A couple of days ago I attended a speakers panel at SxSWi. The main question in the session was - are PR agencies a dying breed? In a world riddled with ADD, where TMI blogging and DIY reporting are the norm, are PR agencies still relevant?
FutureWorks principal Brian Solis framed the challenge: "Agencies have competition from places they never saw coming - interactive agencies, community management companies." It was a panel discussion, but I wanted to highlight Brian's thinking because he's been long doing work that matters for the future of PR.
It's true that the nature and place for press releases has changed. Today, you could issue a release that has not just news, but depth. With hyperlinks, images and captions (make sure you have those if you'd like editors to publish them), press releases can still have value for reporters as they do for your site's search engine optimization (SEO).
If it's also true that, as Brian said, as an agency they're not charging to write press releases or for media campaigns anymore, how are PR agencies going to make money? One of my thoughts is to help create the context for relationships with the media and third parties.
The other thought I had was that agencies can help clients move from reactive - and yes, thinking of PR as just press releases is in some way reactive - to a more proactive stance. That would include the integration of many tools that allow for putting the "public" back in public relations. This is the title of Brian Solis latest book with Deirdre Breakenridge.
The Institute for Public Relations has run an analysis of the increasing impact of social and other new media on public relations. Not surprisingly, traditional news media receive higher scores than blogs and social media in terms of accuracy, credibility, telling the truth and being ethical. The results of the study highlight that there is considerable agreement suggesting blogs and social media have enhanced public relations practice.
Most (92% - up from 89% in 2008) of those surveyed think blogs and social media influence news coverage in the traditional media (newspapers, magazines, radio and television) while 76 percent say the reverse also is true (up from 72% a year ago). There is very solid agreement (88% up from 84% in 2008) that blogs and social media have made communications more instantaneous because they force organizations to respond more quickly to criticism.
We've been saying that the future of PR is participation for a while now, however there are now many concerns about that. What if the PR agency decides not to be transparent? Or what happens when a client wants the agency to "represent" him, to write in stead of him?
A big question that still remains open is why do so many clients are so afraid of budgeting a social media strategy? And on the other side, why do PR practitioners have to characterize social media as little or low cost?
[photo courtesy of Richard Binhammer]