PR is Dead: Was I Supposed to Care?

IStock_000010260683XSmallWhile I was not able to attend the Inbound Marketing Summit this year, I soon heard about Hubspot CEO Brian Halligan’s indictment of the PR industry.  Perhaps sensing a need to elaborate on his main points, Brian wrote a follow-up post today that despite its provocative title is thoughtful and largely spot-on.  Please go have a look.  Then come back, cuz this post is a response to Brian’s thoughts on how the PR industry needs to evolve.

“Bad PR” (spam) is dying.  Thank god.  Most good firms are fast evolving towards the services Brian mentions, e.g., Social Media training, monitoring and idea-spreading … Marketing Strategy … SEO, and so on.  There’s little in Brian’s post that will come as a shock to any progressive PR agency.

Meanwhile, knowing Brian as a I do, I was not all that surprised to find him basically ignoring the importance of the mainstream media.  He is, in my opinion, far too quick to discount the role of mainstream media relations (as discussed in-depth in an earlier post: Mainstream Media Relations: More Important Than Ever).  Brian is a very savvy, cutting-edge kind of guy who is laser-focused on online lead generation.  There is a softer side to that science that he’s simply uninterested in — but that doesn’t make it irrelevant.

There is also simply so much that goes on behind-the-scenes at all good PR agencies that is most definitely of-value yet never seen in the outside world.  While I applaud Brian’s focus on expanding the size of the funnel (lead dev), there are more nuanced activities that go on:  positioning, messaging, crisis communications, relationship-building, training, etc.  Such activities minght only offer a tangential or indirect impact on lead development, but, they are still critically important to companies of all sizes.

In any event I am tired of “PR is dead” memes.  It’s played out.  Linkbait.

At SHIFT we are too busy working with our faces forward into the wind to sweat about the waning days of Old-School Thinking.  The fate of the PR industry does not define me, my agency, nor our fate.

Disclosure: Hubspot was a SHIFT client.  We were delighted to help launch the company and still maintain a warm & respectful relationship with all of their principals. (Hi guys!)

Posted on: October 8, 2009 at 12:28 pm By Todd Defren
56 Responses to “PR is Dead: Was I Supposed to Care?”


  • I think you already have social bookmarking in your blog see the footer. But that is from some other website. I assume you want to make it direct? There are various methods to do that but none of them are sio simple so you need do some hard work. Try this post it might help

  • tino says:

    No matter what avenue you pursue the most important thing is to be relevant and newsworthy. PR is a great way to get your information to the people that you want.

  • Interesting, I really like this post. Thanks for your point of view.

  • Todd–I have often heard that traditional organizations historically fail to survive major technological or social tsunamis, which seems to imply that current PR and marketing firms may will be replaced with newer organizations. What might those firms look like?

  • PR is not dead, it’s just changing. In order for an agency/freelancer/PR junkie to stay relevant, we must keep changing with the times. It’s called “Old School Thinking” for a reason.

    We may not be able to see results that translate from PR activities to dollar signs, but we need to realize that PR is not irrelevant. There is still a place for it in business.

    Tessa Carroll
    VBP OutSourcing

  • nick vehr says:

    Thanks to Todd and Brian. Their exchange (actually Todd’s post in response to Brian’s) reflects perfectly the evolution we a re all living through.

    As the owner of a PR firm and lifetime practitioner, I wish we could all host an event to announcement the retirement of the phrase “public relations” and “PR”. I’ll pay for the gold watch! Those terms are too easily miscast as “media relations” and little more. The accurate term is “strategic communications” and we are all counselors and advisers to our clients on matters of strategy.

    To Todd, I believe “traditional” media relations (if there even still is such a thing) will always be a part of an integrated strategic comms. program. But, it is becoming a smaller and smaller part.

    To Brian, “PR” never will die as long as we acknowledge it for what it is. Indeed, one can argue that traditional PR practitioners who sense and realize the influence of technology on how people shape and maintain business relationships will “win” in the game now underway between “PR,” “marketing” and “branding” firms.

    The real news is not that one or the other of those is dying, but that they are morphing before our eyes. Let’s just get on with the morphing.

  • Mike Kilroy says:

    I think Brian’s post is also very traditional marketing ‘target’ heavy. I didn’t see a lot about monitoring the company’s audiences online, interacting with them, asking them for input even before the conception of the product, inspiring their support and content, focusing on “shareability,” etc.

