PR Is Dead! Long Live PR!


Depends on who you ask. Be prepared for a response. You’ve been warned.

Ever heard the oxymoronic exclamation, “The king is dead! Long live the king!”

Feels odd just writing it. The phrase comes from the 15th century when Charles VI (known as “Charles the Mad,” who died as king and his son took the reigns to a much maligned and ransacked France).

Le roi est mort, vive le roi!” 

“The king is dead” announces just that. “Long live the king!” refers to whomever is the shrew to take the throne — in this case, Charles VII. Family business and all. Whelp, this often misunderstood profession seems to suffer same fate every year. Some schmuck says, “PR is dead.” Followed by a hipster who says, “Uh … no, dude.”

That has happened already in 2014, so which person is correct?

Meet Robert Phillips.

According to this article in PR WeekBobby is the former EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa to those without a passport) president and CEO of small shop called Edelman. So, safe to assume, guy knows his bees wax. Said acuity afforded him a nice amount of column inches to proclaim to the annual (and traditional) demise of the industry from which he has prospered.

So, I guess it’s good timing now that he’s paid that now PR is dead, huh? Anywho, Captain Opportunistic writes this:

PR is dead. Its business model, dominated on the consultancy side by bloated networks selling bureaucracy over transformation and generalists over deep expertise, is broken. Its philosophy – rooted in selling stuff to consumers, rather than addressing societal needs – is exhausted. A transparent world exposes the tired deceits of message management and spin.

keep-calm-and-have-a-cup-of-shut-the-hell-upTo a point, he’s right. The huge, global firms keep getting business because said corporate tycoons don’t do research — they visit websites, see classy brands of former clients that haven’t been represented by that agency in more than a decade, view the fancy titles, and then presume “That’s the agency for us.” These agencies largely care about the bottom line and all the minions on the bottom they trampled upon to get to the top.

Whatever happened to wanting to represent a cause of the client, rather than the client with no cause? Vanquished by the quest for the almighty dollar and global supremacy? Probably, but why is that accepted as the death of PR? Why can’t it just be a reason for a new beginning?

PR has abused and exhausted trust. The restoration of trust is not a function of PR. Trust is not a message but an outcome. It is complex and fragile. There is no single action, no silver-bullet campaign, to resolve the trust deficit. Trust is hard-fought, hard-earned, hard-won every day – by actions, not words. If trust is the desired outcome, then PR is not the appropriate solution. Beware the PR firm that talks and promises otherwise.

While there is no silver bullet and the dolts who promise that (or guarantee hits in a proposal) are right up there with the guy that shines the shoes of used car salesmen, check that: restoring trust is not a function of PR. The hell?! Someone call up Mayor Rob Ford because I found the guy who stole his precious crack pipe.

Do we share stories? Do we build bridges from our clients to their communities? Do we instill a sense of something with the media to encourage to discuss the causes we represent? What’s that something called again?

Oh yeah, trust! 

So, if you love this industry, as the good ones do, listen up — PR is not dead. It never has been. It’s just in a coma and the parents of this hebetudinous industry — Bernays, Burson, Edelman, Lee — lost the address of the hospital and have decided to orphan that overweight child with bad hair and outdated clothing. Things are changing. Rapidly. And the old codgers need to allow the changing of the guard as they change their adult diapers.

neoSo, how to we wake PR from the dead? Evolve.

Sounds like I’m Morpheus and you are trapped in the Matrix, huh? (Not now, kids. Ask your directors.) In a way, that’s the fact. With the declining newspaper industry, and increasing digital world, traditional PR — in the world we know — was kiboshed. And now, the wrong people are at the helm. They are either too old to care about new tricks, too apathetic to be concerned about them, or too dense to think there are any tricks out there not already discovered by them.

Either way, they need to make like a tree and get the hell out of the way. If we can teach companies how to listen, we’ll wake up. If we can teach companies how to learn, we can start walking. And if we can teach companies how to lead by example, we will run over anyone that gets in our way.

How’s that for a pep rally, flacks? PR is not dead. Long live PR! (And um, don’t buy this fool’s book either.)