The Next 50 Years of Public Relations

The next 50 years of Public Relations

When people talk about the “Death of Public Relations,” it doesn’t bother me at all.  I know what they are talking about.  They are talking about the death of MEDIA RELATIONS.

That’s what PR’s been all about for the past 50-odd years.  After all, during that era, the only way to reach the masses in a reliable way was through mass media.

Now that that’s changing, our approach can change.  PUBLIC RELATIONS can fulfill its mandate to improve RELATIONS with the PUBLIC.

Media Relations will still have a role.  PR will not be subsumed by Customer Service.  PR has a role as an overlay; a facilitator; we serve as both a counselor and tactician  across these areas.

The next 50 years will be better than the last 50 years.

Posted on: June 2, 2009 at 10:17 am By Todd Defren
117 Responses to “The Next 50 Years of Public Relations”


  • Amy linert says:

    I love this post! and I love it even more that I stumbled across it. Someone recently said to me that “PR was dead” and it nearly sent me into panic attack that someone could believe that, let alone voice it. I gave reasons, arguments and data that showed how PR was not dead, but was evolving into real-time relationships with the brand audience. What I failed to do was make my comments as concise as this graphic. Thank you.

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  • Lynda Buwalda says:

    As a PR student, I am entering this field because I see the potential and growth that it has. It’s exciting to think about where public relations will go, and I also don’t believe it is “dead”. There will always be a need for great communicators, people to “Improve relations with the public” as you stated. The changing times only means that practitioners need to adjust their thinking, strategize differently, and find new innovative solutions with PR programs that fit into a shifting, web 2.0 society. The times are changing and the way we communicate is changing, PR practitioners just need to stay aware and change with change itself. Like you, I have great excitement for the next 50 years of PR, and am looking forward to beginning my career at such an important time for communicators.

  • Jessica Goldberg says:

    As someone who is just entering the PR world it is interesting to be a part of this transition. It seems as though it is not so much the death of media relations or public relations, but the reinvention of communication. Although there is less control over the way information is received there is now an opportunity for dialog between channels. As with blogging, there is a conversation rather than a one-sided stream of information. People are more receptive if they can participate in this dialog and it becomes less about advertising and more about working with audiences to understand what they are looking for. I look forward to seeing where the world of social media will take us.

  • 40deuce says:

    I totally agree that everything’s changing, and although I’m still a PR student learning a lot of the old stuff, I also feel really happy to be on the beginning of this new future.
    I like where it’s going.

  • Rick Hardy says:

    Good graphic! I don’t think we know how this will all end up. It’s all being scrambled. Social and traditional media will morph. It looks like new media will continue to empower consumers and bypass large media companies. But I wouldn’t count out the power structure in this world to figure it out and try to put the egg back in the shell.

  • This is good news considering my career choice ;) .

  • I respect and share many of your opinions, Todd, but have to confess I’ve never seen such a short-sighted and simplistic explanation of media relations and its future in the era of social media.

    Either you’ve boiled the message down to the point where there’s just no there, there … or you’re just drunk way too much of the kool-aid!

    That’s ok, though. Reality is a great purgative …

  • Sarah Evans says:

    Thanks for this reminder. It’s helpful to pull posts like this together as resources for industry folks–especially newbies.

  • Leslie Hawk says:

    I am not sure I agree totally with you. I agree that the last 50 years have been about media relations and that even today, most employers still think that is all that PR can do. I have been saying this for years. PR is so much more. But let’s not tie it exclusively to social media – although that is a crucial tool in the toolbox. PR is all about relationships and so any tool that gets you where you need to go – such as social media, experiental media, grassroots, media relations, crisis communication etc – need to be considered. We need to do a better job of educating our employers and companies to the value that PR brings correcting the old adage that if you just get a story in the paper you have done your job.

  • Tom Foremski says:

    Todd, Is that it? No more “insight” than that? Wow! Several people have been talking about putting the “public” back into public relations. I said it when I was over at Shift more than a year ago talking with your teams. You were there! I expected a bit more from you than this. Tell us something we don’t know.

    • TDefren says:

      Tom, it’s a cardinal rule of PR: “Tell ‘em the message. Then, tell ‘em again. Then do make sure that you tell ‘em.”

      This is certainly not my first post on this topic, fer shure.

      This blog is not just about what *I* know, it’s about what the readers need to know (including those *new* ones who don’t care to read through every past post of the past 5 years!) ;)

  • Ryan Miller says:

    Great quick read, Todd.

