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What's Wrong with PR?

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With Web 2.0 and the mass adoption of Social Media, what can we do better to make PR more effective in these rapidly changing times?
This chapter is from the book

Although it’s exciting to witness the evolution of the Public Relations industry, it is also a bit frightening. PR is evolving quickly, from the technology used, to the changing market dynamics, to the increased demands and empowerment of the twenty-first-century consumer. Most important, the principles and channels you use to reach people, whether influencers or your direct customers, are also changing. It’s impossible to continue viewing the PR industry in the same way we have for years. After all, we always have something new to learn and embrace—no matter how much we think we currently know.

You might have uttered or heard this question once or twice in your career: “What’s wrong with PR?” Many PR veterans are cautiously or skeptically observing the changes taking place in PR. Instead of debating what’s wrong with the status quo, let’s look at a different way. With Web 2.0 and the mass adoption of Social Media (discussed in more detail later), we can also ask, “What can we do better to make PR more effective in these rapidly changing times?”

The answer involves a new, forward-looking way of thinking. The answer also shows you how to enhance your own personal experience, value, and brand through engagement and how to approach Social Media for your brands. For us, it took years (in fact, a decade) to change our way of thinking about PR. But now we believe that the socialization of media and PR 2.0 have expedited all the good change that we see today and discuss throughout this book.

In the chapters ahead, we examine why and how PR has changed and still is changing, and how PR 2.0, Social Media, and marketing conversations with customers and new influencers are reinventing an industry. Over the course of our careers, we have talked with hundreds of professionals to find out what they believe are the greatest benefits of PR and what they think PR is supposed to achieve. Those conversations have told us that these professionals believe that good PR does the following:

  • Provides one of the most credible forms of marketing: third-party endorsements
  • Leads to effective communication, which builds trust and strong relationships with media, bloggers, analysts, influencers, and customers
  • Influences and changes opinion, increases exposure, and builds a positive image and reputation
  • Creates presence, enhances brand loyalty, and extends brand resonance
  • Elicits response and action

These positive features of PR must remain prominent in our minds as we consider the changing markets, the advancing Internet technology, and the shifting ways in which consumers want to receive information (and, in turn, share it in their communities). Because of the technological revolution currently underway, PR can truly be one of the most powerful marketing disciplines. And although we know that PR should always result in the positives previously listed, we must now seriously consider some new factors: how to engage and communicate through the appropriate channels and which tools to use to achieve these benefits.

Challenging the Status Quo

Let’s first identify what’s wrong with the industry before we try to fix it. This is not a bashing session to point fingers or otherwise place blame on you, your PR and marketing colleagues, or your faithful industry associations (or to make professionals feel like they “just don’t get it”). Instead, this is our way of saying that we recognize how difficult it is to embrace change. With insight and shared knowledge, however, we can move forward together. If we establish and maintain a united front, the change will be easier and more widely accepted. It will also help so many companies and their customers have meaningful, direct conversations—dialogue resulting in strong relationships and, ultimately, more brand loyalty. The change is meant to complement traditional PR, which means that first we must reflect on the status quo. Our goal, as you are reading Putting the Public Back in Public Relations, is to have you say, “I know what’s wrong with PR, and I know what to do to fix it.”

As experienced professionals, we can identify what is good within our industry and then pinpoint what is less than desirable—the PR practices we prefer to leave behind. In the face of socialized media, however, our industry has a new wave of critics. And instead of plugging our ears, we’re listening and sharing what we’ve learned with you.

Countless articles, books, blog posts, comments, and opinions speculate about why PR doesn’t work and why so many executives have a bad taste in their mouths at the mere mention of Public Relations. In this book, we show you how this conversation has been building in various communities (for example, in blogs), with some very influential people sharing their opinions.

Industry veteran, financier, and marketing evangelist (the man credited with bringing “evangelism” into the marketing department through his work with Apple in the 1980s) Guy Kawasaki sparked a thread of conversation with his blog post “The Top 10 Reasons Why PR Doesn’t Work.” Kawasaki followed up with “DIY PR,” a guide to “do-it-yourself” PR penned by Glenn Kelman, the CEO of Redfin. With blog titles such as these, every new comment, link, and blog post ruffled feathers and bruised egos. (This is just a small glimpse at the ongoing discussions about this topic; you can also get involved in the dialogue and vest in the process of improving and changing the game.)

