Public relations companies finally winning the social media turf war

An article in The Economist last week claimed that public relations companies are feeling much better about things and doing far better financially. The article stated:

“According to data from Veronis Suhler Stevenson (VSS), a private-equity firm, spending on public relations in America grew by more than 4% in 2008 and nearly 3% in 2009 to $3.7 billion. That is remarkable when compared with other forms of marketing. Spending on advertising contracted by nearly 3% in 2008 and by 8% in the past year. PR’s position looks even rosier when word-of-mouth marketing, which includes services that PR firms often manage, such as outreach to bloggers, is included. Spending on such things increased by more than 10% in 2009.”

This is true I think a certain area of public relations is really starting to thrive and that is the digital PR sector. Three or four years ago when we started to speak to clients about social media it took me and my team about ten minutes to explain to them what a blog was and what it did – now everyone is looking for the next big social media tool to use. The tool of 2010 is without doubt Foursquare with people checking in and out all over the place leaving others who have never used it slightly bemused.

Every day we are seeing new digitial pr or social media specialists springing up, some with experience in public relations and a lot without. My good friend Jed Hallam mentioned it on his company’s blog today:

“I feel like social media is (in the UK, at least) in an odd state at the minute (maybe it’s just hit the trough of disillusionment or something) and I don’t think anyone quite knows what to do.

“Agencies don’t really seem to keep pace with audiences, some clients still see it as gimmicky, big traditional agencies like to hire ‘social media strategists’ to ‘sort out that internet stuff’… The list goes on.”

Jed’s right we are at a bit of cross roads now with social media because clients know what Facebook, Twitter, Xing and Linked-in are. I strongly believe these newcomers who have sprung up all over the place charging clients money to set up Facebook pages will drop off and we will be left with the good PR practitioners who know how to react properly in a crisis and how to use these tools to engage better with an audience and customers. I mean it’s all very well setting channels up when things are going smoothly and it’s all good fun but if something goes wrong and things spiral out of control it must be managed by a trained professional and that is a PR person.

The truth is PR people are often undervalued when compared with the big budgets of the advertising sector but now that the game has changed forever, I think that the perception of PR professionals will change too.

Do you think the game has changed?

Posted By Chris Norton

Chris is listed in the world's top 30 PR bloggers and a regular conference speaker on crisis management and social media marketing. He is also co-author of Share This Too and lectures on digital communications at Leeds Metropolitan University.



Great blog. Yes, I hope the perception of PR people will change. But while there are still, yes STILL, individuals churning out press releases and calling it ‘PR’, we are still some way off a total renaissance. That said, I do think the switched on end of the providers market and the buying market is waking up to the fact that social media is about the conversation NOT the platform (even if some SEO / digital marketing providers are trying to convince them otherwise). And that’s where it gets exciting for professional PRs.

Cassie Rice

You make a good point PR people are going to be the ones needed most in Social Media. Although, I think what will happen is that Social Media agencies will transition into taking the place of PR agencies and PR agencies will convert into Social Media agencies.

Chris Norton

@contentqueen – thanks for your comments. Yeah content is king. The platforms are the easy bit making engaging content which has longevity is where the PR sector can steal a lead on the other sectors. However, it is by no means a fluke that the biggest recruiter of PR students were digital marketing companies. They see the value in the writing skills but they also need to see the value in experience.

@Cassie Rice – It’s an interesting development to watch whether PR agencies turn into purely social media agencies. I am not so sure, a good social media campaign needs to be fully intergrated with the offline media relations campaign and if we had several agencies to do this it could become misguided. I think we will just see more specialised agencies, some with real experience in developing campaigns and some without. However, I think the combination of online and offline is the key with the companies providing up to date training for their staff.

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