The death of traditional PR

Emma King

This article first appeared in Marklives.

I’ve been banging on about it for ages, but it is becoming ever more prevalent and I do feel I need to take a stand and shout it out. Traditional PR — the PR of old, where press releases are schlepped out far and wide — is dead. And any agency that continues to do so is wasting the time and money of its long-suffering clients.
There are a few reasons for this:

Traditional print media outlets have changed

Back in the days of old, PR consisted of getting loads of media outlets to cover an event or piece of news. Much of this was generated from the good old press conference or media briefing. But this concept is outdated and clients who have expectations that their news warrants this are likely to be disappointed.

This is mainly because the media landscape that we are working in has changed so much. Just look at all the melodrama with newsrooms at various media organisations — teams being made redundant; senior reporters, columnists and editors throwing up their hands in disgust and leaving in droves; and what appears from an external viewpoint to be general chaos all around.
Teams appear massively reduced, with one or two journalists frantically trying to cover enough stories each day to fill a paper. This means a greater reliance on getting news from syndicated feeds, being provided with content that they can literally cut and paste, and generally, no time to waste in sending bodies to sit around for hours hearing brands drone on about how great they are.

Added to this is the reduction of media outlets and brands themselves. Every year, we see more and more titles disappearing off our shelves, as budgets are cut and print media appears to become more and more obsolete.

It all adds up to less media space and less time for the few journalists left to create the news.

The spread of information has changed

As traditional media shrinks, so we see the growth of all the other ways in which consumers obtain information and are influenced. Just think back 10 years or so — how we made so many of our decisions based upon what we saw on TV or what a magazine or newspaper told us was cool?

But, fast forward to today, and I’d take a bet that traditional media — competing with digital, social and word of mouth — plays a massively reduced role in driving perception.
So the ongoing desire to get coverage in traditional media, over and above anything else, seems to be misplaced. Perhaps instead we should be looking at all the other ways that we can share information and guide perceptions, and place as much importance on these as getting a column in a broadsheet.

The immediacy has changed

One only needs to look at the way news outlets have changed to realise how differently we now consume news. Back in the day, we were content to get our information once a day when we picked up our newspaper or tuned in the 6 o’clock news. But, what with 24-hour news stations and stories being broken online, we have come to expect our news on demand and as it happens.

An interesting example is the recent communications put out by Eskom, which appears on some days to be relying upon Twitter to update the public on loadshedding. It is then up to digital-savvy journalists and news teams to monitor and run the news via more traditional outlets to reach the wider South African population — not the worst of strategies..
When considering the last-minute and ever-changing nature of our electricity crisis, perhaps having a channel where updates are given in real-time is the most effective and realistic way to communicate?

Marketing has changed

My last gripe with ‘traditional PR’ is that it is, well, so traditional. But very few brands (if any?) benefit from having all of their PR, advertising, digital and other services separated into little silos.

It seems mad to me to have a PR team which only deals with sending press releases to traditional media, without any synchronicity with what is happening digitally or out in the real world.

Why not, instead, have a team that understands how content can be shared across channels, and works to have a holistic view across all?

The answer to all of this is, obviously, to look at PR campaigns as more than just “free advertising” or a chance to see a CEO on the evening news. It’s an understanding that no communications can work in isolation; that a brand’s reputation is made from more than a couple of holding statements in times of crises; and that people are influenced just as much by the friends and family that surround them as by the media they consume.

I do believe that many of us PR practitioners “get” this. We just need to get our clients to do as well…. :)