these pervasive tools, they lack strategic insight, yet the immigrant executives don’t fully understand how these tools change the communication lines.
Two potential customers were at the event, and both lamented that they can’t tell the difference between one firm to another –they all offer similar promises and relationships. The opportunity for PR firms to be more vocal in the areas of expertise they provide are at hand. PR firms should become part of the community they serve –regardless of the client they have on the accounts receivable. Instead, be known as the expert firm in your industry, not just pitching, but also serving and helping beyond your clients needs. There’s a business opportunity here for some smart entrepreneur to create a VRM system that allows clients to recommend PR firms to other brands.
3) Extend to the Entire Customer Lifecycle
I alluded to this yesterday in the panel, but this is perhaps the single largest opportunity for the evolved PR firm. As we know “Public” relations involves prospects and customers, social technologies mush up the lines between when this starts and stops. As a result, PR firms how learn how to offer value to other areas of the organization beyond corporate communications can find new revenue buckets in product marketing, product management, product support, and beyond.
4) Fix Your Own Damn Reputation
I’ll hit this again: it’s very ironic that an industry so focused on keeping the image of their clients reputation pristine is unable to shine their own shingle. Use these social tools to tell your story –and to get your clients to tell your story –on your behalf. Although the HORN group was the only firm to take this challenge head on, the industry as a whole needs to fix this, but it can’t be insular within the PR community, but looking outside the circle of pros.
Related Resources (I’m updating this list)
Nov 14th, the next day: There’s really a tremendous amount of different voices, angles and perspectives on Wed’s discussion, read below.
Do read the responses from the attendees in twitter (the audience has the control), they tagged it with #prblog. Ravit Lichtenberg Live blog: Is Social Media Killing PR? Live blogging from girls in tech and Horn Group. Kara Swisher was taking video, and posts her thoughts, although she can make execs shake in their boots, she really makes me smile. Find out what the CEO of Yahoo and I have in common. Cece (a marketing stakeholder) said we were taking on baby step topics and missed focusing on how PR should meet the need of marketing –and the business. She’s right. Susan Etlinger, our host and panel mate gives her thoughts Sam Whitmore the moderator poses some additional questions, I think we’ve all concluded last night’s event really just opened up far more discussions, this is all healthy. Jennifer Leggio was covering this for ZDnet, and has published why PR is not dead, but shows it’s weaknesses. There are photos coming in tagged Horn Group, it’s a thrill to see how all this feedback and media comes in real-time. Charles Cooper from Cnet says that PR is killing PR, and that I focus to heavily on Social Media (which is my primary focus, yet he has a point) Charles Cooper from Cnet says that PR is killing PR, and that I focus to heavily on Social Media (which is my primary focus, yet he has a point). Thanks to Chris Kenton for backing me, appreciated, thanks. Kenneth suggests that Marketing and PR still has a core strategy –social should be left to the side Adrian Chan publishes an email he had with a PR pro at Edelman discussing what we did and didn’t get.
Leave a comment below if I’ve missed anyone, sometimes trackbacks don’t show up
Photos from last night’s event: