The PR Industry Has a Big Problem

This is a guest post by Colin Jordan, senior communications manager at Egnyte.

This is a guest post by Colin Jordan, senior communications manager at Egnyte.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that there were approximately 57,000 PR managers and 208,000 PR specialists in America. On the opposing side, there were only 46,500 journalists according to the report.

Do the math.

That means there are roughly 5.7 PR professionals for every one journalist. That’s like the equivalent of having six crying babies with only one babysitter to try and simultaneously get them bottles to quench their “thirst.”

Not exactly ideal.

Unfortunately, instead of minding the gap, most PR people proceed to inundate the outnumbered journalists with massive amounts of form pitch emails, unwarranted phone calls, and embargoed press releases in an attempt to serve their own personal needs. Former journalist Ed Zitron, who has parlayed his knowledge of the PR industry into a burgeoning business, didn’t hold back when I asked him about why this happens:

The problem is manifold. People are walking into this industry, educated by college or culture or textbooks to think this is a super important and very impressive industry. PR people are so dedicated to feeling important and impressive that they’ve changed their own dialect, their own identity (both offline and online) like the Untalented Mr. or Ms. Ripley. Many of them simply don’t care if they spam reporters, or don’t care if they have to attack media relations people to make themselves feel better about not being able to make a human relationship. And unfortunately there is a large contingency of these people that just don’t want, or have the capacity, to learn about their respective industries – or anything much for that matter.

So what is really happening here? What is the source of the issue? Why is it getting worse?

Uncovering the Real Problem

I have spent the last several months trying to get to the root of the problem. I’ve attended PR meet-ups all over Silicon Valley, participated in VC-sponsored PR sessions in San Francisco, traveled to numerous industry events, read countless amounts of contributed content from a wide range of outlets and have had many, many conversations with both in-house and agency PR people.

Once common theme continues to reveal itself: terrible leadership.

The PR industry has become an environment where the blind are leading the blind. PR leaders are operating off playbooks with invalid precedents, outdated policies and misguided principles. With the evolution of the Internet, technology, and social media, PR does not function today the same way it did 5-10 years ago, let alone 20-30 years ago.

Work lives and personal lives are blending. Twitter acts as a real-time news feed; big companies are leveraging their blogs to make news announcements; and Medium is an acceptable place for people to announce job changes. Gone are the days of the “Tuesday Newsday”, formal press release distribution lists and awkward cold calls.

Unfortunately, an unhealthy proportion of senior leaders continue to leverage their traditional PR practices, which are then proliferated by their employees and the surrounding industry, setting everyone up for failure. At one session, I watched a veteran vice president from a prominent Silicon Valley PR agency tell a crowded room that:

In the world of PR, journalists are NOT your friends, and you should act accordingly. You need to maintain a professional relationship and operate in a manner that benefits both parties equally. It doesn’t matter how buddy-buddy you think you are with Sam Biddle on social media, you will still end up in ValleyWag.

Really? How is that approach working?

The reality of our modern world of media is that many outlets are just trying to survive – let alone monetize. For the most part, journalists are the ones on the losing end of the PR/reporter relationship. They are forced to deal with absurd pitches that drown out any actual meaningful pitches that gets lots among 350 spam emails before lunch.