Gini Dietrich

The Future of PR: Beyond Media Relations

By: Gini Dietrich | January 9, 2013 | 

I get asked all the time what I think is the future of PR. In fact, I’m keynoting the Ragan Conference on the very topic in Chicago on May 1.

Clearly it’s hard to shake my Magic 8 ball and predict a future, but because the industry remained the same for more than 50 years, it is pretty easy to look and see what we’re not doing right in order to stay ahead.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: PR professionals (and agencies) must adapt, change, and keep up with the times. What we do is no longer about media relations. So why do we insist that’s what we do?

The Silos Inside Agencies

Last October, Bliss (formerly PR, now Integrated Marketing Communications) announced they are no longer a PR firm. We did the very same thing in January 2010.

Which would be fantastic if agencies the size of Bliss and Arment Dietrich ruled the PR industry. But we don’t. Not yet.

If you look at the websites of the biggest firms in the industry, most (I found only one that did not) have media relations described – in some fashion – on their home pages. And their own social networks haven’t been updated in days.

Yes, I know the shoemaker’s children don’t have shoes. Blah, blah, blah.

What that goes to show is the leaders of the industry still don’t find value in content, social, native advertising, or the hybrid model of paid, earned, and owned media.

Sure, the big agencies all have digital departments that focus on these things. But they’re typically run by non-PR professionals and the PR departments are still kept silo’d (they clearly need to read Marketing in the Round) and away from their digital sisters. All while toiling away on getting their clients on The Today Show and in the Wall Street Journal.

Habits of Consumers

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There’s not. But the habits of consumers have changed. How many of you solely get your news from morning news or the national newspaper? I can’t see a show of hands, but I’d venture to guess it’s less than 10 percent of you.

In fact, I ask that question when I speak and it’s really  interesting to see, as the months and years go by, the less and less hands that go up.

I also like to ask how people in the audience learned about Bin Laden’s death. I always get answers such as, “Text message. Email alert. Twitter. Facebook.” Actually first learning about it (before the President had his news conference broadcast) is rarely through the traditional channels.

And yet…as professionals, and as an industry, we focus on the traditional channels as our sole means of telling our client’s or company’s stories.

Getting Past Media Relations

Joe Thornley, Martin Waxman, and I discussed this during an Inside PR recording. Clients still want the stories, which is why we deliver them. Since when do we always do what the client wants?

Yes, if the client (or your boss) still measures effectiveness of your program through media relations, by all means, make sure you do it. But also add in content and social and email marketing and native advertising and inbound marketing and anything else that makes sense to demonstrate how well they all work together in harmony.

It’s our jobs to find ways to communicate and tell the stories in honest and effective ways that provide value and engage the customer. It doesn’t matter if the customer is B2B, B2c, non-profit, or an association. It’s the same for all of us. We are human beings and we get our information in a myriad of ways today.

Sometimes that means going the extra mile to do some additional work your boss or client didn’t ask you to do. Sometimes it means taking a risk and adding in a component to see how well it works with media relations. And sometimes it means asking for forgiveness, rather than permission (we do that a lot here and we’ve never been fired for it).

The Future of PR

But the certainty of the future of PR is we have to do more than media relations. We have to understand how the lines between our industry, advertising, and marketing are blurring even more. We have to figure out how our customers are getting their information … and go there. And we have to measure our efforts against real business results (which is a different topic entirely).

THAT is the future of PR and we have to get there now. Not five years from now. Not 10 years from now. Now. Today. Or we won’t sit at the table with our forward-thinking, measurement-driven bosses and clients. Ever.

(Ignore this, I’m testing something with SEO. Connect with Gini on .)

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • jasondyk

    I think one thing in the future of PR is managing (and by managing I mean advising/stepping in when there’s conflict) conversations that brands and consumers are having.  I see PR firms playing a big role with brands with this…but first PR companies (not all…just some) are going to have to start getting into the 21st century yet!

    • @jasondyk Funny…this is the topic of my blog post tomorrow (I’m just finished writing it right this second). It’s almost like PR is becoming customer service, as well.

