The Evolution (and Dissolution) of PR

As we've discussed recently on this blog, PR remains in the hot seat. The latest example of the evils of PR (or at least, the press release) comes from the fake press release issued about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's supposed reversal on climate change.

Instead of coming to the defense of PR, many practitioners are deliberately distancing them from it. Take this example:

I'm a big fan of with Leo Laporte, and episode 217 featured David Spark as a guest. David runs Spark Media Solutions, which builds "corporate identities through storytelling." The conversation on the podcast turned to media bias, the new disclosure rules, and whether it's possible to be truly unbiased. Unintentionally, Leo and John set up David to talk about his business model (italics are mine):

Leo Laporte Trade media is the most important one.

Jim Louderback Exactly because you are closest to the subject that you cover.

Leo Laporte Right, it’s the beltway problem. If you cover the Washington political scene, and Baratunde, you weigh in on this one…

John C. Dvorak I would rather [read] someone who knows something about Intel who’s an engineer and even a guy who works at Intel [rather than] some neutral observer who doesn’t actually know anything, but they can maybe ask the right questions if they are lucky. The fact of the matter is in the 21st century [reporters] don’t know what questions to ask and they never will.

Leo Laporte Well, you are right.

David Spark By the way this is the model for my business, John. Thank you for setting me up. I appreciate it.

Baratunde Thurston Just $19.95 a month…

David Spark I help companies tell their own story because the companies need to tell their own story. If you ... go through a PR agent, you tell a journalist, then they sell it – you are like selling cocaine cut three times.

Leo Laporte No it’s true.

David Spark You should sell uncut cocaine.

Leo Laporte We all know that anytime you read a ... general press report about a subject you know about, whether it’s poker or Pokemon, you know they get it wrong. They never get it right. If it’s a deep subject they never get it right. So that’s a good point, but I am with you Jim, somebody has to stand above the fray and be editorially pure. Not everybody…

On at least a couple occasions during the podcast, David denied being a PR person -- mostly because Leo refuses to invite PR people onto the show (almost, but not quite, as ridiculous as not allowing PR people to update Wikipedia -- but don't get me started on that), but also because he's trying to distance himself from an industry that can't seem to get things right.

So let's take a look at what David does: according to his own site, he "helps companies build industry voice through social media and storytelling."

Maybe he doesn't issue press releases and call reporters directly, but what he does sure sounds like PR to me. And guess what, it's a damn good model for where PR needs to evolve to.

Chuck and I still talk a lot about PR, but what we're doing for companies is a lot like what David's doing. And it's a lot like what other good PR and communications firms are doing for their clients.

Is PR dying? No, but it's evolving, and you'd better keep up with the evolution.

Related Posts with Thumbnails

8 comments to The Evolution (and Dissolution) of PR

  • Hasn’t PR always been about story telling? The tools we use to broadcast the story have changed, somewhat anyway, because we still rely on traditional media to tell big stories, but PR has always been about creating a good story.

    The real question is: why does David want to distance himself from PR? How did our industry get to a place where we are as loathed as used car salesmen and politicians?

    Your partner Chuck T. has said that PR has an image problem. Faced with that negative image, PR pros watching social media transform how business is done are trying to spin a yard that they don’t do public relations. Maybe they are right. Maybe part of the evolution of PR is that we call it something other than PR. Perhaps David is right. He is not a PR person. But what does that make us?

  • Good post, Todd. David is a great guy and knows his stuff. He genuinely doesn’t believe he’s doing PR – but I agree with you. David is a PR guy, but not a traditional one.

  • Funny you caught that dialogue.

    Let me explain my theory as to why I don’t see myself as a PR person.

    1. I’ve never actually performed a single function that a PR person officially is supposed to do. I don’t write press releases. I don’t represent companies for the press. I don’t “get them placement” in places.

    2. I DO though WORK with PR firms. In a nutshell, what I do is custom publishing. My feeling is every organization should be its own media network. By creating your own media, and not relying on traditional press or bloggers to tell the story for you, then you get your own tale out there. I’m not against PR, it’s just not what I do. I get companies to publish and tell their own story. Read this article I wrote that goes into much greater length of what I was saying on TWiT. “Why Corporate Blogging is Like Selling Uncut Cocaine”

    My feeling is once you’re telling your own story, then there’s a source for you to go back to. If you haven’t already seen the story about the “TSA Agent Took My Son” you should read it. “A great quick appropriate response to blogger outrage”

    And George, thanks for the props!

