Traditional PR Really Is Dead


And PR agencies are like reluctant widows refusing to accept its death. This was a popular meme back in 2006 and at the time, I scoffed at it with many of my colleagues.

Good-bye, old friend!

Good-bye, old friend!

The idea then was that the web would kill PR agencies. Well, that’s not true. Traditional PR isn’t dead in that sense. What is dead is the notion of media relations as the cornerstone of traditional PR. Media relations continues to diminish in importance. And soon it won’t be important at all. The evidence is everywhere, yet many PR professionals continue to believe that media relations is the primary communications channel for building brand, attracting customers and creating awareness.

It’s not.

If you’re spending time building programs to attract the press – then you’re wasting your time. Newspapers are dying. Magazines are folding. News staffs at every major and minor news outlet have slashed staff and budgets. Trust in traditional media has never been lower. Yet there’s never been more information, more access to it, and more opportunities to produce it.

The reason media relations was the cornerstone of PR for so long is because of what it could deliver – access to potential customers. PR people worked with reporters and editors to place their clients in news and feature stories so that thousands – maybe even millions – of readers could learn about their products and services. And hopefully, a handful of them would buy something.

That model is in intensive care – and we should pull the plug. Media relations was always risky and difficult to measure in terms of success. When you hand your story off to a reporter – you loss control of it. Most companies end up being unhappy about media placements – even placements that PR people crow about. The complaints are always the same: “They got it wrong.” “They missed the most important part.” “They spelled the CEO’s name wrong.”

If PR people are honest for a minute – they know that a media placement is hit or miss. And sometimes it causes a lot of stress. Because if there is a mistake in the copy or even if the tone is wrong – the PR team gets blamed for it.

So don’t do it anymore. Stop collecting media “hits” as if they were a stamp collection and presenting them to clients as if they mean something.

You don’t need to talk to your customers and potential customers through a media filter anymore. As Social Media Pundit David Meerman Scott says in a recent blog post: “Don’t beg mainstream media to write about you.”

He’s right. You don’t have to. Tell everyone your story by speaking with them directly. The filters are unnecessary. Let us count the plethora of ways to engage face-to-face with your customers:

  • Start a blog
  • Create a Facebook Page or Group
  • Become the answer man on LinkedIn
  • Post presentations on SlideShare
  • Start using Twitter
  • Create a MySpace page
  • Distribute videos
  • Start podcasting
  • Use RSS feeds
  • Write an eBook
  • Build a microsite for customers
  • Create a wiki
  • Start a user group forum
  • Optimize your website for SEO
  • Starting Digging or Stumbling
  • Build an iPhone application
  • Create an iGoogle widget
  • Use virtual gifts on Facebook
  • Join Flickr

And there are many more. If you start to showcase your expertise , if you begin to help customers solve their problems, or see their problems in a new light – they will come to you. If won’t always be easy. There will be bumps – and mistakes. But if you develop a well crafted strategy and a strong tactical plan to execute against, you’ll be able to reach those customers that are important to you. They will find you.

And these are the new skills necessary for a successful PR agency. PR agencies need to help their clients understand social media, discover the right platforms for them and then help them execute. These are the skills of PR agencies in the 21st century.

Media relations will still exist – but as a result of all the other work you’re doing. Because not only will your customers and potential customers find you when you engage on the web – so will the press.

Or what’s left of them.

11 Responses to “Traditional PR Really Is Dead”

  1. I don’t think it’s dieing; so much as it is evolving, or even devolving!

    We still need to get the information out there, only now we have more and more of our customers that will take the reigns once it is unleashed.

    So follow David Meerman Scott’s advice and start these new, devolved forms of Zombie PR (needs work but it’s a name)

  2. Don’t be too fast to give media relations the RIP. I know you consider bloggers part of the media matrix. Are you saying digital media relations is dead as well? Yes we can begin to implement these great social media tools for creating our own content, but we can’t loose sight of what still drives new biz leads and sales today. While readership of papers like the Journal continues to drop, a positively crafted story that appears there or in BW or in the NYT’s still produce real quantifiable results.
    For instance – recent story for client in the Journal led to:
    A 280% increase in traffic to the homepage
    A 500% increase in views of the new product on the Webpage
    Re-engagement from prospective customers that had gone cold
    Most importantly, 3-4 inbound business leads from companies on their top-ten prospect list (Fortune 500 companies)
    Never would have been possible if we hadn’t cultivated a relationship with reporters there. I don’t think media relations is dead. There are new influencers, but some of them still write for the business press – at least today.

  3. I don’t think you’ve articulated your thoughts clearly, Steve. PR consultants will be crucial guides in implementing web strategies. The biggest mistakes companies make right now is jumping into social media on a whim without a plan. And that’s a bad practice.

    The world of “traditional” PR though – press releases, media relations, etc. is quickly withering on the vine because its not offering real value. PR agencies need to be content companies that help their clients speak directly to their customers and prospects using all the web has to offer.

    That’s not Zombie PR by any stretch – it’s quite the opposite.

  4. Hi Kyle:
    Good to hear from you. How’s Hammer?

    Media relations should no longer be the focus of a PR program. Media remains a filter for the ideas, products and services of companies. Companies and organizations no longer have to rely on the media to spread their messages and engage with their customers.

    This doesn’t mean that media, bloggers, etc. won’t be part of that engagement. But it will be done through social media and through the process of connecting in places like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

    But the days of crafting strategies to entice reporters into writing about you is old school thinking. You don’t have to do that anymore. Why beg for coverage when you can create your own content? Why go through the media when you can speak directly to your audience?

    And when you embrace this thinking and start sharing, engaging, connecting, and interacting – you’ll end up doing it with reporters, analysts and bloggers as well. That’s the beauty of it.

  5. I don’t mean Zombie as in it is dead but still limping along; what I meant by Zombie is more along the lines of it infects people and grows exponentially through the masses (rather than coming from one source).

    I hope this clarifies, if not then I may need to rework things.

  6. That’s definitely not what I think about when I hear zombie, so thanks for the clarification. And thanks for reading and commenting.

  7. think more… “28 days later” zombies than “night of the living dead”

    Sorry – I’m a movie buff

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