All PR agencies fail! At least that's the message Neil St. Claire attempts to convey in his Forbes anti-PR agency piece. Forbes has long been known as the publication that likes to play it rough with conventions; they like op-eds that rock the boat, and get people talking. I recall Dan Lyon's 2005 post "Attack of the blogs," where Dan tore into bloggers, and his post eventually encouraged Dan Lyon's to start blogging and create the funny Fake Steve Jobs blog.
Given the Forbes history and probably encouragement by the editors there, Neil St. Claire’s post maybe slightly hype, but he does suggests that small companies don't need PR agencies, and that only large companies with a problem, such as BP need agencies. His central point is that "external, paid-for PR doesn’t have that RoI–for most companies."
In-House PR Rocks!
He made the point that it’s better to keep PR in-house because no one knows your story better than your own people. I agree it is a good idea to own your story, who could argue with that. That doesn't mean hiring PR agencies isn't a good idea though.
PR Bumps Turn Into Downturns: Aim For Conversions
Neil stated that getting a publicity bump that doesn't produce results isn't really valuable. Another great point, he is right. I think any PR professional especially in agencies spends a lot of time educating clients on why it’s important to have real news. That doesn't mean you cannot work to make news where it doesn't exist, but that's part of the process of building great products and signing on new great customers. Here’s where agency people can help educate clients on how to create experiences that create news. Plus, tells a great story of making your splash at the right time, or risk being ignored by every other news outlet, Neil's point about media awareness is a good one, don't publicize your company just for the sake for publicity, but have a purpose, make the connection between news and conversions.
PR People Survive On Their Relationships
Neil suggests that the principal role of PR people is to have existing relationships, and to use those relationships to get publicity. I think that fails to recognize one issue, if you don't have news, it's tough to create publicity. You have to create someone of value. While it’s helpful for PR professionals to have existing relationships, I don't really think it’s important for a PR agency to have any relationships. Rather what they need to do is keep their eye on understanding what it is that a company has that's valuable in terms of news and a story to tell. And help companies to make that story, and build the right connections to get your story told. People inside the company can certainly do that, but if you are new to running a business, and your chops are in technology rather than marketing or communications, then it’s perfectly acceptable to hire an outside company to help with this process.
Good PR Advice
I thought Neil gave some very good advice about how to build an effective PR effort. I just disagree that companies cannot benefit from working with outside agencies, mainly, because the agencies will get you jump started. Yes, you can make all of the PR efforts yourself, and if you choose to do so, that's great. But I don't think that diminishes the value of working with an agency that can help support the effort.
PR Cognitive Dissonance
Neil at one point suggested that media coverage wasn't going to build your business. Here's where I see some dissonance between Neil's advice and his suggestion that PR doesn't work. I've always thought that PR builds brands and advertising maintains them. I think Neil's earlier point that you have to have news makes sense, so work on crating stories that create news, and help get more conversions. I remember my Value Added Reseller days in the early 1990's when I used to read all of the VAR magazines, and keep up with technology, we'd watch for what was the latest successful product other VAR's were selling and promoting, and consider those products. While if a vendor was calling, and we hadn't heard of them before we'd be skeptical about using them until they had some working clients, or were willing to bring us a client to use their technology. I definitely think publicity influenced decisions in the VAR community.
Brian Halligan & Is PR Dead
Neil's post reminded me of another post by Brian Halligan from HubSpot six years ago, where Brian asked "Is PR Dead?" because he thought the media industry was changing, and that PR agencies have to change too. He also wrote about his experiences in using PR agencies at HubSpot for the first six months. Check out the comments section, where I’d made a private call to him, and he answered my critique to him in his post’s comments.
PR Agencies Don’t Fail
Overall, I think we should all consider the nature of Forbes and their drive for publicity in the industry, when they encourage these types of posts. However, I also think Neil had some good advice for companies, and his post reminded me of Brian Halligan’s post from six years ago. Both writers had some good points to make about the changing nature of the web, and how to reach people. I think Brian had more notes on that topic, despite writing his post six years ago. As for Neil’s critique of PR agencies, I think a lot of his critique was a little outdated misconceptions of what good PR professionals do today. I especially disagree with his point about PR agencies not being able to make content. PR people really understand brands, stories and building relationships with influencers.
As an early pioneer in the business blogging community I found a home in the PR blogging community, despite being a marketer. However, marketers, except for product marketers were not really writing about blogging when it first appeared on the scene, while PR people were. They, along with HR people, SEO’s and developers were some of the principal industries who go involved with a passion. And it makes sense PR people would embrace social media and content marketing early, they understand the value of stories, and the importance of building relationships with influencers in ways that many traditional marketers caught up in a world of marketing budgets and advertising did not.
Today any agency, be they PR people, SEO’s for digital marketers has to think about education as part of their services to company, in-fact I’ve argued before that agencies can succeed by helping companies to build out their own expertise in an area, and get revenue from the strategic advice and the support as a company grows their internal team. Today the same is true for digital transformation as we all try to navigate the new realities of customer experience in new paths for a buyer’s journey.