  • David, thanks for chiming in here. I really enjoyed your contributions to the show and really like how you’ve positioned your business. PR has an image problem, partly because PR as it’s traditionally conceived is about marketing communications. If you take “public relations” at a strictly semantic level, however, it’s NOT just about marketing communications. It’s about connecting a company with all of its publics, across all possible touchpoints — not just traditional communications channels (PR, investor relations, analyst relations, media relations, even blogger relations), but also customer support, HR, etc.

    Storytelling as a concept perhaps focuses a lot on marketing, but GOOD storytelling is something that’s picked up and embraced across the organization.

    I think you’ve caught PR in a bit of a transition, where a LOT of what we’re “supposed to do” is being turned on its head. Writing press releases simply isn’t as important as it used to be. Representing companies is being distributed across the organization, outside of the marketing function. And placement comes, more and more, from corners you don’t expect — from “non-traditional” media sources like blogs, etc.

    I think you’ll find more and more PR companies positioning themselves as storytellers and, more appropriately, storytelling enablers — because the story is much more convincing if it comes from the company itself.

    I think your point about the dilution is well made and well taken. We all want to get it from the source, not thirdhand. And I say that as a PR person. The days of seeing PR people in front of the cameras are quickly disappearing — we’re much more likely to be behind the camera…

  • Hi David,

    Todd and I completely agree about storytelling, it’s what makes people interested in a brand, in a company or even in an individual.

    Yes, PR has gotten off track in recent years and focused only on the media and analyst relations component, but that doesn’t mean the entire enterprise is useless.

    Good PR people are about crafting and telling stories, they help guide their clients (or, if they’re internal, their corporations) into the greater marketplace by saying things that resonate with audiences.

    Each person within an organization speaks in a different language, some talk about numbers, some talk about closing deals, some focus just on the technology. Someone must translate all that into stories that matter to the people doing the buying.

    That said, don’t dismiss the need for some kind of influencer relations. Just because you have a good story doesn’t mean it’s going to be “found” by the right people. Often it takes an expert to help you figure out the path to their door.

    Our hope is that PR can get back to this balanced appraoch, to not only crafting stories, but helping people get them out through all channels.

  • Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by ItsFreshGround: Great post from @vanhoosear on the Fresh Ground blog abt the evolution of PR. We’re storytellers, not release writers:

  • Chuck, Todd:

    Let me reiterate that I am not against PR people at all. I think many of them do a bang up and a fantastic job. And I think it’s a much needed service. The bottom line is I don’t actually provide any of the traditional services a PR company does. I create content and help companies with social media efforts.

    But not to derail the conversation, I think you might be interested in this little experience I had. It sadly speaks poorly of PR, but this came from a very well known person in the social media space.

    Hey PR, bloggers are not tools to be used
    My appearance on John C. Dvorak’s Cranky Geeks. Right at the beginning, John and I go at it talking about this story.
    UPDATE: Bad PR experience story. PR firm’s client is obtuse.

  • Hi David,

    I feel your pain, I really do. I once got a blast pitch from my own agency while I was sitting down the hall from the poor AAE who had been ordered to send the pitch by his supervisor. The supervisor’s response? “The client made me do it.”

    People keep looking for a magic bullet on the pitching front. They ask blanket questions like “how do I pitch bloggers” or “how do I pitch on Twitter.”

    The truth is, there is no consistent answer, it’s different for each person. If you’re a good media relations person you know this because the same holds true for each reporter. But the economics of large agencies make that impossible.

    Clients come in wanting “hits” because that’s what they’ve been sold. Impactful single “hits” are harder to come by than in the past because the audience is now scattered. So the solution from the PR perspective is to blast more people with the hope of getting more “hits.”

    But that has diminishing returns. The true answer is to fundamentally change the way you approach PR. Influencer relations is still important, but it’s not about creating pitches and sending them, it’s about creating content and using that as part of your outreach. It’s combining what you do (storytelling) with what traditional PR does (media and analyst relations).

    Which is what we do.