Web PR

Posted 15 years ago by Adam Gautsch

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?


Adam Gautsch ~ 15 years ago

I'll throw a couple more thoughts out there Coffe Talk style.

  • The huge PR success in the blog world for Shaun Inman when he launched Mint
  • What role SEO plays in to this whole thing and will there be SEO type people who try to game Digg, Slashdot, del.icio.us etc for companies
  • More specifically, should we consider SEO and the gaming of Digg etc as a form of PR?
  • With TiVo, podcast, sat. radio etc trying to kill tradtional advertising does the role of a good and diverse PR team become more important?

Talk amongst yourselves.

Evan Tishuk ~ 15 years ago

So much to contemplate. Short answer: eventually.

olivier blanchard ~ 15 years ago

Have blogs and the www changed PR? Not much. Most PR firms still don't get that the e-world isn't just a paperless version of traditional print media. The format they still use doesn't apply to these channels.

I'm not sure why.

Most of the PR professionals I know don't have blogs. They don't read blogs either. They have no concept of how the blogosphere actually works, much less what role blogs can play in their world (good and/or bad).

Every week, I run into at least five people (intelligent, educated professionals, many of whom deal with marketing in some way shape or form) who ask me... "um... what's a blog?"

Talk about an industry that's out of touch with its own medium. It's kind of puzzling to me that PR pros have (for the most part) completely missed out on this incredible new opportunity to reach vasts amounts of precisely targeted people at almost no cost.

But you know... when I look around and see reputable PR firms sporting bland, poorly designed websites that haven't been updated in years, I have to wonder to what extent PR firms, as they exist today, have any hope whatsoever of still being around in five years.

(I don't mean to sound harsh. I'm just wondering.)

Based on my observations, here are my survival tips for traditional PR firms:

1) Listen more than you speak.
2) Read more than you write.
3) Start a blog.
4) Read A-list blogs daily. (Or in case of emergency, ours.)
5) Hire bloggers.
6) Create or join a relevant, influential blog network.
7) Hire for passion, not just skill.
8) For all our sakes, drop the formula and make PR relevant again. (Pretty please?)
9) Consider the possibility (however improbable it may seem to you now) that if your website sucks, so do you.
10) More cowbell!

If PR pros were early adopters, we wouldn't be having this conversation. There's obviously a cultural issue at play here.

Evan Tishuk ~ 15 years ago

"There’s obviously a cultural issue at play here"

Aversion to risk. Trying to hit the mainest of main streams. These would be likely culprits for why we can say things about PR people (on a blog) and feel confident they wont see these words for a while ;)

Or maybe the best PR people are so busy being "people people" that don't have the time to "waste" on these intarnets.

olivier ~ 15 years ago

Too funny! :D

Maybe we need to differentiate between press releases and web releases. Would that help ring some bells? Maybe?

Evan Tishuk ~ 15 years ago

Here's some bad web PR....

Yahoo gave search data to the US government but SWEARS there isn't a privacy issue here. Jeez. I know Yahoo probably didn't give away anything sensitive, but when Google refuses to give any information to the government and Yahoo buckles like a belt, it doesn't look good. Oh, and then it get's submitted to Digg.com and people get really peeved. Good work Yahoo.

Evan Tishuk ~ 15 years ago

John Jantsch over at Duct Tape Marketing just contributed, "PR Folks Can Take Back The Marketing Message"

Blogs are about conversations with customers and nothing is more open honest and transparent from a marketing message standpoint than a simple conversation. I think PR folks need to embrace these tools and raise their say in the marketing voice of the companies they represent.

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