In my presentation at the Inbound Marketing Summit yesterday, I had a slide asking the question "Is PR Dead" that stirred up a lot of discussion .  It's a worthy topic, so I thought I'd talk a bit further about the topic in long format (i.e. more than 140 characters).

I have worked with a bunch of PR firms over the years.  Their primary value is that they have relationships with the handful of journalists in your sector that they can interrupt on your behalf to increase the likelihood that your story will be written about. 

Traditionally, this model has served the journalists well and the customers well.  However, in recent years, a couple of problems have arisen in this model.  First, the journalists themselves have access to more sophisticated tools to find the gems of information they need for their stories, including Google and Google Alerts.  The journalists no longer need the PR agencies "help" in separating the wheat from the chaff.  In fact, the journalists are getting more and more sophisticated at actually blocking the interruptions out (i.e. spam protection, callerID, etc).  Second, there are no longer a handful of publications that matter for your industry, there are hundreds/thousands as bloggers and tweeters have emerged as being just as important if not more so than the traditional journalists and the PR folks cannot physically keep up with that explosion of "media outlets."

So , is pr dead?   Well, the bad news is that as the game has been traditionally played, it is probably dead or near dead.  The good news is that there is a major opportunity for new entrants and forward thinking existing agencies to re-invent the industry and provide a whole new set of valuable businesses for their customers.  Like what?  Well, here is a partial list of services that a modern PR agency could provide that would be really valuable.

1.   Culture & Process Change Services:   Many successful businesses have traditionally been in the mindset that all their information should be kept behind a lock and key and for businesses that have been around a long time, it is hard to get in the mindset of engaging in the blogosphere and social mediasphere.  I think a very valuable service a modern, inbound PR agency could offer is a culture assessment and a set of services around culture change for the web2.0 world.  A sister offering might be to help companies with the process change required to really take advantage of the web2.0 world.  For example, when is it absolutely necessary to have a lawyer review a blog article before it goes out and when is it not absolutely necessary.

2.  Remarkable "Marketing Strategy" Services:   The great thing about the internet today is that remarkable stories spread on their own without a lot of pushing and without a lot of money -- this is a big change from 10 years ago where you had to force your remakable idea out with your wallet.  If your ideas, product releases, etc are not remarkable today, they will languish unfound no matter how much money you spend on traditional PR.  A great service a modern, inbound PR agency could do would be to really specialize in marketing strategy where they help the customer thing through the positioning relative to the competition and alternatives to ensure that when the product hits the market, it has wind in its sails.  This type of service might be called the "Blue Ocean" offering as the deliverable should be one of the strategy maps that are espoused in the "Blue Ocean Strategy" books .

3.  Remarkable "Content Creation" Services: Once the customer has figured out a remarkable product marketing strategy, the best thing they can do is create lots of content about their offering like blog articles, videos, podcasts, webinars, etc.  Many companies do not have the ability to create content, so a great offering from a modern PR agency who helped create the marketing strategy would be to help with the content creation.

4.  Social Spreading Services:   Once the customer has figured out a remarkable product marketing strategy and is creating remarkable content, they need to leverage the social mediasphere to spread the word about that content. There are a few things a modern, inbound PR agency could offer here.  First, they could set-up the customer's Twitter page, Facebook fan page, and LinkedIn group.  There are many decisions around setting this stuff up that a knowledgeable agency could help with.  Second, they could set-up the listening tools to track what is being said about the customer's industry and brand in blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yahoo groups, etc.  Third, they can set-up the reports that track how the customer is doing in terms of their "reach" in the social world -- blog subscribers, Twitter followers, Facebook fans, LinkedIn group members, email subscribers, etc.  Companies like Radian6 and HubSpot have good tools for this type of offering that modern agencies could create offerings around.

5.  Decision Support Services:   Most companies have many types of marketing campaigns at work at the same time including direct mail, advertising, telemarketing, blogging, social media, etc.  The problem most companies have is the old cliche that they know they are wasting 50% of their marketing budget, but they can't figure out which 50%.  Companies like HubSpot, Omniture, and others have modern closed loop analytics tools where you can look at the shape of your funnel (visitor, lead, opportunity, & customer) by campaign and start to get your head around your ROI by campaign.  This is exactly the type of service that a modern, inbound PR company should provide.

So, what do folks think?  Is PR Dead or Is PR In Need Of Re-Invention?  Do some of you out there have other ideas on what services a modern PR agency could offer that would be uber-valuable to their clients?


I spent a whole chapter in the Inbound Marketing Book on the topic of how to select a modern, inbound PR firm, so if you are interested in this topic, check it out.

- Brian Halligan

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Originally published Oct 8, 2009 9:02:00 AM, updated October 20 2016


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