Why I quit traditional PR

Posted in: Opinion- Sep 10, 2012 2 Comments

Late last year I was asked to give a lecture to a UTS (University of Technology, Sydney) Communications class about social media.  Thinking of these students embarking on their PR careers, I took pause to reflect on my near-two decades PR career so far.  It was a very interesting, albeit humbling, process.  (See the slides here)

It startled me to think that when I began in this trade nearly  18 years ago, the central tools of my craft were not a computer, or a mobile phone, or even email…the first was not available to mere junior executives such as I was then; and the latter two were not yet really available to anyone.  The key tools were the humble desk phone (landline), and a thing none of the class I spoke to recognized: a franking machine.

Back then, to get a message out, you needed to target a journalist.  To do so, you posted – posted, you know, in the post – them a press release.  The next day you would ring them up and “check they received it” (because it was possible they didn’t) and attempt to share more context in the hope that they’d run it.

That was it.  Without the co-operation of a journalist, your “news” remained nothing more than an ambition.  However, there were more pages then.  More pages and more journalists.  More pages, more journalists and more time to talk on the phone, chew the fat with executives and so on.  Less Internet you see.  No Internet in fact.

Times have changed. Since giving the UTS lecture I’ve gradually reached the conclusion that traditional media alone is no longer an effective channel for everyday corporate communications.  So, a couple of months ago I resigned my corporate communications job to focus on consulting in social communications (Artechulate #Social Communications).  Radical huh?

As if to validate my decision, that same day I quit, Fairfax newspapers melted down.

You see, for the purposes of corporate communications – product education, opinion sharing and product and service (micro) “news” – traditional media has been (I believe) dissintermediated.

Now of course for macro news, the traditional media machine can still carry a cracking yarn far and wide for you. But let’s be honest – for the most part, corporate communications is not news news!  Business Journalists today are fewer, time poor and pressured to file several times a day and deliver impressive traffic spikes to their publisher. They want to write about numbers the corporate world is no longer willing to share; about controversial opinions executives are no long willing to articulate and about mistakes, errors and back-flips modern PR is all about brushing under the carpet.

For the kind of stuff that PR is generally in the business of pushing out, there is an altogether more effective channel of communications that takes relevant information to the audience that wants it in a timely fashion at a very low cost.  That channel is social.

The power of social is in the personal recommendation of the information you are disseminating – that recommendation is the engine that drives the network.  For instance (speaking from recent personal experience), a blog post  announcing nothing more than a senior executive visit can get 237 shares across Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+! While 237 is not a huge number, each of those have their own following and the information comes with a personal recommendation to those for whom it is probably relevant.

Moreover, a relatively inocuous news story tweet about the renewal of a deal with Twitter – dropped on a conference hashtag (#cloudforce) during the keynote – can get retweeted by as many as 85 people. Again, 85 is not a massive number in and of itself, but if those 85 people include the calibre of a company CEO such as @benioff - who alone has more than 35,000 followers – they can have a very infleuncial role in amplifying the readability of the news.  By the time the first traditional media story hit the web a few hours later, anyone who wanted to know that news had probably already seen it:

So there’s a better way to get this kind of message out, a message that isn’t diluted or contorted by a traditional media filter.  I want to help organisations and individuals build a social network, engage their audience socially and create their own social media. This is how that class of imminent PR professionals will do it.  That’s the future…I think.

2 Responses to “Why I quit traditional PR”

  1. Steve Hodgkinson says:

    Go you Gareth! My sense is, however, that the biggest challenge is that social media itself is just becoming spam … the noise to signal ratio in twitter is just too high for me to bother paying attention. This just makes me ‘old school’ I guess, but I suspect that many folks have this view so the challenge is to work out ways to tune-in to the right message streams etc. … which I know can be done if you know how/invest the time to learn/have the right tools etc.

    There must be big opportunities in helping people and organisations understand how to use social media effectively at both a personal and a professional level … so good luck with tapping into this wave of social innovation.

    • artechulate says:

      Thank you Steve – and congrats on being the first Artechulate commenter! You make a very pertinent point. My favourite slogan here is “there is no such thing as information overload, only filter failure” and indeed there are strategies and techniques to ensure you to get only the relevant information you need and can separate the wheat from the chaff. Of course I’d be happy to talk to you about them at length;-) Thanks for the good wishes, much appreciated!:)