On Friday, Evan and I sat in on a PR strategy meeting. This was the first such meeting I have been a part of since my short lived political days and I'm here to tell you, the business has changed in three years and I'm not sure how many PR pros are ready for this change.
The reason for the change is simple and cliched and I feel bad even writing it but I will. The internet and more specifically blogs have decentralized the news dissemination channels so much that controlling the story and staying on message is nigh impossible. In the past, a PR person (or his front man) and a newspaper, radio, or TV guy could talk one on one. The message could be controlled, the front man could stay on point, always come back to the key points, and move the message in his direction. There could be rebuttals for all objections and there was always a chance to at least answer your critics. (For a great example of this you can read the chapter titled 'A Tug of War over Framing the Debate', in the book Buck Up, Suck Up, and Come Back When You Foul Up.)
These chances and media outlets are still there. God knows there is plenty of air time to fill on radio and TV these days and they are always looking for someone to argue for 5 minutes. However, these spots are less powerful than they were in the past and now there are thousands of bloggers and other internet sites ready to continue the argument and the PR man can't control them all (if he can control any of them).
Moreover, getting a message out has become more viral than ever and it is getting even harder to control when and how the story breaks. There was a lot of discussion in our meeting on Friday about when we should try to break the story, how we want it to break, and who would be the ideal news outlets to get ahold of the story. Well, once again, all these great strategies can get thrown out of the window if Glenn Reynolds, Digg, or Drudge links the story before you wanted it to hit. News cycles wait for no man on the internet and if you think you can time when someone releases a story on a blog you are fooling yourself.
So, what does this mean for the PR world? For starters, I don't think they are going to be going out of business anytime soon. The people we met with on Friday were very talented and intelligent as are most that are in the business. But, as with most businesses since the internet revolution, how PR is done is going to change. Knowing newspaper editors is going to become less important and knowing popular bloggers is going to become more important.
In fact, I could see a smart PR firm starting and/or helping to support their own advertising/blog circle a la Pajama's Media, 9rules, or even the Deck. Having influence over or at least contact with numerous popular blogs is going to be an extremely important portfolio piece for PR firms from this time forward. You could of course take this idea one step further and have a PR firm start several blogs of their own that were targeted at key market segments. For example, a PR firm might have several tech clients and so they start an engadget type blog. This will provide a great vehicle to help push their clients products.
Of course, this can get very shaddy, very quickly and I imagine the greater internet world can and will sniff out the shills. But if done correctly, I see the internet giving PR firms a different level of power and influence. Firms might start popping up that could no more get you an article in the New York Times than get your logo carved on the moon but they could get your new product mentioned on 15 blogs that are read by 85% of your target demographic. As usual, the internet causes old businesses to think of things in new ways and I find what could happen to the PR world terribly interesting.
Do you have any thoughts on how the internet and blogs have changed the PR business and more specifically how there might be a new form or discpline focused completely on blogging and internet news?