    I also think that as long as “traditional media” exists, even in splintered form, a lot of traditional PR will still be needed. In fact, there may be a symbiotic relationship to form that PR firms can provide audience to the trad media. Everybody’s watching their click rates in journalism these days.

  • +1 for @Marc. The relationship is the key. Spray and pray pitches will go on, but so does every other form of spam.

    With media fragmenting, the big question is how do you keep it personal, human, warm blooded, emotional etc when you’re engaging with 100-200 micro-influencers?

    All I can suggest is finding tools that make things as efficient as possible without sacrificing the human-ess of the enterprise.

  • Matt says:

    And this is why you are my favorite blogger, Todd. PR is not dead and to think that communications does not occur outside the internet is pretty foolish.

    thank todd!

  • Of course PR is NOT dead, but truly to stay ahead of the game there are many PR traditions that do need to go away. All of these tools have made companies, entrepreneurs, and anyone else much more directly accessible and much more “on the record” on their own without PR messaging. I think it’s incredibly valuable for everyone to learn that gatekeeping is no longer the answer and that the same old PR blather is not also the answer.


  • David Spinks says:

    The legitimacy of “mainstream is dead” arguments really don’t have much to stand on.

    Mainstream media is changing, true. The tools, platforms and methods for producing content are changing. The value and “importance” of mainstream media is as strong as it’s ever been. This is proven by the fact that businesses continue to pitch stories to mainstream publications, and mainstream publications still pump out reputable content that drives traffic.

    While the mentality of looking forward into the wind is a great one, it’s still important to understand the past, and how it developed to the current and future situation (as I’m sure you understand very well).

    The people that continue to claim that PR is dead are getting too caught up in the tools and methodology, and have lost sight of the core concept.

    I think the PR industry is as strong as ever, and is heading in the right direction…regardless of what you call it.


  • Ryan Barton says:

    PR is dead. Social media is dead. Jeff Goldblum is dead. Blah…

    PR isn’t dead. It’s evolving. And just because it’s changing, doesn’t mean it’s dying. It’s growing. It’s learning. It’s becoming personal, grassroots, interactive.

    It’s not a fax on a sheet of paper.

  • amymengel says:

    What has been interesting about a lot of the “death of PR” chatter at IMS is that a lot of the social media success has been described in terms of MSM hits. “We did this cool video and it went viral and the guy was on the Today Show” or “Our blog post was picked up by the Wall Street Journal.” In a lot of cases, mainstream coverage is what drives the surge in interest in the content organizations are creating (and not necessarily the other way around).

    Just because we can’t draw a hard line directly from PR to sales/lead gen. doesn’t mean that a lot of PR activities aren’t influencing people’s impressions or preferences for companies (which often eventually leads to sales). Thanks for pointing this out and continuing to beat the drum.

    • Amy – I disagree with part of your assessment that MSM coverage is what drives traffic and views to an organizations created online content. think that may be true for some brands, but for others – both quite large and also small companies/organizations – their online content is either garnering far more early public awareness/attention/buzz (sorry for that cliched term) [in the case of big brands], or is used to seed MSM coverage (in the case of smaller brands). In my previous job at a mid-level college athletics department, we consistently created online content – video, audio, blogs, etc. – and then seeded that content with members of the mainstream media to garner additional media coverage for either a student-athlete, team or the university’s athletics department.

      I think the point of the original Hubspot post holds a lot of truth: Online content created by an organization that is well done, concise and has the proper SEO behind it, can actually create additional MSM media opportunities that wouldn’t necessarily exist before.


      • amymengel says:

        Keith – I agree with you completely that organizations can create content that drives awareness and buzz and then leads to MSM coverage, or seed that coverage. But often the MSM coverage becomes a tipping point. I read the Bike Snob NYC blog, for example. It was a popular blog with a bit of a cult following, but then during the Tour de France this summer the NY Times did a feature piece on him. His traffic and subscriber numbers surged. Sure, the original content was good, but some exposure from an outlet like the NY Times had a huge impact.

        I found it interesting at IMS that while some of the speakers were declaring PR to be dead/dying/ailing/whatever, many of the social media case studies used main stream media coverage as at least one measure or indication of success.

  • Marc says:

    Todd, Everything that you’ve pointed to revolves around the relationship- warm blooded, emotional, ever-changing and always evolving. That’s what goes on behind the scenes, will never go out of style, and can’t be supported by online analytics…

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