? The Death of Public Relations Agencies and Old-Media ?

Everything else is crashing in the business world, why not public relations agencies? After all, most businesses need to pay rent, meet payroll, and cover shipping costs of their products. Who needs some hacks in the backroom banging out a press release in a format that has not changed in almost a hundred years?

Don’t worry, I’m OK and all is well at TC Public Relations. However, what caught my eye was a recent story in Time Magazine about how the old-media business is going down the toilet and whether or not the new-media business will save the world of journalism. After all, if places like the Chicago Tribune are cutting hundreds of jobs for journalists, what will be left except for bloggers like me (a zillion at my last count) to bring you the “news”?

Public relations agencies often work to make themselves unique by the type of services they offer for particular products or service businesses. And while even we have used something in our business development pitches that says, “we help to make our clients more popular and more profitable” it will always boil down to our reputation management expertise. That is what public relations pros do and will continue to do until the end of time. Why?

All that any product or service has is a reputation to develop. And so whether it’s a public relations pro connecting with The New York Times or littegreenfootballs, it will ALWAYS be a reputation management. And that will ALWAYS be the intersection point between public relations companies and journalists (or online citizen journalists), period.

So where is the PR laugh? The joke is the smoke and mirrors that show up when people talk about the death of old-media. Nothing is going away, in fact it’s all expanding (see the book The Long Tail) in a way that makes public relations professional more valuable than ever because there are more media outlets to hold conversations with on-line. And for the out of work print journalists (many are now looking to work for PR agencies), they have the same opportunities because they know how to write good copy and build credibility with their audiences.

So what about banging out those press release for a blog posting? Well, that is not the way new-media works. It’s about relationship building with connecting trusted sources with trusted reporters. That relationship building skill is at the core of reputation management that a talented public relations person has. So the death of journalism and, gasp, the death of public relations agencies is not going to happen. In fact, there’s new life for both.


Killing Calories

The theme song from the movie M*A*S*H was titled Suicide is Painless. However, when Pepsi decided to create an advertising campaign with the lone calorie in its Pepsi Max committing suicide, it caused Pepsi much painful public relations.

To Pepsi’s credit, their director of social and emerging media, contacted the media, including Advertising Age, to applogize. According to an excerpt of the director’s appolgy published by Advertising Age, it included these comments:

“We agree this creative is totally inappropriate…My best friend committed suicide and this is a topic very close to my heart. So again I offer my deepest apologies.”

First, the ad depicts the lone calorie with a gun blowing out its brains (right). At what point does one recognize when something like a bullet in the head for a soft drink is ad is “inappropriate.”

Second, he uses the “I can identify with the pain” PR response by saying his best friend committed suicide. Maybe that friend was just “lonely.” In such case, it would bring us back to the original justification for the Pepsi ad, lonely beings should kill themselves. All is well.

I know that what is “permissible” with communications has changed dramatically since I was growing up. The word “damn” in the movie Gone with the Wind was considered radical at the time. Now we have Sex in the City during primetime.

In the case of using suicide to promote any product, I can’t see how it can ever work. Suicide is a terrible sickness that takes loved ones away from their families.

This reminds of something I talk about when teaching marketing principles. Sometime back, people decided to call a frozen pizza by the name Tombstone. In my mind, equating death with pizza is something I would never have agreed to in a creative brainstorm. So, in fairness, maybe I’m wrong, death can be a marketing tool.