Why the PR Industry is Shooting Itself in the Foot & What We Can Do About It

If you listen very carefully you can hear a rumble. It’s a guttural noise far off in the distance that you’re probably not even aware of. Like the stampede of a hundred elephants across the savannah. But it’s there. And it’s ever-so-slowly getting closer, becoming louder. That, my friend, is the sound of an uprising. A disturbance in the force of public relations, if you will. And it’s happening because a lot of people are getting very peed off with the way traditional PR folks seem set on a path of self-destruction.

I don’t know what it is about the PR industry, but we (and I use the term loosely) seem determined not to practice what we preach. Public relations takes a periodic battering from other marketing disciplines and in the media for being flaky and lacking credibility, and yet at times we not only do nothing to build our own reputation as an industry, but we seem intent on actively destroying it.

Just last week there was a high profile ‘coming together’ when one very well-respected agency laid into another on its blog, criticising the way the latter had handled blogger outreach for a new client. The incident may have been more of a case of handbags at ten paces than anything else, but the disappointing thing about the whole issue for me was that the agency in question (and let’s be honest, we all know it was Wolfstar) felt the need to post such a piece in the first place. It prompted nearly 30 comments on the original blog post, mostly criticising Wolfstar, numerous tweets and made it into PR Week. Leaving aside the fact that the slated agency had beaten Wolfstar in pitching for the client, and the fact that the criticised individual is one of the most respected PR people I know, it was genuinely saddening for me to see yet another example of ‘old skool’ PR agencies attacking one another.

Then there are services like this; a cheap PR rip-off that does nothing but undermine the good work that the industry does. This is ‘McPR’; it’s like a Big Mac compared to a 16oz Porterhouse steak. It’s not just in the UK that this kind of thing occurs, either. Hot on the heels of #wolfstargate (as it was rather comically tagged on Twitter), came a post on the excellent PRBreakfastClub blog calling for action to stop the “baseless attacks” on a hard working profession. The writers, quite rightly in my opinion, say that “the PR industry is failing – quite badly – to uphold its own reputation”. We’re subject to attacks like this one, which was posted in the last couple of days. And yet not only do we do nothing about it, but we attack each other publicly as well. Are we stupid?!

But there’s room for much optimism due to that metaphoric rumbling that I mentioned earlier (and I apologise for the mixed metaphors in that first paragraph!). There is a new breed of PR professionals out there who are determined to work in collaboration, to offer each other advice and support, and to share ideas and thoughts. Those of us lucky enough to work for more progressive agencies also have the backing of our employers in this approach. And I’m convinced that this ‘collective’ will come to the fore in the near future.

I talk on Tribal Boogie about virtual tribes; people who share and people with whom we have an affinity. Well, this collective is MY tribe; we talk the same language and we want the best for the community. And I hope to introduce you to some of them and their thoughts and insights into this issue right here in the coming weeks. Subscribe now and keep your eyes peeled for more…

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  • http://www.pr2go.com pr2go

    pr2go would like to let you know more about what we do and how we help.pr2go has been created in order to service SME's, start-ups and local-level outlets that cannot budget for traditional PR. We have a simple, honest approach, with transparent, up-front costs to help those businesses have a chance of gaining valuable media coverage. pr2go is not in direct competition with traditional PR and is not undermining the excellent work PR's do on behalf of clients. We offer a different service to our customers and therefore charge customers differently to traditional PR agencies.Like PR agencies, we too have professionalism as a top priority and only use sector-experienced journalists to write press releases. In doing so, it means releases sent on behalf of our customers are of the highest quality. 'McPR' – maybe in terms of pricing and uniformity. You know what you're paying for, a cost-effective service – there are no apologies for that. So far we've found this is a much needed market and that it can work in harmony with traditional PR quite nicely.

