blogging, public relations, social media

The Future of PR Firms?

Just a quick thought or two before crashing for the night. (hopefully they make sense) For a while I’ve been pondering the future of public relations and advertising/marketing firms in this new media world. (Why wait until now to share this with y’all? What can I say, I’m shy.) While many people have been talking about the future of the mass media in this world, I don’t know how many people have pondered the other side of the coin. I was talking with Crosscut Communications‘ guru, Will Reichard, about this after the Social Media NM meetup last week and we bounced some ideas off of each other about the potential future for PR firms.  So up front I’d like to thank Will for letting me bend his ear and giving me some really good pointers.

In this New Media Age the majority of businesses need to not only be in business, but also be media outlets. While news outlets are shuttering, laying people off or switching to three days per week publishing schedules, businesses need to be able to present their own talking points/communication starters online, circumventing the mainstream media to a certain extent.

But what is the impact on PR firms? Those who are used to sending out press releases and newsletters, and creating plans based around getting more “earned media” from an ever shrinking news universe. Are they going to go out of business?

Of course not. There will still be a need for PR firms to work on getting “earned media” despite the shrinking newshole, but savvy PR firms will shift their focus. In my previous post I talked about PR professionals (working for organizations, I don’t think I made that clear) serving as diplomat-facilitator-community relations.  Communications firms should be on the cutting edge of new media, social networking and content creation. They should take over the role of teacher, leading their clients through the basics of new media/social media, and building social networks (whether on Facebook or Ning, or checking out what Pursuant is doing and trying to match that) and let their clients go on developing messages, creating content and developing outside evangelists.

This won’t lead to the clients dropping the firms, far from it. Clients will need these firms to develop online infrastructure and create/manage video pieces, podcasts and other new media projects for their clients. And there will be a big need for these services, as many companies, especially smaller companies, won’t have the facilities to make high quality video or audio podcasts, and won’t have the connections with regional or industry bloggers.

(Now’s probably a good time to point out that people working in PR firms should already be blogging and connecting with others in the industry their clients work in. Or at least monitoring the chatter.)

Just my two cents to mull over tonight as we drift off.  G’night y’all.

11 thoughts on “The Future of PR Firms?

  1. Thanks for the shoutout, Benson, and great post!

    I’m actually becoming enamored of the term “Trust Agent” from Chris Brogan because “PR” and “marketing” both have so much of this baggage attached to them. It’s great in part because trust is what is being lost in PR and marketing. As someone (hopefully) you get to know and vice-versa, I can be an agent for you–and though you know I’m being paid by clients to promote them, you also trust me (and our firm) well enough to know that we won’t try to feed you anything you don’t love.

    It’s definitely a new world–great to have a conversation with such a multi-faceted thinker. Thanks again.

    1. Thanks Will! I picked up quite a bit from that talk. It was just the kick in the butt I needed to write this.

      I love the term “Trust Agent,” you’re right – PR, Marketing and Advertising do have too much of a stigma attached to them. I can’t wait for Chris Brogan’s book to come out, it’ll be at the top of my list.

      In fact, the relationship an agent has with their clients can be a benefit since you’re open about it (and no one can blame you for making a living) and keeping your “pitching” (for lack of a better word) between your firm and the news outlets/other agents you trust will be more and more important as these relationships develop. (whether through online/digital or analog means)

    1. Hey Gerges! That’s interesting, I know you can’t share too much on here, but are you finding a receptive audience? Do you think a firm should have a separate social media team that cranks out content and monitors the media? Would a partnership with a monitoring group like Radian6 fit for a place like yours? Feel free to cannibalize any of my ideas if they will help you out!

  2. The post was bang on Benson. In fact I was talking with an agency last night who’s just starting to embrace social media and I covered many of the same points with them. In fact, to use another term Chris Brogan loves to say, we’ve been “eating our own dogfood” when it comes to content marketing and hope to do a lot more as well going forward. It’s a “turn everything on it’s head” kind of move for many firms but most of the time all of the skills they need to implement the shift are already on staff. Great stuff and thanks for the Radian6 shout out in the comments as well.


    1. Hi David,

      My pleasure for the shout out. It’s great that you guys are really kicking ass on content marketing! I hope that a lot more firms will start to follow through on not only adding social media to their toolbox, but being willing to take on the role of teacher and show clients how to use social media.

      On another note, are you having success with more PR agencies picking up on the importance of social media and partnering with y’all?

      Thanks for reading!


  3. Thanks for a great conversation, all. Let’s not forget that pr is much more than a tweet, press release, a podcast or a newspaper article. Agencies have to – and always will – use a number of tactical tools in their toolbox. Social media is just one of those tools.
    I think that we pr animals would loose out if we advocated a separate social media team in our midst…what would happen to our “voice?” What would happen to the impact of various media working together to really make an impact on our key audience(s)?
    I think the pr team just needs to make room for the vital new player, social media, and understand and embrace its critical importance to our client’s ability to engage their clients, customers and employees.
    Am I preaching to the choir?
    Happy weekend!

    1. Hey Anne!

      I hope you had a great holiday weekend!

      You are preaching to the choir here, and I think we’re all on the same page (how’s that for a cliche mashup? 🙂 ) I agree that social media needs to be part of every PR person’s toolbox, but there are some elements of content creation that will require more time than I think some PR firms are willing to let associates have (things like creating and managing podcasts or online video for clients that don’t have the time or ability to go beyond the foundation of social media – blogging, social networks/Twitter, etc.) That’s where the social media peeps should come in – they should be able to work together as a team to create the content, but also work as part of the client team at a firm. I think, I’ll ponder more on what you’ve said. 🙂

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