Rumors of the death of public relations have been greatly exaggerated

This past weekend I had the pleasure and rare opportunity to share the stage of PRSA Colorado’s Engage with Glen Turpin and talk with students about where we see the industry going.

“You need to get a real job.” Probably something that everyone has heard from their parents, and I am no exception. While I think I have a real job (I certainly wouldn’t call it “work”), and our clients that are very happy with the results we get for them, there is a widely held notion in the business world, particularly in the technology world, that PR is dead. I can only imagine that this comes from the equally misguided notion that PR doesn’t work. Well, like most things that get spread around on the Internet, that is only part true.

Now I will concede, nay emphasize, that the way public relations has been practiced in the past (and some misguided folks still continue to practice) either is dead or needs to die. It is expensive and ineffective. Add to that many, if not most, of the PR tactics that were taught in schools 30 years ago are done. No one stands by a fax machine and sends on press releases to reporters anymore. Why there are still PR practitioners who insist on assembling a list of reporters and bloggers (often referred to as “media targets” – gag), usually with the accompanying “Dear Editor” letter is beyond me.

For the first time ever, pay-per-click advertising was used as an effective communications strategy. SEO defines and quantifies your standing and visibility in the world. SCRM gives you the tools to transform customers into community, naysayers and irate customers into fervent supporters.

However, the principals that form the foundation of public relations are as true today as ever: tell the truth, build strong relationships, give people the information they need and want, help companies tell their story. One mentor I had the pleasure of working with defined public relations as the ability of move the needle of education and perception and he wore the title of “change agent” proudly. That aspect of PR remains more important than ever, but the tools are changing seemingly daily.

As the line goes, rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated, but show me a single industry that hasn’t changed and evolved. The world has changed, communication has changed, the media has changed, people have changed, and with that role and practice of public relations has change. However, properly conceptualized and applied PR remains an effective and cost effective tool.

In 1955, public relations was defined as a management function. Today, I would say that public relations has evolved into helping companies tell their story through every available communications channel, and working with people to build a brand and community around your company and its story. More than fifty years later, public relations is still a management function.

In creating Sagen Media, we carefully examined the new role of PR and built our team accordingly: Communications and media strategist, creative director, multimedia and video director and technology director. When you are trying to tell your story in the modern world, these are the people in your neighborhood. Sure, sometimes you will need others, sometimes you won’t need everyone, but these are the starring roles.

Todd Defren, principal of SHIFT Communications wrote a great post responding to the ever-present, linkbait meme that PR is dead. Among other things, he said,

Lastly, there is simply so much that goes on behind-the-scenes at all good PR agencies that is most definitely of-value yet never seen in the outside world. While I applaud Brian’s focus on expanding the size of the funnel (lead dev), there are more nuanced activities that go on: positioning, messaging, crisis communications, relationship-building, training, etc. Such activities minght only offer a tangential or indirect impact on lead development, but, they are still critically important to companies of all sizes.

In any event I am tired of “PR is dead” memes. It’s played out. Linkbait.

Did you know that startup companies that work with a PR firm are 30 percent more likely to get funded and generally get more funding than companies that don’t? I didn’t think so. PR isn’t dead yet, and it won’t be by Tuesday, but it must evolve.

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