The Death of Public Relations? I think not.There is currently a lot of talk among the high-tech blog community about the relative uselessness of PR. Michael Arrington of TechCrunch advises startups not to bother engaging a PR agency until the flood of inbound media requests becomes too overwhelming to handle. Robert Scoble talks about the pleasures of discovering the next great innovation without the ham-fisted intrusion of PR tainting the process. It appears that both subscribe to the theory of “if you build it, they will come.”
I’m not sure how many technology start ups would be happy with a marketing plan based on a strategy that favors sitting idly by and waiting to be discovered by a high-profile blogger over proactive media outreach.Brian Fuller, a former editor himself, points out why that isn’t likely to happen any time soon while Jeremy Pepper weighs in ever so delicately with his own thoughts on this recurring issue. It is worth pointing out that I’ve had the pleasure of working with Brian in his role as an editor for EE Times. He and his colleagues never seemed to take issue with PR agencies bringing them stories that were of genuine interest to their readership. In fact, one EE Times editor – considered to be THE guru of the niche industry he covered – even took the time to e-mail the PR community about his upcoming deadlines, vacation schedules, etc. just to make sure he wouldn’t ever miss the ability to cover something important. Of course, bloggers aren’t the first to complain about public relations. PR has been the subject of justified (as well as completely unjustified) rants from traditional journalists for decades. One of the most controversial came from the Editor-in-Chief of Wired when he actually published a list of e-mail addresses from PR folks he deemed as “lazy flacks.” The funny thing is that what most of these journalists fail to understand is that media relations is just one tactical element of a much larger strategic PR campaign, albeit a very important tactical element. Most of the real work happens before the point where media contact begins. The true art of public relations lies in coming up with creative ways to get the client’s message out – across a whole range of media or even directly. It lies in determining when and how to reach specific audiences and in defining positioning. A cool new technology is great, but it is nothing unless the implications of that technology can be clearly demonstrated and communicated. Only then can you create the perception of need that will motivate the customer to go out and buy it. Moreover, as customers rely less on media and more on each other for information, the role of the media – both traditional and new media – can be greatly diminished. And more than a few PR practitioners are becoming aware of how best to facilitate a dialog between clients and the end user. Does this mean I’m ready to declare death of journalism or say it is broken? Hell no. But like PR, it will have to change and adapt over time if it is to succeed and this is a good thing.