Monday, November 03, 2008

Dangerous Ideas about PR?

By Robbin Goodman, Makovsky + Company

Last week I attended The Council of Public Relations Firms' Critical Issues Forum on “The Most Dangerous Ideas about the Future of Public Relations.” I agreed with the substance, if not the tone, of marketing blogger BL Ochman's post on this conference, concerning statements made by a couple of senior executives from large PR agencies. “Some pretty dangerous ideas came out of the mouths of people who really should know better,” she said. She and I were both surprised by a comment from a senior public relations pro that our job is about “stealing,” rather than “creating, new ideas about using new media today.

I was even more struck by obervations made by David D'Alessandro, former CEO of John Hancock Financial Services, who gave the keynote address.

D'Alessandro cited statistics from Pew Research that show that the percentage of people who reported "reading a newspaper yesterday" fell from 40 percent in 2006 to 34 percent in 2008 (for print only, those numbers fell from 32 to 27 percent, respectively for those years). He pointed out that one of the biggest casualties of the shrinking media is the exit of veteran reporters who know their beats and issues in-depth.

(For the record, Pew contends that the television news audience, by contrast, has generally remained stable since 2006, and the proportion regularly watching cable news in particular has increased, from 34% to 39% from 2006-08.)

The hard reality is that the heyday of print media - so vividly illustrated last week by the end of the daily Christian Science Monitor print edition and major cutbacks at Time Inc. and the Star-Ledger (Newark) - is rapidly fading.

News audiences are seeking their information online … a fact verified by a recent report by the Newspaper Association of America, indicating that in the fourth quarter of 2007, 39 percent of all active Web users visited newspaper Web sites, with visits averaging 44 minutes a month.

None of this should be news to PR practitioners, although many companies outside of the consumer and technology sectors remain skeptical about new media. Despite the troubles of print media, people are more interested in news than ever before. While 85 percent of the population read print newspapers back in 1986, today 83 percent are using search engines to find news rather than patronize a news brand (we couldn't find the citation and D’Alessandro didn't supply it in the talk). Even when a traditional newspaper scoops a story today, within hours the social media have grabbed it and are running with it. Thus, the role of traditional media today in PR campaigns isn't going to completely disappear, it's going to shift - in becoming a feeder of "free content" to the new media.

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