  • http://juliusduncan.wordpress.com Julius Duncan

    Great post, Paul. Sums up a lot of what I've thought about the whole #wolfstargate spat, and the challenges for the industry. Frankly, PR2go simply reinforces some of the worst misconceptions of the industry i.e. it's cheap, it's simple, and all about being able to write and having a contacts book. Aaaagh, so outdated! Let's hope the 'thundering herd' can prove the value of a better approach, and clear out some of the weaker players as it charges through.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17220187236457196522 Paul Sutton

    Thanks Julius. Nice continued use of the analogy!pr2go: would have been nice to have had a name, but either way, what Julius said…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17719730761847263369 Kate Hartley

    Great post, and I totally agree about the need to work together. There's some excellent work being done in our industry at the moment. The trouble is there's also some really bad stuff that has to stop. I think we'll come to a point where the industry splits into two camps. The first will be those outfits offering low-cost (and low-grade) so-called media relations packages, of the "it's cheaper than advertising – it's FREE!" variety. The second will be the rather more serious communications agencies that help clients build brands and manage reputations – using the best people to do it.I hope that 'PR' – led by the PRCA – will, eventually, be associated with the second.

  • http://twitter.com/JoeWi Joe Wiggins

    It's sort of ironic that you have frowned upon criticism by one PR organisation of another, yet then proceeded to do that yourself. I think pr2go responded in a diginified manner. In saying that, I do believe that PR 'kits' like this are the wrong way to go and SMEs should use quality but value-for-money freelancers instead. SMEs can't afford to buy 'cheap' PR.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17220187236457196522 Paul Sutton

    Thanks for your comment Joe, and criticism accepted. The pr2go reference was only 30 words out of over 600 and is not what the post is about though, so let's not get hung up on that.There's a far wider and bigger issue – that of collaboration and overcoming the self-destruction of the PR industry. That's what I was really addressing here and will address again in future.

  • http://AndrewBrownnoreply@blogger.com Andrew Brown

    Paul – great comment and interesting feedback; picking up on the pr2go discussion I thought that the response from them was very good. There might be a gap in the market for a service model like they offer and some clients will find it more comfortable. That is the way a market works. As an entry level service I can see its merits – but there is a risk that as it grows in popularity it and other models like it actually erode some of the credibility of the industry. Call it paranoia, but PR is not very good at promoting itself and is sometimes more like being an estate agent than being involved in a respected profession offering rational consultancy and results. I guess we need to pull together more and send out a clearer message. On the whole I am optimistic, call me naive if you like, but things are never really as bad as they seem.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17220187236457196522 Paul Sutton

    To be open, fair and honest, Andrew, I was contacted on LinkedIn by a representative from PR2Go late yesterday who is obviously intelligent and reasoned. I don't really want to say any more on that specific service as I feel it's detracting from what this post is really about.You are right that PR isn't very good at promoting itself, and your comment that we need to pull together and send out a clearer message is spot on. Thanks!

  • http://www.buildersmerchantsjournal.net FeeHorne

    I agree with some of what pr2go has to say (and Andrew's comment) that there probably is room for something that's offering cost-effective, targeted PR to companies who don't know where to start with PR, usually because they haven't the budget. My key point above is 'targeted': as a journalist, I want to know that the stuff PRs are sending me is relevent because otherwise it's a waste of my time, their time and the client's money. Unfortunately for some smaller concerns, the sort of PR which does understand the target market and how to approach the relevent journals (we aren't all the same!!, inevitably costs more because it's a professional approach. I get so fed up with spam releases sent to me by PRs who clearly have never either read the mag or even bothered to look at our website.

  • http://www.pr2go.com pr2go

    Since starting pr2go, we have found that there has been a lack of understanding in the SME market about what PR is. Smaller businesseshave described it as anything from Max Clifford to advertising. At pr2go, we see our role as an entry level service to introduce businesses into the PR world, offering targeted press releases totargeted media. We also see our role within the industry to identify when a customer needs a traditional PR service and in doing so,recommend that they contact an agency. We believe that this way, there is room for affordable and traditional PR, moreover that the industry will be protected.