      • jasondyk

        @ginidietrich how timely! 🙂 That’s my view as well…it would be great to chat sometime about this! 
        Also…not sure if you’ve seen this yet…but here’s a good video that a PR person like yourself might enjoy 🙂

  • Hear hear. Break down the silos, embrace digital and social media, add analytics and SEO experts to your teams, and do it all now, not at the end of some strategic review that lasts until 2020!!

    • @HughAnderson And I woud say also programmers and designers. LOTS of PR teams are missing those experts, too.

  • LouHoffman

    Totally agree that silos must come down. I affectionately call this issue fiefdomville (no relation to Farmville).
    The question of what we call ourselves is a tough one. I applaud you and Bliss for taking the plunge.
    Given how many RFPs get categorized as “PR,” even if it’s a blended assignment or the prospect is open to a blended approach, we’re hanging onto the PR moniker for the time being.

    • @LouHoffman We’re beginning to see a shift in how the big CPG are writing RFPs so I think it’s coming. They’ll lead the charge and other organizations will follow along. We’re lucky in the work we do is driven by us, not by an RFP or a shiny new tactic. Perhaps that’s the difference: The big firms get their bread and butter from the Fortune 100 who haven’t changed yet.

  • belllindsay

    This is such a timely post (it may surprise people to know that I have no clue what Gini will be writing about each day!) – this coming Monday and Tuesday be sure and watch for a fantastic two part guest series on what PR firms need to be doing NOW to stand out and compete in 2013 and beyond. 
    I especially like @jasondyk comment re: managing (or at the very least guiding!) conversations that brands are having with consumers. It never ceases to amaze me how so many do it so wrong. It’s a delicate dance telling a brand that they need to shift gears, or treat customers differently, but brands these days need to drop the egos and realize that times – and expectations – have changed, and they often need a guiding hand.

    • jasondyk

      @belllindsay even more so, the brands that have worked hard at humanizing and perfecting their brand’s voice are ruining their online communities when conflict hits and they revert to “press release mode.” It’s quite fascinating actually

      • belllindsay

        @jasondyk Yes, you’re absolutely right Jason, it’s amazing to watch as they turtle themselves back into corporate robo-tron speak!

        • jasondyk

          @belllindsay a great example of this is actually happening right now, you can see the facebook page here and some of the news coverage here
          Thought you might enjoy 🙂

        • belllindsay

          @jasondyk Holy. COW! I’m in Toronto, and this is the first I’ve heard of this. Reading now. Thanks!!

    • @belllindsay  HAHAHAHAHAH! I read this and thought you said you have no idea what I’m talking about each day. I was about to beat you! And then I realized you mean that you don’t know the TOPIC of what I’m going to write. Hells bells. I don’t know until the morning I write it.

      • belllindsay

        @ginidietrich HAHAHAHA! It could be read that way, couldn’t it!? LOL

  • HowieG

    I dunno @ginidietrich as long as there is funding for Public Radio it will be around and @shonali will keep measuring it. 8)
    This is one of those squirrelly questions. People discuss the future of Advertising or what the Agency of the Future will look like. and they have doing this since 1973. I just feel both will evolve as technologies evolve. And since social media blends both PR and Marketing you are going to see ‘PR’ Agencies offering integrated marketing services and marketing agencies offering integrated communication/media relations services. I myself do activities that once was left for Public relations yet I never use that term in any pitches. I say ‘online reputation management, blogger/media out reach’ ‘Message Crafting’ etc. The press release is going away and instead they will be crafted and just posted on media or investor relations pages.
    BUT remove the word Agency from the mix and you will still have people who specialize in Public Relations or marketing or Advertising residing inside the integrated agencies to support those segments of communications don’t you think? With those that can grow beyond their segment rising to management and running agencies. No different than someone who copy writes or does graphics having to do the same?

    • belllindsay

      @HowieG  @ginidietrich  @shonali It’s evolution baby. Spot on. But really, break this all down and what have you got? The most basic of the basics. People need to know how to communicate clearly and effectively. That skill, and the need for it, hasn’t changed since the dawn of media. Throw in all the new technology you want – none of it is worth a pinch if the people using it can’t write a sentence that makes sense!!

      • @belllindsay  @HowieG  @ginidietrich  @shonali AMEN sista!