Truth be told, there are 1,000 reasons why PR doesn’t work, but there are also countless reasons why it does work. Sometimes DIY PR works, too, but often it works to an extent that eventually requires an internal team or an agency (depending on the goals and reach of the campaign).

Kawasaki’s blog post, sourcing Zable Fisher of ThePRSite, lists the top ten reasons why PR doesn’t work:

  1. The client doesn’t understand the publicity process.
  2. The scope of work is not detailed and agreed upon by both parties.
  3. The client has not been properly trained on how to communicate with the media.
  4. The client and the PR person or PR firm are not a good match.
  5. The client has not gotten results quickly enough and ends the relationship too soon.
  6. PR people don’t explain the kind of publicity placements a client will most likely receive.
  7. Clients don’t realize that what happens after you get the publicity coverage is sometimes more important than the actual placement.
  8. Clients refuse to be flexible on their story angles.
  9. Clients get upset when the media coverage is not 100 percent accurate or not the kind of coverage that they wanted.
  10. Clients won’t change their schedules for the media.

However, paring PR to its basics to address these top ten concerns will not solve the industry-wide plague of bad PR. In fact, just addressing these concerns would make sense only to those who believe that bad PR doesn’t exist.

Dave McClure, a Silicon Valley technology entrepreneur, seemed to capture it more accurately in his blog—at least, for those of us in a world that demands that we prove value and worth using metrics (and not just whether we can get along with people, trained our spokespersons well, or explained the publicity process so that executives could have something other than running a business to worry about). McClure summed up his top six reasons why PR doesn’t work:

  1. The PR firm doesn’t understand the product or technology.
  2. The PR firm is seen as a spinner, blocker, or gatekeeper to access the CEO/CTO/brain trust.
  3. The PR firm hasn’t been properly trained on how to communicate with bloggers or Social Media.
  4. The PR firm prefers working with a few big traditional media instead of lots of smaller online media and online channels.
  5. The PR firm doesn’t understand SEO (search engine optimzation), SEM (search engine marketing), widgets, blogs, tags, social networks, pictures, video, or other online and viral methods—a.k.a. “all that Web 2.0 stuff.”
  6. Most PR folks have no clue what the hell a TechMeme is.

    (TechMeme is a news aggregation site for the most popular discussed technology news stories at any given moment. McClure’s point is that PR people generally don’t stay plugged into the evolution within their own respective industries.)

Obviously, there’s no shortage of gripes about PR. If you look closely, however, you’ll notice common themes. We asked a few more respected influencers about why PR works and why it doesn’t. Forrester Research analyst Jeremiah Owyang continued with more reasons why PR doesn’t work on his blog, www.web-strategist.com, paraphrased here:

  1. Dialogue versus monologue is not fully understood. I believe that markets are two-way conversations, not message throwing. As dialogue happens, communities form and trust (or distrust) forms.
  2. Marketing is about storytelling, not raw facts on the press release.

    Marketing (and communications) is not just facts (the when, what, and where), but it’s telling a story, engaging the community, and being “human.”

  3. The community must be included in the event and message.

    In countless events that I’ve attended, PR firms have forgotten to welcome or invite “influential people” who will help dialogue or tell a story about the event using Social Media. Although it often makes sense to invite the mainstream media, don’t forget that customers are now playing the role of media as well as analyst. I got beat up pretty bad when I asked this question: “Who should you trust more, a paid analyst or a customer blogger?”

  4. More than one group in the company does Public Relations (resulting in a lack of awareness).

    PR is no longer limited to the PR firm or corporate communications. Various groups and individuals will communicate with the market. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s important to understand Brian Oberkirch’s Edgework concept.

You can understand from this discussion that PR and the way we need to communicate with people are changing. No matter what business you’re in, you can do a number of things to help you improve, manage, and measure PR. This list of 20 PR gripes is a game changer and can serve as the foundation for improving PR and elevating its value among those who have been burned by previous experiences.

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