PR is dead. Its business model, dominated on the consultancy side by bloated networks selling bureaucracy over transformation and generalists over deep expertise, is broken. Its philosophy – rooted in selling stuff to consumers, rather than addressing societal needs – is exhausted. A transparent world exposes the tired deceits of message management and spin.
- Robert Phillips former EMEA president and CEO of Edelman
It has been over a hundred years since Ivy Lee sent the very first press release to the New York Times on behalf of the Pennsylvania railroad on the heels of the 1906 Atlantic City train wreck. The entirety of those one hundred years the press release and public relations as a whole has been married to technology. From the typewriter to Twitter, public relations has evolved with and implemented technology that has been key to spreading information and shaping opinion; this evolution has resulted in advancements and challenges that the likes of Ivy Lee could never have imagined. It is that very technology however that is leading the public relations industry as we know it now to its imminent demise.
Even as recently as the mid-nineties the number of outlets a PR firm had to build relationships with and manage were limited largely to print and television news leaving the internet largely an afterthought. The opinion makers and thought leaders were fairly clustered and easy to address. The advent of the world wide web, and in turn blogging and social media would ultimately democratize information to the extent that the lack of usefulness of the PR industry would be exposed.
The greatest example of the technical evolution of public relations has to be it’s relationship with 21st century press. Public relations and the press have been joined at the hip for a century with PR firms relying on the press to disseminate information to as wide an audience as possible as the press uses PR firms as it’s own backend news stream providing stories that may not have reached public awareness.Over the last 25 years, thanks to the internet, social media and mobile communications identifying exactly who is the press has become complicated.
Most information industries like, public relations and newspapers and television, were born in a time when information was linear moving from event to medium to recipient. This model made it easy to “own” information and maintain captive audiences. Web 2.0 shifted that linear progression into a centric one where information hits multiple mediums simultaneously in real time. Instead of disseminated news is now diffused through social media, email, blogs and other platforms with the information’s authority being much more transitive. In short the middleman had gone from indispensable to irrelevant.
This new dynamic had a second effect that changed not just information industries but arguably society as a whole. The internet and social media have turned us all into microbrands. We are in a constant state of selling ourselves as we work to bolster our individual reputations which are now measured by followers, friends, likes, connections and subscribers. Our societal marketability has been quantified in a way that didn’t exist just 10 years ago. Whether it’s in search of employment, a mate or fifteen minutes of fame we are all in multiple forms maintaining our own public relations. We are a far more savvy public than the one that made public relations firms necessary or effective.
PR is only the latest in a line of industries to fall victim to disruption at the hands of technology. The brick and mortar foundation of retail has been under siege by ecommerce for over a decade thanks to the likes of Amazon and Zappos. Sites like Expedia and Travelocity have steadily eaten away at the traditional travel agent while eTrade puts the power of investing directly in the hands of the consumer. Any business not managing their own reputation and branding is simply failing to see the writing on the wall.
Main image credit: Daniel Ferenčak