We had an enquiry last week from a Marketing Director who was looking for more comprehensive PR representation for their company.
Nothing extraordinary about that – over the years we’ve provided Public Relations services for a number of clients, in both Europe and North America. What was interesting was the reason why this company wanted to move away: they felt their PR company had become lazy.
I thought that it was interesting that the word they chose to use was ‘lazy’. As I enquired further as to, specifically, what they felt that weren’t getting, it dawned on me that most PR agencies could be accused of the same thing.
So, how did the PR industry get lazy? By assuming that the seismic shifts that have been underway for the past few years don’t concern them, or their clients.
Banal Press Communications
Back in the days when printed newspapers, magazines and trade journals actually turned a profit, it didn’t matter that 99% of the press releases that journalists received all looked and read the same. Why? Because any journalist worthy of their salary would re-craft the release into interesting and readable prose.
Today, there are far too few journalists for far too many media outlets – the aforementioned newspapers and magazines, plus 1001 websites, blogs, social media channels, and so on. Since there are so many content distribution points, readership numbers are low – so no-one is making much money.
As a result no-one can afford to spend the time it takes to re-write someone else’s corporate rhetoric. Press release content gets “copied-and-pasted” straight into most publications. The result is no-one reads your press releases any more, unless they’re your reseller – or your competitor.
Today, press announcements cannot compete with real and valuable content. As the reputation of traditional media continues to erode, there are fewer and fewer prospective customers to click on that link to your corporate website. In tomorrow’s model how – and why – will customers find your company?
Trying To “Control” Attention
Today, every part of our lives – commerce, society, government, whatever – runs over the common communications backbone of the internet. Rule Number One in today’s connected world: Companies Don’t Control Brands – Customers Do. Trying to control (i.e. manipulate) how your brand is perceived in the outside world is a futile exercise. The only guaranteed way to ensure that your product never receives bad press is to not sell it in the first place.
Today, your strongest brand influencer is as likely to be a blogger from the other side of the world as that journalist/consultant/industry thought-leader that you’ve schmoozed for the past five years. At the same time having an unhappy customer who uses Twitter to vent their support frustrations can cost you dearly.
Bad things happen. It’s a fact of life. Most customers know this, and are therefore more interested in how you deal with the problem, then the problem itself. The difference is that, whereas yesterday you dealt with the customer one-on-one, today you have an audience.
“Spray and Pray”
The opposite of the above. PR is as much above building relationships as anything else. If all you’re doing is blasting out communications to anyone even vaguely connected with your business value offering then your communicating but not connecting. You’re not in control of the distribution – your database is.
Catering To The Wrong Audience
The vast majority of PR agencies out there go about their business with the single, severely-flawed assumption that their ‘audience’ are journalists and consultants. The problem is that journalists and consultants aren’t customers, and today’s PR is about keeping things real.
PR today is about connecting directly with the public since, today, the public have realized that they are the ones that are in control. A publication schedule (aka ‘campaign’) of sharp, meticulously-planned communications still has its place. But it needs to be backed-up with regular, realtime engagement.
If PR initiatives are only ever based upon a news item, then the impact of any activity can only ever produce a ‘peak’ against an otherwise ‘trough’ in visibility. Produce more news items and the peaks get closer together – but the risk is attention-indifference (or even alienation) of your audience.
If, on the other hand, every news item is supported by a continual initiative of engagement with non-traditional influencers – bloggers, Twitter users and the like – we begin to build an audience created with varying degrees of authority that naturally even-out those peaks and troughs. But the only way that this can be done is if PR people become their intended audience.
The above is by no means an exhaustive list, nor can all PR agencies be tarred with the same brush. Many PR agencies may contend that their attempts to better address today’s environment are met with client resistance. It’s difficult for many agencies to craft a social media ROI model for non-marketing driven corporate clients who are used to seeing quantifiable results for every expenditure.
However, hiring an expert brings with it client education and PR agencies are no different. It’s true that traditional marketing and PR initiatives are not dead – yet – even if the appetite and expectation levels of those audiences have changed substantially. But the PR industry as a whole has an advisory, consultative and education-rooted responsibility to their clients.
PR professionals need to find out what works, what’s no longer relevant and move forward with their clients in a new-found perspective of market-awareness and influencer empathy. Otherwise, they’ll forever be considered ineffective, irrelevant – and lazy.