I've received some thoughtful and constructive comments on my earlier post. I'm a bit relieved that I didn't receive some nasty quips that I feared would come. Many bloggers gloat about the professional woes of journalism and PR professionals. I am not among them. With fewer journalists, we have fewer free speakers, and when we incarcerate a few of them, we are all threatened. But we'll save that soapbox for another day.
I practiced PR for 25 years, more than half my professional life and I saw significant changes during that time. I learned the practice where a great many current heads of technology agencies learned the practice at the legendary Regis McKenna, Inc, the agency that introduced Apple, Intel, Genentech, Sun Micosystems and so many others.
Regis discouraged "smile and dial" PR. This is the practice of hiring a junior person and arming them with a telephone, a prepared pitch and a Bacon's print out of a lengthy media list. The operative would simply call each member of the press and talk as fast as they could, getting cursed by busy reporters who had no interest in the story, hung up on by others, and asked questions they were clueless to answer. Regis felt this annoyed editors and demeaned the profession. He was right of course. It was true back in 1980 when I was an operative, and the problem has only been amplified over the past 25 years by tens of thousands of operatives using similar tactics over phones and email.
Regis paid his team more and expected them to understand the technologies of his clients as well as their markets and competitive advantages. Then he encouraged us to know what people were the most influential to that market. Then, he encouraged us to establish ongoing relationships by treating the press--not our clients--as the real customer. Bruce LeBoss, one of McKenna's to executives, used to advise us: "Clients come and go. But you will grow old with these editors. He was right. I can drop the names of a great many prominent senior editors as close friends. They were not prominent when I met them. We were all at the back of the room, learning together. Some got yo the front and others left.
Why should the PR professional of today care about the reminiscence of what some old guy did 25 years ago? Because you are in a profession that is at risk. It is at risk because many systems in place don't work. You are at risk because the editors you do know are probably less influential than they used to be, and the ones who don't know you have little interest in hearing from you. You are at risk because your practice has become more expensive for clients even as it has become less effective. You are at risk because PR worked best when a handful of people influenced any market niche, now thousands of people influence it and they are harder to reach and much harder to build an authentic relationship.
There are solutions to this problem, and while I believe the PR industry has entered into a major shakeup, I do not believe that the profession is doomed. But I do believe that the survivors will need to fit into a new model, which is very much like the old model I learned at the old University of Regis McKenna.
PR people need to be facilitators, not mouth pieces and certainly not gatekeepers in suits and nice dresses. I will be writing about this subject in several doses. There is a good deal to say about it.