My friends in the PR industry are probably not too happy with this headline, but not to worry, most of the ones I know will agree with me. I spent almost 30 years in this industry and honestly, very little has changed since I first started out.
30 years ago we wrote content, distributed it to the media and pitched them on writing a story about our clients. What’s changed? Not much, and that’s the problem. Name me another industry that hasn’t changed profoundly in the past 30 years?!?!
For those of you who would argue that PR firms are evolving because they use technology more and embrace social media more and create content more ... those are innovations that came from OUTSIDE the PR world, not from within. So, where can true innovation come from and why is it needed?
First, look at the landscape today. Companies are creating their own content, thereby threatening PR firms’ stranglehold on creating content. On top of that, individual professionals are becoming their own brands who can create and post in a myriad of places. Secondly, the media is so fragmented that the definition of a typical reporter is not what it used to be. Thousands upon thousands of "media" sites now exist and many don’t even have full-time journalists.
You can also see the market share in many industries that didn’t innovate begin to slip away because of technology. Think about how Charles Schwab changed the brokerage industry and then all of the other discount brokers and online trading platforms.
One of the things I did when I started my career was to read as much as I could about Hollywood in the glory days of the 1920s to the 1980s. It really helped me shape my own career strategy. In particular, Lew Wasserman and the book When Hollywood Had A King: The Reign of Lew Wasserman, Who Leveraged Talent into Power and Influence had a profound impact on me. Fast forward to today with all of the changes now taking place in the talent agent field, especially with CAA and William Morris Endeavor. This is incredibly innovative and transformative. What was once just a broker of talent with the studios, agents have become true power brokers negotiating at the intersection of technology, venture capital, marketing and so much more. Many of these companies are now involved in sports as well. That’s a sector that is constantly innovating.
So, what could the future look like for PR firms? Of course, I’m biased, but my former firm, Beckerman PR, and Antenna Group are starting to look like the future. They are specialists in specific industries with a deep understanding of the DNA of the companies in these sectors. I see other firms doing the same. These companies have truly morphed into investment bankers that take actual stakes in companies and become a true partner in that success. Whether it’s raising money for clients, getting involved in mergers and acquisitions or bringing new tech initiatives to them, PR firms need to be doing more of this and become a true strategic partner to their clients rather than merely a content creation and distribution vendor.
The second opportunity PR firms should consider is to actually be the ones that create platforms and become individual channels of content distribution. Think about if the PR firm became its own media property and destination for clients. Pretty powerful stuff. The PR firm as the brand!
Lastly, PR firms should invest in technology and create products where there are needs. Why not create your own analytics dashboard? Why not hire programmers to create digital products for your clients? Technology has never been cheaper or more accessible, but how many PR firms have CTOs on staff?
I really hope that the PR industry soon discovers the huge opportunities that lie ahead for firms that embrace change and don’t wait to become the next industry to become disrupted (and not in a good way)!