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Is PR Dying?

Posted At: September 29, 2008 12:25 PM
by Martha Griffith

Criticism abounds
Robert Scoble, in his blog “Scobleizer,” said he does not like to hear about new Web sites or products from press releases (see these two articles: one and two), but he is not the only one. Steve Rubel argues that he enjoys the thrill of the chase and would rather write about something he found before anyone else, and Michael Arrington claims that public relations is broken. It seems like there is a storm of criticism in the blogging world about public relations, which all leads to one question: Is PR dying?

What’s killing PR?
In order to understand if public relations is truly going away forever, one must first know what is killing it. One of the biggest criticisms that public relations practitioners are facing is that their efforts to attract bloggers in particular are coming off as spam.

The days of the traditional press release are gone as Tom Foremski claimed in his2006 blog post on the Web site SiliconValleyWatcher. According to Rubel and Scoble, it is more fun to find something on your own and be the first to write about it rather than hear about it from a public relations professional. If a blogger just acts on a press release, he or she would have to be one of the first to do so to even make a blip on, in the instance of new technology, the TechMeme rankings map.

A changing field
In the face of such criticisms, public relations is both dying and thriving. Those who fail to take into account the fact that PR is changing daily will surely die. From its inception, public relations has been a dynamic, not static, field. The written press release, audio news release and video news release have all come before, and the social media news release is developing now. As with the emergence of all these new practices of PR professionals, their value to a client’s needs has to be analyzed and a plan composed that utilizes what is best for the client and audience.

And public relations is evolving, just maybe not as quickly as bloggers and PR critics may like. Many public relations professionals are learning to cater to this new audience better by allowing them to participate in beta tests of new products or utilizing social media news releases when getting the word out about a new service.

It takes time for current professionals to learn about these new tactics. Professors must be on the cutting edge to manipulate their lesson plans midsemester in order to share this information with their students, and students themselves have to take the initiative to stay abreast of current trends in PR. While there is a great learning curve to overcome, it is increasingly being done.

Integration and education
Still there is a place for integration of both old and new tactics. A large campaign that used only one form of communication and one small audience would never be adopted, and so those who are composing PR’s dirge must understand that these critics are not as important as they sometimes think they are. The online aspect may be only one element in a communications plan that includes press releases, news conferences and informational brochures.

Since these new tactics and audiences are available, professionals should be knowledgeable about how to utilize them effectively, but only within the broader scope of a complete campaign. The press release was not thrown out the window when newer technology developed, and it should not happen now either. Just as the video news release can now accompany a press release in a completely integrated fashion, so too can these new innovations be incorporated in an effective way. There will never be a way to please everyone, but that is old news in this profession.

Not every campaign needs to contain elements that reach out to bloggers or hope for a “viral” effect. There are, and will be for the foreseeable future, plans that have no need to target such outlets. The local animal shelter will always need to send out pamphlets with information about proper pet care, but has no need to be covered by a big-name blogger. A local unit of the American Legion does not need national coverage when its annual poppy sale is coming up, but it does need to alert local media. Information about Social Security sent only via e-mail would miss many older people who do not own a computer or who do not have reliable Internet access.

While new is good, it should not signal that the old should die. Public relations practitioners, students and educators have the responsibility to learn about these innovations and understand both sides of the argument, but they also need to figure out how to use these tools effectively. No one threw away all of their CDs when viable MP3 players came onto the market; they just uploaded the music from their CDs to their MP3 player, integrating the old and new technologies. Public relations will not be thrown out with the trash either. It will be integrated, utilizing the best of both old and new to the advantage of all.

For additional information on this debate, please look at the following links:

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