Glass half-full..? Half-empty..?
I read that today is supposed to be the most depressing day of the year. I’m generally an optimistic type though. Always look on the bright side…thing’s will turn out alright…everything happens for a reason…positive thinking…blah, blah, blah.
Having said that, when I think about the PR industry in 2007, I get a bit gloomy.
You see, last year we all got excited about this new world of social media and how it could be the chance for PR to step right to the forefront of communications; how it played to our strengths; how we were soon to topple those pesky flash Harry advertising types from their self-built pedestal. But it didn’t really happen, did it?
So here we are looking forward to another dull year of slogging away trying to generate same old same old press coverage in an ever-decreasing pool of traditional media and not really having a clue about how to interact with the new stuff.
This new world of blogging hasn’t really worked out as we’d have liked, has it? I mean, how many of you are being paid decent money by clients for advising them on their own blogging? Or helping to create content? OK, so you’ll be keeping an eye on the blogs that matter (if you can find them) to make sure you client’s not being slated, but that’s just a monitoring service.
Blogs should be our bag. We’d all love to be involved in clear, open, honest, transparent communication about the truly decent things that clients get up to. But therein lies the problem. Clients. They still want to have control over the message; total transparency isn’t really their thing, is it? And as we bang on about how anything but transparency doesn’t work in the blogosphere, the more they think, “well I’m not touching that with a bargepole, that wouldn’t work for us at all…” And even when they do decide to do it, they still want to retain control and you end up with an Edelman/Wal-Mart fiasco.
Here’s another problem that blogging has presented us with. Time was that you could make a bit of cash – even a few grand a month – pushing out rubbish press releases full of guff and spin just because the client wanted you too. The very worst that would happen is that they wouldn’t generate any coverage and you’d just have to roll out an excuse to the client…”got bumped by a bigger story”…”it was written by got edited out by a sub”…”needed a customer angle”…”feature got pulled”…or some other bull. Nowadays, if you try and shove something weak or inaccurate out there, it’s likely to get jumped all over by the blogosphere and torn apart…your reputation with it. The Porter Novelli/SpinVox thing being a little example of what can happen. There’s no hiding place.
In many ways, this should help. Agencies need to push back on their clients if the story just isn’t any good. It should raise the game. Thing is, a company that didn’t have any decent news before can’t just come up with some because you’ve given them a kick up the backside; they’re more likely to decide not to do it at all and stick their money into something they can control, like direct mail, or advertising.
One of the traditionally tricky things when selling PR to a client is the lack of guaranteed results, and the lack of control over those results. Hacks will interpret the story and put their own angle on it. But that’s PR’s power too…the third-party endorsement. You just need to convince the client that the risk/reward equation is worth it. With blogging, the balance gets skewed again. For many clients, it’s just too risky. But as blogs become more influential within key audiences, “traditional media” becomes less so, and clients start questioning the money they’re paying to get covered by it. Which is your PR budget.
This time last year many people felt that social media might be the thing to not only save PR, but to send it into the stratosphere. But maybe in 2007 we’ll be scrabbling around trying to hang on to the little we’ve already got?
As some bean-counter once said when asked if he was a glass half-empty or glass half-full type of man: “I’d get used to a smaller glass.”
Just make sure it's got enough Scotch in it.