Is the PR Industry Ready for Innovation?
I spent almost thirty years in the public relations industry building my own firm, Beckerman PR. Our niche was real estate. A national practice with multiple offices and some very talented professionals. Along the way, I brought in a partner and we expanded into other verticals… most notably, clean energy. Just recently, I sold my stake in the firm knowing that it's in great hands with terrific leadership.
While I really enjoyed the people and clients I worked with, I had grown disillusioned with the industry overall. I was doing essentially the same things in 2015 that I was in 1995. Sure, I could have innovated more myself but it was an uphill battle to try and get others in the sector to embrace change. I knew that unless the industry reinvented itself, it was going to be profoundly disrupted buy those on the outside.
And for the most part, that has happened. Media has been decimated and as a result the role of the media relations expert is less important than ever. Social media is how people are discovering content and sharing themselves and PR firms aren't always the best solution for that speciality. There has been a new type of firm born out of this trend... the digital first agency, which is leading the innovation. And in the age of Twitter and short sound bites in real time, it’s hard to find anyone who runs or uses press releases anymore. And press releases used to be the exclusive domain of PR firms. But that role seems not to matter so much anymore.
In my case, I left my firm to reinvent in the tech sector, building a digital news platform that aggregated and distributed relevant content in the real estate sector. And along the way, I grew a fairly robust business in the content marketing niche for companies that wanted to create their own content for our our platform, as well as on their social channels. To me, it's part of the biggest trend I have seen in a long time in which "brands are becoming media". Brands are creating their own content and positioning themselves as thought leaders, often times completely bypassing the media.
And just when I thought technology wasn't coming to the PR industry, this story in TechCrunch really caught my attention. Two entrepreneurs building a site to match content with journalists using sophisticated algorithms. Wow, now that's really smart and innovative. I think these guys are onto something. They are using technology to help brands get their message out in a highly targeted, efficient manner. Again, bypassing the need for a traditional PR firm and perhaps reinventing the sector along the way.
Don't get me wrong, I am NOT a PR hater. My decision to get out of the sector was born out of my own desire to innovate myself more than anything else. I had become staid, uninspired and bored... the worst possible traits for an entrepreneur.
If I were running a PR firm today, I can think of many things I would be doing to reinvent my practice. I would be thinking about using technology as a point of differentiation. I would be building my own tools. I would be embracing the new platforms. I would be taking a hard look at my fee structure and not charging for time (old school) but for analytics and insights. Placements should become secondary and analytics and actionable data should be primary.
Technology is changing so many industries so fast that it's critical for professionals to get in front of these trends before they get blindside. In my world view, unless you are innovating, your are dying. Just look at what's happening in the retail sector as a case in point.
I sincerely hope my friends in the PR space are listening. And innovating.