    • @HowieG  We agree on this, Howie. But the problem is we’re not evolving. The industry as a whole, I mean. There are agencies and professionals that are, but the industry still uses media relations as its tangible measurement tool. And that’s baloney. Because, like you said, what we should be doing is a blend of marketing, advertising, branding, customer service, and reputation management.

  • One of the things PR professionals should embrace in 2013 is the ability to experiment with different ways to tell our organization’s story, especially if you work for a smaller and more nimble (nimbler?) agency.
    There are so many avenues to share news now (without the benefit of the media helping) that it seems like a waste to rely on traditional methods.
    I’m not saying you should go rogue, but a little experimentation never hurt anybody.

    • @bradmarley I agree, Brad. People ask me all the time what to do if their boss or client won’t let them do things the way they know they should be done. I always recommend they continue doing things the way their boss or client wants, but to take the extra time to do something new and different and then go back and show them the results. I’ve never known anyone to get in trouble or fired for asking for forgiveness for taking a risk on their own time…especially if it worked.

  • JodiEchakowitz

    Gini, your message is spot on, but I suspect that most readers of your blog are either already considering an integrated model or actually living it. The key now is to get the industry at large thinking about it, as well as those that are looking to hire a PR agency or consultant. I think education is critical, and it’s great to see folks like  Martin Waxman  and Eden Spodekfocusing some of their time and efforts on education through a new Digital Strategy and Communications Certificate at the University of Toronto’s school of continuing studies. It’s also time to see organizations like PRSA backing the idea and encouraging the path to an integrated model.

    • @JodiEchakowitz  I wish I could say all of our readers are already living it. Part of the reason I wrote this post was for the long-tail benefit to draw in people who are NOT living it, but trying to figure out what’s next. There are lots of those professionals out there, which is apparent to me when I speak and ask questions of the audience.

  • Great post, Gini! I think this “new” way of thinking is just smart marketing. The radio happened: we evolved. TV happened: we evolved. And now with the digital world it’s another time to evolve. Is it sometimes hard to convince and advocate for more than media relations to client? Sure it is. However, the more you know about measurement and the more knowledgeable you are about how everything works together through social media, the easier it becomes to advocate this. It can be all too easy to stay comfortable in life – that’s true about most topics. I think that’s what we’re seeing here. PR people are comfortable. It’s hard to constantly challenge yourself and it takes work. 
    How do we change this? DO IT and spread the word. The more clients begin to see the results-based, ROI lifting marketing approach, the more they will demand it.

    • Still thinking about this. I will say that I really like working with media members and truly enjoy media relations. I hope that aspect of the job never goes away. Also, I think we sometimes don’t give ourselves enough credit for what we actually know as PR professionals. We may be doing a lot more integrated task items then we think. We need to check ourselves and ensure we’re truly being SMART(ER).

    • @kateupdates I think the difference, though, is it took 50 years for TV to hit the masses. Now it takes a social network about a nanosecond to his the masses and we all have to figure out, before it does, how it will affect our communications. It can be done. It’s fun to do. But those of us doing it are not among the majority.

  • The powers that be leading any industry typically see the least personal (that is, financial) incentive to take risks and change, which is going to delay the future you’re considering.  I do not mean this as ageism or a slam on my own generation, but as boomers age or opt out and those weaned on (and literally educated in) consumer-controlled marketing conversations emerge in the top ranks of clients and agencies alike, the future of PR will also emerge: and it will stand for Propelling Relationships.

    • @creativeoncall I suppose it’s like anything else, right? The older you get, the more accustomed you are to doing things the way you do them and change means a lot of extra work and probably some significant time learning the new way of doing things. It’s easy when you are young and without a ton of responsibilities. It becomes more difficult when you have many mouths to feed and a mortgage to make.
      That said, I really, really hope I don’t become one of those people who is rooted in the way things are always done. I love the change the PR industry is facing and I hope I stay ahead of the trends always.

