Are PR Agencies a Dying Breed? Riding the wave of change to stay alive.

While at SXSW interactive last week, I sat in on, “Are PR Agencies a Dying Breed?” with panelists, Erin Portman, Brian Solis, and Peter Shankman and moderated by Karly Hand.

What ensued was a great discussion on the evolution of PR strategy, and the changing role of the PR professional in the face of the new competition from advertisers, interactive marketers, web content strategists, and my pet peeve, “social media experts,” who also are active in the online space.

PR professionals are in a real make-it or break-it time. The online world continues to change the way we interact and provides us with new ways to connect with individuals.

[Side note: individuals can be media, customers, consumers, other businesses – “It’s not B2B or B2C, it’s C2C social media” as stated by Jared Roy of Risdall Marketing Group in a social media presentation at the Minnesota Business Marketing Association’s event last week.]

To stay alive, or, shall I say, to stay relevant, cutting edge, and effective, we need to adapt and apply new tactics as part of our time-tested strategy:

Listening to target audiences:

Before social networks, focus groups were among the best tactics for gathering thoughts and opinions of our target audiences. Now, by monitoring social networks like Twitter and Facebook, the information is available in real time, and for a fraction of the cost.

In addition to great crowd sourcing, taken a step further, listening can provide direction on where your client needs to become involved in the social media space.

Writing and distributing press releases:

If anything is truly dying in the PR industry, it just may be the press release itself. The SXSW panel discussed this, and it’s further evidenced by Oracle’s PR staff, which changed the face of its press releases as discussed yesterday in this Regan media post.

The “old school” press release, if used, is a mere formality and takes a back seat to online press releases and targeted pitches.

It’s imperative to capitalize on social media releases and online pressrooms for the coveted “Google Juice.” People – editors, bloggers and consumers – are searching for information online. PR pros can’t ignore the opportunity to capitalize on this and drive traffic to press releases, and ultimately back to the client’s Web site.

Communicating with the media:

Distributing a press release (via the wire, fax or email blast) and then following-up with a journalist with “Did you get it?” is still such a common formula for PR pros and, quite frankly, it’s giving us a bad reputation.

New media tools and social networks provide the opportunity to clearly research the journalist and provide a place were we can build the relationship, before slamming them with news.

Additionally, we’re able to identify countless others in the online space who may have an interest in our news. “Media” should now include online editors and bloggers, who may be just as influential and receptive, if not more, than traditional journalists.

Having the opportunity to develop a relationship with the media online opens the door to sharing information that’s far more customized and meaningful to the reporter, (or blogger) therefore increasing the likelihood of receiving coverage.

Communicating directly with the intended audience:

This is a new one for PR pros. The traditional approach is to communicate with media gatekeepers who would then share the information with their audiences. The online world allows us to put the “public” back into public relations and bypass the gatekeepers, providing that it fits the overall strategy.

PR pros need to at least consider this tactic as part of their overall strategy, define the space where they will have a presence, and at best, begin to communicate directly with unique conversations (as Solis remarked, “Every conversation deserves a unique response…don’t cut and paste the same crap.”) PR pros need to help the clients develop an online personality and voice, and teach them to participate in the conversation.

Reporting the results:

It’s still widely accepted that the success of public relations efforts are measured by press coverage received. In today’s online world, this is incredibly shortsighted. Social media strategies need to be taken into the mix, and we need to be looking at analytics, click-through rates and return on participation (ROP).

To sum up, attending this panel reminded me once again that I’m riding the wave of the changing PR industry and will continue to roll with it.

Are PR agencies a dying breed? Well, some of the old tactics are dying, while new ones are taking shape. The agencies wiling to embrace and explore them will remain strong.

I believe that PR pros are needed at the table now, more than ever. PR has become an inter-disciplinary profession. The tools and tactics are changing, but the strategies and goals remain the same. To survive, we need to understand the most effective way to bridge the gap.

What about you? What are you doing to keep up?

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One Response to Are PR Agencies a Dying Breed? Riding the wave of change to stay alive.

  1. karyd says:

    For another great summary of this SXSW panel discussion, please visit “Conversation Agent” at: http://www.conversationagent.com/2009/03/sxswi-brian-solis-changing-role-of-pr.html

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