Can PR firms survive in a world where public relations no longer controls messages or media?

Public relations firms have sold the illusion of control for far too long. In a world where social media and the Internet have made it obvious that the marketplace still owns the message and the brand, what is a PR firm to do?
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Rick Laney
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Nov. 8, 2012 - PRLog -- If you work with or for a public relations firm, chances are you have heard, “you must control the message and you must manage the media.” Most firms also want to sell you a detailed “crisis management” program and, if asked, will tell you that their media contact lists are “private, protected and proprietary.” The theme you see here is control … much of what PR practitioners claim to offer is control and management of information and others.

PR firms have effectively sold the illusion of control for far too long. “Control” is easy to sell because clients long for it as much as the PR firms do. Sadly for PR firms (and their clients), that plane left the gate a long time ago and they weren’t on it.  It’s not coming back for them and they had better figure out another way to get where they’re going or they will be forever left behind. Social media made much of what PR firms do irrelevant. Some have embraced the change and are quickly becoming very skilled at operating in a new world, but many are pitifully holding on to tired old practices. If your firm tells you they are a “traditional PR firm”, know that, in this case, “traditional” means “useless and outdated.”

Here’s why:

- You don’t “control” the message. You never did. The message has always belonged to the marketplace. Remember “New Coke”?  You can participate in the message – even shape it – but ultimately the message and the brand belong to the marketplace.

- You don’t “control the media”. You never did. Good journalists humor you because they know that every now and then you have info they want or need. That’s all. They don’t care about your “exclusivity” any longer because the first outlet to break a story typically has the “exclusive” for about 45 seconds. The world has changed – and media has changed dramatically.

- A crisis can’t be “managed” in the manner you try to manage them. Back in the day when a fire broke out and it took 20 minutes for a news team to arrive on site, it made sense to have your outdated plans for where to meet the media and who would talk to them. Today, everyone with a cell phone is a journalist – and their video of the fire will be on YouTube with hundreds of hits before your client even lets you know that there is a fire.

- Protecting your private media list is just silly. Any high school student with a computer and Internet connection can put together a media list in an hour or two that is likely as good as or better than the one you use (and is likely more accurate and up-to-date). Social media allows anyone with average intelligence to follow and interact with the media.

There’s a great column by David Schwartz ( on Steam Feed (, a marketing, social media and tech site.  In it, Schwartz outlines and details how social media has changed the world for PR practitioners. He gives solid examples of what has changed and what has not in the world of public relations. Schwartz says, “I remember the days when interns used to gather local and national papers to comb them for mentions of clients.” Sadly, I know of firms that still do this today and charge clients huge amounts of money for this complete waste of time and resources. Some things Schwartz writes about have started to change, but not all of them. Read David’s complete story here (

Public relations is still a viable and important part of any successful marketing program. It can have an impact, build relationships, provide an important service, and help companies and individuals succeed. It is also becoming much easier for the average small business owner (or large corporation) to do what PR firms have done in the past. If public relations firms wish to stay relevant and necessary, they need to embrace the new world they operate in and start spending less time on the illusion of “managing” and “controlling” and more time “engaging” and “participating.”

Tags:Public Relations, PR, Rick Laney, Social Media
Industry:Marketing, Business
Location:United States
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