My parents live and work in the Baltimore area. I get updates on the state of their newspaper, the Baltimore Sun, every so often. Frequently, they tell me that besides getting thinner top-to-bottom, the paper is actually getting smaller left-to-right! Yes, to reduce costs, they literally shrunk the size of their newsprint!
Anyone who follows the PR/marketing world knows that the mainstream media has shed outlets and staff at an alarming rate over the past few years. Two newspaper towns can only support one. TV stations are training reporters to be their own cameraperson. Radio stations increase the amount of pre-recorded or syndicated programming.
As PR pros, where does that leave us? With plummeting inventory and rising demand from clients. I can’t tell you how many times in the past two years an editor has cited budget cuts when declining a pitch. It’s frustrating for all parties, because we know that reporters and journalists want to cover all of the big stories going on hate when money gets in the way. Clients don’t like to hear that as an excuse…it does come off as a backhanded compliment: “We love your story, but our section is shrinking, so we won’t have space for it. Try back in six months when the budget rolls over.”
And for publicists caught in the middle, we can get some satisfaction from knowing that an uncontrollable force stood in our way, but how can we be happy when we didn’t get the job done?
A lot has changed over the past 20 years in the PR world. It has become critical that publicists become more than that. Public Relations, in it’s classic definition, may be on it’s way out, but it is leading to the rise of Communications Experts.
Public Relations is just one piece of the Communications Puzzle, so it is imperitive that PR pros know how to be, at the lease, conversant in the following areas:
- Marketing (Grassroots and otherwise)
- Advertising (basic design concepts, buying, placing)
- Event (managing and promoting)
- Graphic Design
- Web Design
- Social Media
Yes, it seems unfair that we need to be experts in nearly a dozen areas instead of just one. It’s probably easier for recent college grads, as programs evolve into more of an integrated marketing communications direction. Heck, I graduated college before Facebook was invented…that definitely leaves us older folks (27 and up!) at a disadvantage, trying to play catch-up to a generation who grew up in this world that we now work in.
The communications industry used to be “silo” based. You picked a specialty and that was what you did.
Agencies that have experts in multiple areas will be well-equipped to ride out the recession intact. But it goes beyond just the current economic crises: We all know clients don’t always understand the nuances between marketing and advertising. If you can do it all and they know you’ll take care of the entire puzzle for them, that makes you much more valuable.
Clients want results. Drafting and sending press releases and making some follow-ups aren’t results, their tools…important ones, but no different from street-teaming, setting up a Facebook fan page, adding new widgets to the website or buying a radio campaign.
In today’s communications world, you MUST work backwards. Hear what goals your client wants achieved and then figure out what you need to pull out out your arsenal to get it done.
So, yes, PR as a unique specialty may be dying, but the communications world will be stronger than ever.
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