[Editor’s note: VentureBeat asked public relations professional Rachel Yarmey to give us her view on the PR world].
The last four years have been good for PR. During the bust, when companies drastically cut advertising and marketing budgets, they kept some money in the PR coffer because it’s generally thought to be the most cost-effective way to raise visibility and create “buzz.”
More recently, PR got another bump because studies show the much-coveted 18-34 year old demographic (an increasingly important audience for many companies) doesn’t respond well to traditional advertising. They don’t want to be “sold to.” So companies are looking for different ways to reach this prime audience. Look at companies that have launched products or marketing initiatives in the virtual reality game, Second Life: Old and stogy Big Blue was the most recent, if that tells you anything. PR wins here because it has the ability to communicate information to an audience in a way that doesn’t seem salesy. Canon isn’t telling you to buy its latest digital camera, David Pogue, a reporter for the New York Times is. And that can make all the difference in the world.
Every PR agency (at least in the valley) is hiring. I talked to one local recruiting firm that refused to take on new PR agency clients because they were having trouble filling the positions they were already recruiting for. Competition for good talent is fierce, bidding wars are getting out of control, and holiday parties are back in vogue. So everything is coming up roses then, right?
The interesting counterpoint to this trend is that most of the top media outlets are experiencing the exact opposite. The yin to PR’s yang. BusinessWeek made layoffs a few months back. The San Jose Mercury News is cutting 27.5 (exactly!) full time positions, many of them rumored to be in the editorial department. The consumer men’s publication FHM is shutting down its U.S. edition. The Wall Street Journal is operating pretty thin in the San Francisco bureau and even the size of the publication has been downsized. The effect is different, but the cause is the same: The decline of traditional advertising. Publications make most of their money on ads, and when companies aren’t buying ad space, these publications are forced to make drastic cuts.
Much of what PR people do is work with the media on stories about their clients. If I am a PR person for Canon, I make sure that David Pogue has our newest cameras, maybe even before they come out, and I send a spokesperson to his office to demo the camera, talk about how cool it is, and give him everything he needs to write a review (this is a random example, I don’t actually know anyone on Canon’s PR team). The ultimate goal in this case is, hopefully, positive coverage. But this process starts to break down when publications are under-staffed and reporters are covering their beat, plus two or three others, and don’t have time to meet with you for a product demo because they’re too busy covering the recent elections and Yahoo’s latest acquisition. And when editorial space shrinks so the only coverage making it into the print edition is late-breaking, “hard” news. And when journalists you’ve known forever leave to write a book or start a blog (ahem).
So where does that leave us? Heading online of course, with everyone else. Space for online editorial content is unlimited. As are the number of blogs you can find for any vertical market (gardening, food, sports, politics, technology, the environmentâ€¦ the list goes on). What this requires, however, is a shift in how PR people, and clients, think about success. While PR has always been frustratingly hard to measure, clients understand that a positive review by David Pogue in the New York Times is good for business. It’s a little harder to convince them (some more than others) that a CNET podcast about that same camera can also drive sales. Or that it’s worth having the company spokesperson do an in-person demo to get a blog posting on CrunchGear. And, in truth, one CNET podcast most likely doesn’t equal a New York Times article in sheer impression numbers. But it is a more targeted audience, and maybe more in line with that 18-34 year old demographic we talked about earlier. And maybe it takes a few blogs to equal one Wall Street Journal article, but that doesn’t account for the buzz that one blogger can start onlineâ€¦
So, as the PR and media worlds continue to spin (no pun intended), we will take advantage of the changing climate to re-educate ourselves on the fundamentals of PR. Communicate a message to a specific audience. The “what” doesn’t change, it’s the “how” that has to be re-invented.