The PR BlogPublic RelationsThe PR IndustryForget “Better PR”—The PR Industry Needs Education

Forget “Better PR”—The PR Industry Needs Education

Our industry must fix itself—via online PR education.

Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Instagram)

You and I must save the PR industry.

PR is in constant flux, and our industry must evolve.
Yes, we recently missed our window.

But we can still fix ourselves—via online education.

Let me explain:

We Had Our Window (But Missed It)

After the dot-com bubble in 2000–2001, the internet slowed down. Social media began to emerge with behemoths like Facebook, founded in 2004 and Twitter in 2006. Their social engineering was geared towards connecting people rather than turning them into online buying machines.

For a good number of years, internet monetisation progressed slowly. We got to experience the Hippie Web (2005–2015) revolving around earned and owned media. It was a golden opportunity for PR to gain traction in a space dominated by two-way communication, relationships, and trust circles.

The Digital Transformation of PR

The biggest challenge in PR is ensuring that our profession keeps up with new communication technology and stays valuable and relevant as a business function.

“The authors argue that earlier paradigms are mostly inadequate in addressing the needs of a 21st Century in which communication technology is creating rapid globalization while it is dangerously exacerbating the tensions of multiculturalism. Through a critical discussion of prior assumptions and paradigms in public relations scholarship, the authors underline the need for public relations to revitalize and bring its body of knowledge into the 21st Century. The authors posit and discuss how the community-building theory originally espoused by Kruckeberg and Starck (1988) and modified in subsequent scholarship can provide a viable departure point toward developing new approaches to research about and practice of public relations that can take into account the dynamic environment wrought by changes in communication technology.”
Source: Public Relations Review

Here’s PR’s most significant challenge summarised by AI:

“The biggest challenge in modern public relations is the constantly changing media landscape. With the proliferation of social media, the rise of fake news, and the decline of traditional journalism, it can be difficult for organizations to control the spread of information and protect their reputations. Public relations professionals must now be strategic and proactive in their approach and must be able to adapt to new technologies and platforms to communicate with their publics effectively. Additionally, the abundance of online information can make it difficult for organizations to stand out and get their messages heard. As a result, public relations professionals must be creative and innovative to engage with their publics effectively.”
Source: ChatGPT

Read also: PR Must Adapt (Or Die)

The window of earned-owned supremacy was never going to stay open forever. One and a half-decade after the dot-com bubble, the Money Web (2015–present) began to gain momentum. On the internet today, everything is marketing—except perhaps for Wikipedia and a few remaining journalists not hiding behind paywalls.

We had a window. And we missed it.

How Marketing Kicked Our PR Ass

Today, SEO (like SEM) is considered a form of marketing instead of earned and owned communication.

And the list goes on:

  • There’s inbound marketing, not inbound communications.
  • There’s email marketing, not email communications.
  • There’s content marketing, not content communications.
  • There’s growth marketing, not growth communications.

Make no mistake about it—this is a PR failure of epic proportions.
Doesn’t the PESO model make it clear?

The PESO Model

The PESO model divides the media landscape into four different media channel types: 1Please note that there’s no industry-wide consensus on whether a social media account (like a brand’s Facebook page or Twitter account) should be considered a shared or owned channel. … Continue reading

  • Paid channels include advertising, sponsorships, ambassador collaborations etc.
  • Earned channels include news articles, influencer endorsements, word-of-mouth etc.
  • Shared channels include social media brand posts, social media brand accounts, SERP visibility etc.
  • Owned channels include newsletters, websites, publications for internal or external use etc.

The PESO model is somewhat controversial, though. It suggests that specialised industries (such as inbound marketing, content marketing, SEO, email marketing, growth marketing etc.) classify as PR sub-categories. However, these disciplines typically regard themselves as marketing sub-categories.

Who Coined the Acronym Originally?

Don Bartholomew, vice president of digital research at Fleishman Hillard, presented a version of the PESO model in 2010. According to PR blogger and PR measurement expert Heather Yaxley, this is likely to be the earliest mention of the model:

PR Industry | The PR Industry | Doctor Spin
The PESO model. Source: PRConversations.

