Do companies still need people/agencies for PR?

A meme was kicked off over the last 24 hours by Robert Scoble about whether companies still need formal PR staff or agencies. His gist, is that great technology/products will be found and evangelized by users. His example is that a beta tester told him about a cool product. He then asked his contacts on Twitter who responded enthusiastically and stated that:

“If you are exciting your early users like this you will get found. I so wish more companies built their stuff this way. Go slowly. Build PR by building a great service and turn your users into your PR agents. Oh, yeah, and blog and podcast about it to get to this point (but look at how they built a community, they didn’t get all “pushy” about what they were doing — they just were informative and inclusive).”

This was followed by a well thought-out and presented article by Marshall Kirkpatrick entitled, “Does Good Tech Need PR?” Read the post he points to from Jeremy Toeman.

Many, many folks have chimed in. From the PR blog perspective, check out what Peter Himler had to say, “Are journalists discovering that PR people are expendable? Will the crowd ultimately displace the PR pro as the trusted primary (or even secondary) source for story ideas? What, if any, industries will be immune from this trend?”

Steve Rubel says something I agree with (which isn’t always the case), ”

So what then for PR? If this is a universal truth – and I am not sure that it is – does it make us obsolete? If we don’t adapt, yessir. PR Week Publishing Director Julia Hood and I recently discussed about this during our New Media Summit in Chicago. She said, and I agree, that pitching is broken.

We have to stop spamming people and make sure that companies and products are easy and a joy to discover. That’s no easy feat. Further, it means giving up control. However, in a Google age where self-discovery rules, it’s becoming a must.”

Then there’s an outstanding perspective by Mark Hopkins of Mashable where he says the future is where many good PR people have always viewed themselves, as connectors, as resources for reporters and for clients.

My take is that the career I have chosen (I majored in Communication with a PR emphasis) and worked in for 13 years now is changing. But that’s nothing new. It was changing when I started. Email was relatively new as a PR tool, and faxes were still widely used. Technology changed. PR people changed. PR tactics changed. So, we need to change (this is sounding suspiciously like the speech at the end of Rocky IV at this point). I prefer to think of a quote from the end of Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy livin’ or get busy diein’.” Sorry folks, I think PR is going to live.

I’m going to end with a quote from a blog in June 2006:

“One of the little secrets I’ve learned is that PR people play a much bigger role in life than geeks often give them credit for. They are major influencers who help shape what story gets written about you. If you write them off or treat them badly, they’ll get negative stories written about you.”

That quote is from the start of a post by Robert Scoble, who kicked off this whole kerfuffle.

PS – While writing this I received a note on Twitter from someone saying they had tried the product I recommended to them, and then passed on the word to friends on Plurk.  Guess there’s still a need for PR people. Phew!

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One thought on “Do companies still need people/agencies for PR?

  1. I have to say I agree with Hopkins’ view highlighted in your post, but not the entire article. There are a few nuances in there that I could live without.

    I agree that good PR people – not flacks, hacks or agents – have, are, and always will be those that help connect the dots, serve as a resource, and take pride in knowing what’s coming up ahead and being able to adapt to those changes so they do not become obsolete. Like the world, industries change and the elements within it must as well. Think of cars and the evolution of hybrids and other energy efficient vehicles. The need to eliminate the mass consumption of oil didn’t eliminate the need for cars. It fueled innovation from the industry on how to stay relevant, needed. Same could be said for PR – and newsflash for the bloggers that think PR is dead, we’re always finding new ways to stay relevant. Just like they found ways to stay relevant in the new media world, by becoming bloggers.

    The disturbance for me with this whole discussion (I refuse to use meme – so lame) is that the blogosphere has been pressing for some time that it will soon become the only real, valid voice of news. True, mainstream news media have incorporated citizen journalism into its coverage as a way of bringing together the voice of the people and the voice of the news, but my POV, I just don’t see blogging erasing traditional media or therefore, the role of PR professionals. PR won’t go away just because bloggers like to “pick and find” their own news stories. There’s always going to be a need for professionals to help companies position their products, educate the right audience members, help foster discussions (online and off), as well as a score of other things PR people do, beyond pitching the news.

    I do have to say that there is a huge misperception among bloggers that their word and channel of communication is the only way to reach a core audience. In a lot of cases, they aren’t. Look at some of the industries that don’t rely on blogs to generate awareness, sales, or customers. There’s a ton. Healthcare. Energy. Financial Services. Manufacturing. In a lot of cases they’re still trying to figure out how to create an online presence and if it’s even necessary to the customers they serve. Not the sexiest of PR, no. But at same time, another sector that employs scores of practitioners.

    We’re in a bubble in the valley. There are a lot, and I mean a lot, of marketing, PR and communications practitioners spread across the country that still don’t see a blog post as the golden PR score. Do I think they are a bit behind the times? Sure. Do I think they are complete voids because they don’t think endorsement from Arrington is the holy PR score? No.

    My two cents – and I manage to stay employed and current on the trends. Maybe someone else will find them useful.

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