      • @ginidietrich Actually, the determining factor for change-aversion seems to be money and position… the Fat and Happy syndrome which, for instance, set in after agency consolidation in the 80s and 90s, and led many well-regarded leaders to effectively dismiss little things like, say, the Internet.  If the people at the top already have their financial life “made,” their egos have already been over-stroked, and they only have to get through a few more years, there is a built-in disincentive to change. So don’t get too rich too fast. However, if you do, I still wouldn’t worry  – so long as you maintain your own brand character as that of a “constructive-distruptor-and-guide-to-the-revolution” (my description, not yours I realize).  Do that and you’ll be in good shape to stay on the edge, rather than dulling it.

        • @creativeoncall Have I told you lately I love you?

        • belllindsay

          @ginidietrich  @creativeoncall I still like my rotary phone.

        • @ginidietrich That’s the word on the street 🙂

  • This post reminds me of what @MargieClayman is covering at her house — the glass ceiling for chicas. YAWN. Not to say  you’ve written a yawner, Twin, but to say the topic is a bit worn out. Yet, why must we continue revisiting? Because the “leaders” those really big guns who like to say they define our profession continue to let everyone know we do publicity. And, when the Wall Street Journal adds “Bad Publicity” ‘to a call out headline in today’s paper, it’s sure to get some consensus. 
    What we do is BAD; who we are is NEGATIVE. How do we fix it? ADAPT, CHANGE, REINVENT. Rah-rah sis boom bah.

    • @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing  The problem, though, is the topic may seem worn out to you and me, but the business leaders are still talking about what it is we do. The agencies are still touting media relations in their job descriptions. Heck, some even have “media relations” in the names of their companies. I know I talk a lot about it here, but we have significant growth every month of new visitors who haven’t seen this message before. I feel like it’s my job to hammer it home, even if it’s stale to those of us already doing it.

      • @ginidietrich You’re right. I said that to another blogger today; can’t assume peeps reading your content every day (like a loyal community).

  • I know I made the switch from journalist to working in the PR world right as this change started taking shape, but it doesn’t freak me out at all.  Change scares a lot of people, but this change in PR really opens a lot more opportunities.
    –Tony Gnau

    • @T60Productions I’m with you. I love change. But to @creativeoncall ‘s point, we both have vested financial and personal incentives to embrace it.

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  • I agree that you can’t and shouldn’t just be a “PR” firm anymore and that we must evolve. Additionally I think agencies need to hire and grow talent that embraces and has expertise in areas beyond media relations. You can’t over creative design services and just be “so so” at it but call yourself an integrated firm. If you’re going to offer a design/advertisement service you need to be able to deliver this service at the same level as you do media relations and make it know. If you don’t, clients will just continue to hire you for what they know (or think they know) you’re good at and hire another agency for something like advertising.

  • MikeEttlemyer

    This is one of the best posts on the subject I’ve read in a while. The idea is convergence and the blurring of lines getting more blurred by the day. The future of PR is definitely not media relations. While that will always be important, content creation for new and not-so-new digital platforms is much more important now. I don’t know anyone that isn’t getting their news from smartphones to some extent. Agencies can’t be successful in the new business climate if they aren’t doing integrated marketing communications. They’ll be left in the dust and won’t be hired by brands looking for more than media relations. Too often, firms market themselves as doing social media, SEO, and other relevant strategies today and are simply ill-equipped to take on the integrated approach. Bliss is on the right track and committed to change. I’m glad to see this as a PR person who has made the same transition.

  • Haven’t been by the blog in a while (my bad, dang kids :)). But the posts are still smart. I recently asked one of our leaders at FH if we were still a PR agency. He said we are still going to offer the services that got us here, but we do a whole lot of different things now. I think he is right on the money. The next part of that discussion needs to be how we tell that story. Back to your shoemakers children scenario…
    In the end, our jobs have to be about connecting with customers. Sharing with our clients what customers say about them. Talking to our customers as brand reps. And educating our clients about why PR has changed. It’s an ongoing battle and I know I could do a better job fighting it. Thanks for the inspiration. Cheers!

  • KellyeCrane

    A lot of folks have always known PR is about more than media relations but, as you note in the comments below, a lot of folks does not equal everyone (and everyone in PR needs to get on board toute suite!). I don’t think change is just scary- it also can be hard. Continually evolving and learning takes an investment of time, which some people don’t want to give. Good for you for giving this well-worded prodding!

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