2009 PR Predictions: Darwinian Times, Crumbling Silos, and Growing a Pair


Joe and I are wading through a heap of predictions due to a last-minute HARO post soliciting industry predictions for 2009 and we’re noticing some obvious themes. There’s no doubt it’s going to be a very tough year for all forms of PR. Though there are parallels to the reverberations of 2002 and 2003, things are all-encompassing this time, hitting every sector and every form of marketing. The predictions, or statements, below suggest the creative thinkers who can actually help clients adjust (as well as sell to them in the first place) and carry out programs with zero waste are the ones who’ll make it through.

A special thanks to Doug Poretz of Qorvis for using our HARO query as the basis for his own blog post, with an apology for lack of brevity. Apology accepted, kudos returned.

I’m also throwing in an ironically negative prediction about the public waking up to PR’s tricks from a “mystical poet / professional optimist”. Below are a few thoughts to inspire a different approach for individuals, agencies, and those who hire them:

It’s economic Darwinism time–the strong, the smart, the hungry and adaptable will survive. If you are at the top of your game, or willing to put in the hard work to rise to the top, you will make it through. The companies that have been resting on their laurels, or just getting by with sub-par work because of the flush economic times will get weeded out. If you love competition–now is the time to shine. Be aggressive, not tentative. Now is not the time to crawl into your shell. It will be the year of the buzzard–the weak will fall, the strong will survive, and the scavengers will pick the bones of the fallen.

And–public relations professionals will rediscover (or remember) that PR is about people, not just technology. No matter the latest bells and whistles that emerge from social media–the essence of communication and building relationships remains.

–Jessica Flynn, President, Red Sky Public Relations

To survive in this mess you’re going to have to have balls. And be fiercely un-mediocre in this time of sameness and safety. Our field will have to be the ones who constantly say to clients, vendors, partners and employees: I (or we) will not do any work that I (or we) don’t believe in. Let’s follow our instincts and not let the negative ones, the ones who wish to send crap releases that say nothing new, the ones who want to issue information-devoid, machinery-driven information to the press and others, guide us to failure. As my preamble stated, it all comes down to caring–like Asians and rice fields that Gladwell ponders with precision–so PR farmers who are in it to bide time will become nonunion baristas in a post-Starbucks environment.

Those who think that somehow we will be an industry that will uniformly rise above other businesses during the next few years, remove your head from a place that is dusty and dank.

–Richard Laermer, CEO RLM PR, author of “2011: Trendspotting for the Next Decade” by way of the Bad Pitch Blog

Segmentation within PR firms will begin to crumble.

In a world where the desired audience for a message can be highly targeted and can be reached through many distribution channels, why are there silos and “practice groups” inside PR firms? Isn’t the idea to share experiences, approaches, and contacts to maximize all the firm’s human assets for the benefit of the client? Silos are non-productive. The only reason they exist is because time sheets allow Management to measure everything into little segments of time, so that’s what drives management actions. And time also determines how people get paid and how bonuses are awarded. And who is deemed “profitable.” And how to tell which clients are most cherished. Crazy. Chunks of time have nothing to do with what the clients want. They want great work. They are no longer going to be making their budget decisions by how many chunks of time it takes to do something; they are going to be determining the value of every dollar they spend against results delivered. Delivery on that expectation will be directly related to the degree of collegiality among talented people seeking shared goals. The silos have to go. It’s only a matter of time.

–Doug Poretz, Partner at Qorvis and Death of Time blogger

It’s going to be a challenging year for businesses across the board. As companies evaluate their PR and marketing allocations, many will instinctively cut back and others will eliminate these costs altogether. But as we in the industry know, this is not only counter-intuitive, it’s self-defeating. Now is the time to help your clients fuel up the gas tank while others lag behind. They may not have the money for a full-blown campaign, but 2009 will present an opportunity to get creative in marketing and supporting their businesses. Rather than falling victim to the recession, assess your clients’ needs and determine where you can offer value-added services. Make yourself indispensable.

–Tadd Schwartz, Schwartz Media Strategies

In the future then public will not be hoodwinked so easily by PR people who cannot tell the difference between truth and fallacies.

–Michael Levy, Professional Optimist