You and I must save the PR industry.
PR is in constant flux, and our industry must evolve.
But we’ve already messed up. Big time.
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. At first.
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 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, and everything is paid—except perhaps for Wikipedia and a few remaining journalists not hiding behind paywalls.
We had a window. And we missed it.
Why Marketing Over Communications?
Today, SEO is beside SEM considered a form of marketing instead of a form of earned and owned communication.
And the list goes on:
Make no mistake about it—this has been a PR failure of epic proportions.
The PESO model is there, but it also isn’t. When I talk to fellow digital specialists like SEO professionals, inbound marketers, email marketers, content marketers, and growth marketers, I can tell that they all suffer from the same affliction:
As marketers, they know how to push products and services.
But they lack basic PR knowledge.
Paid online media has its fair share of challenges, but it is a profound lack of PR knowledge that’s causing marketers real headaches. This is by no means a mystery: online marketers mainly deal with earned and owned media. Still, they derive their way of thinking from marketing perspectives.
Sorry (not 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.
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
With many new digital industries and specialisations, organisations are left with impossible choices. 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 all over the world 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 over 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 on end.
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.
If you’re working as a digital PR specialist like me, put together a digital PR course. Educate your network. Your phone has a video camera, and there are plenty of ready-made online course platforms. Please do it now.
If you’re working in a communications department or PR agency, please invest in digital PR courses. Thanks to your support and continuous feedback, we can ensure a bright future for the PR industry. Please join and push forward.