In 2013, PR blogger Gini Dietrich popularised the PESO model on her blog, Spin Sucks: 2Please note that the Spin Sucks model is focused on a wide variety of disciplines, publics, practices, engagement etc., rather than types of media channels.

“In June 2013, Gini Dietrich presented the first iteration of the PESO model you may recognise in a blog post: The Four Different Types of Media. It was followed in August by the post Mobile Marketing: Use the Four Media Types in Promotion, where she talked about integrating paid, earned, owned, and shared.”
Source: PRConversations

Read also: The PESO Model: Paid, Earned, Shared, and Owned Media

Paid online media has its fair share of challenges, but a profound lack of PR knowledge is causing marketers real headaches. This is no mystery: online marketers mainly deal with earned and owned media. Still, they derive their way of thinking from marketing perspectives.

Sorry for being blunt: on the internet, the paid media mindset is just tactical icing on a strategic cake, a welcome boost when everything else is in working order.

As marketers, they know how to push products and services.
But they lack basic PR knowledge.

Marketers will protest. And then they will celebrate a 2% conversion rate without giving the other 98% a single thought.

And it gets worse.

The Generational Disconnect in PR

Organisations are left with impossible choices with many new digital industries and specialisations. What should an organisation do?

Having truckloads of agencies adds complexity and kills ROI. Hiring an army of in-house specialists causes bloat—and kills ROI.

The outcome? Marketing departments keep doing what they do best; pushing market campaigns to sell online and offline products and services. Everything else? Everything else is left in a big dirty pile on the communication department’s doorstep. And it’s a mess.

No wonder communication departments worldwide struggle with digital transformation issues: Fresh PR hires straight out of school haven’t been taught the first thing inbound strategies, conversion tactics, or ranking factors. When communication departments look outside the organisation for specialists, they find … legions of marketers. It’s one big disconnect.

I constantly hear younger professionals disregard senior ones because “they don’t understand TikTok or Twitch.” Conversely, I hear senior professionals disregard younger ones since “they don’t understand the fundamentals of corporate communication.”

We’re quickly losing knowledge and practical skills at both ends.

Save the PR Industry Now

The PR industry must save itself.
And there’s only one way forward—education.

But traditional education is slow and time-consuming. The dynamics of the online media landscape will have changed many times before PR students get their hands on a relevant textbook. And we can’t expect senior professionals to quit their jobs and go back to school for years.

PR does have a bright future still.

With Web3 fast approaching, the internet will reward communicators who can leverage both earned and owned channels to build online audiences.

If we want to manifest change, the educational responsibility falls heavily on us all.

Digital PR specialists must share what they do, how they do it, and why. Even if that means sharing their best secrets for which they typically charge good money.

As for everyone in the PR industry: when great online PR courses start to pop up everywhere: Support the creators. Share their work. Invest in yourself.

Mark my words: it must begin now.

Create a digital PR course if you’re a digital PR specialist. Share your passion and knowledge. Educate your network.

If you’re working in a communications department or PR agency, please invest in digital PR courses. Your support and continuous feedback are critical factors ensuring a bright future for our industry.

Thank you for reading this article. Please support my blog by sharing it with other PR- and communication professionals. For questions or PR support, contact me via [email protected].

1 Please note that there’s no industry-wide consensus on whether a social media account (like a brand’s Facebook page or Twitter account) should be considered a shared or owned channel. Personally, I classify social media accounts as shared channels since they’re not fully under the brand’s control.
2 Please note that the Spin Sucks model is focused on a wide variety of disciplines, publics, practices, engagement etc., rather than types of media channels.
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.


Grab a free subscription before you go.

Get notified of new blog posts & new PR courses
Powered by NEX-Forms

🔒 Please read my integrity- and cookie policy.

Write B2B Blog Posts

Use my storytelling template (with action prompts) to create blog posts for B2B experts using The Outline Method. Including my 16-page How-To Guide, Demo Post, and professional feedback.

The golden rule of measuring communications is that the choice of metrics has a more profound impact than any actions taken based on the measurement.
Most popular