As many may have noticed, public relations has been taking
something of a beating lately. Between bloggers publicly renouncing PR pros for
spamming and the entire industry getting a nationally televised tongue lashing,
it would be easy to get down on ourselves. We could all use a reminder about
why this business works, and why now is the best time to be in PR.
At my last employer, I watched the creative and account
services teams shrink while the PR department kept adding bodies, and it got me
thinking – what is it about public relations that is driving its success these
days? Here’s my take on why the market (i.e. clients and senior management) is
shifting its favor towards public relations.
Media Outlets Provide Unbiased Information
From an insider’s perspective, this probably seems laughable.
But I’m consistently reminded of the view from the outside when I receive the
panicked call from a client when a newspaper or trade publication publishes
misinformation or takes a quote from a company representative out of context.
“Don’t they want to get the facts right?” they cry.
So despite what we may
think, the general public still believes that their news outlet is providing
them (at least somewhat) correct and impartial information. And on the flip
side, that same general public is increasingly cynical towards pure
advertising. We’re bombarded all day long with ads that tell us a service or
product is the best, the fastest the cheapest – and we’ve all learned to tune
it out. And as a result, media coverage becomes more likely to influence consumer
behavior. So that’s where many companies have decided to focus their spending.
It’s Free Advertising
There’s a perception that the earned media placements
garnered through public relations efforts are free. Now, we all know that
everything comes at a price. But for many organizations the investment in
public relations is considered part of the cost of doing business, so the
benefit of getting media placement is a bonus.
Even without that perception,
when you’re not developing an ad (including copywriting, creative and image
costs) and planning, negotiating and buying the space in the publication, earned
media placements definitely have the potential to be more cost effective. And
cost effectiveness is top-of-mind in the economic times we’re experiencing today.
Variety is the Spice of Life
Companies are speaking and listening to their stakeholders
in a rapidly expanding number of ways. Where there was once just the press release,
now there are blogs, discussion forums, online communities, podcasts, email newsletters
and more. For a PR traditionalist, these new avenues of communication can be
daunting, but for the practitioner willing to dive in to these new mediums, you
can become invaluable to your employer. I’ve seen many public relations
professionals transition into managing new media programs with ease –
they already posses the skills to promote the company’s message, manage
relationships with writers and publishers, and deal with damage control when
The Economy, Stupid
When the economy takes a downturn, most of us who work for
agencies or who deliver a service that might be viewed as expendable prepare to
tighten our belts. However, public relations professionals – and especially
those willing to embrace new communication mediums – are uniquely positioned to
thrive. While clients cut “expendable” costs like advertising, they continue to
invest in public relations for the reasons I’ve outlined above.
So, what’s the lesson to be learned for those–like me–who
aren’t public relations professionals? There are still plenty of marketing
initiatives that consumers trust more than traditional advertising,
that take advantage of new media outlets and are cost effective. The trouble
is, that these initiatives aren’t what come to mind when your clients think of
marketing, so you’ll have to spend a little extra time educating them. As for PR pros out there, chin up. The business may be on the ropes from a few harsh critics, but there is always a reason to celebrate what you do.
Sara Adams is CEO of ska works
– a boutique agency providing intelligent marketing to small to medium
businesses. She has over eight years of experience in brand management and
promotion in the technology industry.