I have a fondness for PR. PR gave me my first break into the media. It allowed me to meet many amazing people along the way. But PR is dying.
The demise of Bell Pottinger encapsulates broadly what has happened with PR for a while: that the era of “getting the word out” either via Press Releases, boozy lunches, backroom deals or glamorous events, is coming to an end.
Bell Pottinger is a high-profile casualty of these changes, but the agency is the symptom and not a cause of an industry that has allowed itself to grow lazy and complacent and which has consistently refused to upskill to meet the demands of the digital age.
It looked for a while like social media might offer a brief respite, or a new opportunity to beleaguered PR agencies. But after the first novelty, people’s appetite for branded schlep and gimmicky ‘activations’ wore thin.
Brands themselves also discovered that they could pay to reach people themselves using Facebook Ads or Google AdWords. And that these campaigns often delivered more measurable return on investment than anything the agencies had served up.
And for all the bluster about becoming more “data driven” and “branded storytelling”, nothing ever seemed to come of it. While brands and digital agencies were racing off into the sunset with techniques like retargeting and embracing tools like Google Data Studio and Tableau, PR agencies were uploading a video to YouTube and calling it a multimedia strategy.
Ah but influencer marketing! Ah but no. Much as the PR industry would like another set of gatekeepers to glom to, it turns out the secret to engaging influencers is … to pay them a lot of money. Then they might tweet about you. Or something. You’re not really sure what you get actually, and they can’t tell you. It doesn’t just offer false hope, it reincarnates the same problems PR has had all along.
In response to the Bell Pottinger case, the PRCA ‘issued a statement’ (how else?) saying that “The PRCA has never before passed down such a damning indictment of an agency’s behaviour.” The industry will then go back to pretending nothing has happened.
The tide of Press Releases that no-one will reads will continue, hacks will continue to “sell in” non-stories that boost a client’s ego but have no impact on the business, and people will continue to tweet their stupid photo’s from award shows attended only by their friends.
Stick a fork in PR, it’s done.