    I agree with your statement the media relations is the part that’s dying. But coming from a small agency (@romanelli) – its also a welcome change to do public relations with the public.

    I wonder, however- if this transition is a tougher sell to clients. Do you think that they view this new public relations as strictly customer service (which they may want to handle in house)? Or do you think that as more and more emphasis is placed on social, that its their agency’s job to educate and facilitate the way they interact with customers in this space?

    Another great post. Thanks much!


    • TDefren says:

      To your point, Ryan, I really doubt clients will ever view Social Media and PR and Customer Service as “one in the same,” they will, as you said, see it as PART of their agency’s job to educate and facilitate the way they interact with customers (and media).

  • Media relations will never be the same. There is no longer a need for intermediaries between you (the source) and the media. There will still be a need for sound counsel on how to not look like a dumbass when talking to reporters, but that’s another topic.

    By traditional definitions, the media is but one public (audience) you need a strategy for. Whether you use media relations professionals or not to execute is your call.

    As audiences become more fragmented, there will continue to be a need for public relations across all its emerging and remaining disciplines.

  • Emerging will be the role of blogger relations and then it will fall back to media relations. My only fear for all the social media as replacement for traditional media relations is that the Facebook and Twitter manager today will become tomorrow’s “web admin”. Lots of media technology has been created, but the basics remain the same. The basics — writing, research, story timeliness and relevance — will continue to guide the industry.

    If PR hasn’t always supported the business through sales and CS, then it was bad PR. We are true consultants to the business–happy that was included in your post.


  • April says:

    In my experience, building customer relationships has been the domain of product marketing (and sometimes product management), not PR. It’s the product marketers that have been running Advisory Councils and User Groups because they have the product knowledge that customers are looking for and the ability to take the feedback they get and bring it to development to act on.

    I don’t believe PR will be subsumed by Customer Service but if PR is going to expand into building/managing relationships with customers (and I like the idea of that) they will need to make sure they bring more than just messages to the table.


    • TDefren says:

      Hi April – Those advisory councils, etc., will continue to play a big role, particularly in enterprise b2b settings. I am talking more about b2c examples, I think, i.e., where there are potentially THOUSANDS of prospects/customers to deal with…

  • Todd,
    First, it’s a bit of a pet peeve when people generalize PR as media relations. I know what people mean when they talk PR, but it diminishes the many other valuable roles and activities in the PR umbrella.

    Anyway, rather than killing PR as many say social media will, social media actually opens many new doors to so many more opportunites for solid PR professionals and firms. Because social media is so cross functional, I’ve always believed that PR and media relations pros — if they’re any good — are best at naturally being equipped to spearhead social media efforts.


    • TDefren says:

      It’s been a pet peeve of mine, too, Mike. Made worse when PR is made into an even smaller lump, i.e., the Press Release.

      Agree with you on all points, as usual.

  • Hi Todd,
    I like the distinction between the death of PR and media relations and think you are spot on. Not sure that we have a clear mandate in PR – when was that announced? Actually when the term was coined, PR wasn’t really about relationships, it followed the propaganda model. I don’t believe the PR industry has done a very good job of articulating our going-forward role. Is it relationships, advocacy, influence? Are we navigators, enablers, facilitators? I certainly hope it is not customer service! Sounds reactive and very break/fix oriented. We can do better than that. -Don B @donbart

    • TDefren says:

      It is relationships, advocacy, influence and we are navigators, enablers, facilitators. In other words, all of the above.

      Our role in Customer Service, simply put, is to monitor (and advise) re: public conversations about the brand that don’t make it to the Corporate Client’s call center. It’s going to be PART of the role, not the final destination.

  • Amen, Todd. I’m attending this year’s Spring Conference of the Counselors Academy of PRSA and traditional media relations has barely been mentioned. For years, public relations has been shifting away from the “we’re all about the hits” mentality (thankfully), and the social media gold rush is separating the wheat from the chaffe in the industry. Properly practicing, public relations is about outcomes, not outputs, and about helping to influence — not control — the conversation.

    Roger Friedensen, APR
    The Catevo Group

  • Great post Todd…and right on the money. With things opened up to the public, and direct interactions increasing, the chart hits it dead-on. This is great for both companies and consumers. The blockade is gone…and now companies need to be held responsible to their public, and companies can now listen to customers real-time.

    Thanks as always for your thought leadership.

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