Filed under: My stuff
I have written this as a follow-on / adjunct to the piece I wrote on the future of advertising – and also as a build to this article by Dan Greenfield. I have decided to call it PR is dead shamelessly following the link-baiting success of a piece also posted today called Microsoft is Dead.
My view would be that PR doesn’t have a future collectively speaking. Defining PR has always been difficult, and there is no other communications discipline which encompasses such a wide range of specialisms. There is a tenuous glue which holds the bits of PR together, which is either the fact that it isn’t advertising, or the fact that it operates primarily in non-owned or controlled channels. This isn’t strong glue – especially since operating in a non-owned channel is now where everyone is headed.
There are three forces conspiring to dissolve PR. The first is the subject that increasingly comes up whenever PR people are gathered together – eloquently expressed in this piece by Matt Shaw – but which could be summarised as the statement that “everyone is a PR agency now”. The advertising agencies and especially the media agencies are now colonising our patch. But before we develop too sharp a sense of outrage at this fact, it is worth remembering that PR people have no automatic rights of ownership here – you could easily say that the only reason we have ended-up on this patch is because no one else has seen it as desirable real estate.
Both advertising agencies and media agencies are currently limited in their ability to “do” PR. In short, ad agencies don’t really get it yet and are still chained to expensive creative dinosaurs and media agencies don’t know how to create their own ideas, they just know how to sponsor other peoples’ ideas. But, especially in consumer brand areas, they command the heights through their share of budget / client attention and superior measurement metrics. They will learn how to do pull, rather push, communications, very quickly. (Or to be more precise – how to do “Up” rather than “Out” type of communications, accepting the consumers are in control of what information they pull “Down”).
Once everyone is on the PR patch, you could say that is a good thing – a victory for PR. To paraphrase the words of Lou Capozzi, the zero will have been stuck on the PR budget, but will it still actually be a PR budget and will PR still be seen as a separate discipline? And will the people currently in control of the PR budget now be in control of this larger one? Probably not in my view.
The second – which hasn’t been debated enough, in my opinion – concerns the role for PR in a world of transparency. Like it or not, PR has always been about creating and operating in a zone that sits between the messy reality of a brand or business and its perception by its audiences. That isn’t to say it is about spin, manipulation or deception (although it often is) – but more about stage management, direction and presentation. The issue now is that this space is being squeezed and the barricade that PR constructed to protect image and reputation is being stormed. The Public is not going to need or tolerate the presence of intermediaries to manage their Relations with brands and businesses. At this point I will have no truck with anyone who says good PR is always about being open, honest and transparent and there is no role for spin and “the dark arts” of PR. There is a world of difference between facts and objective realities – and the presentation and perception of those facts and realities. And this isn’t the world of lying – but it is the world of PR. Anyone who denies this is the case either has their head in the sand, up somewhere else where the sun don’t shine or hasn’t been in the PR business for any length of time.
My view is that as this space disappears, PR will be more about shaping how companies respond to incoming communications and manage upwards content feeds. But whether this will really still be PR and best managed by the people formerly known as PRs will be anyone’s guess.
The third force which is dissolving PR is the issue I referred to in my piece on the future of advertising – namely the fact that the whole market will re-align around specialists and aggregators. Some PR agencies may evolve into aggregators – they have a better chance of doing it that most ad agencies – but for the rest, PR will fall apart into the collection of specialisms it really is and be on the rail along with a whole range of other specialisms (including advertising).
So the death of PR as a discipline is both good and bad news for those people in it. The skills PR people have will be in increasing demand, but the houses we currently live in will be knocked down and we will have to find new places to live.
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