PR Slammed?

PR is the Future of Marketing

A few weeks I ago, I moderated Boston’s first PR Slam. Like a story or poetry slam, contestants needed to make their case for or against hiring a PR firm, competitively, in the form of a story.

My job was to tell the first story, and then to help narrow the pool to two finalists.

I expected at least one participant would take a “fire your firm” position. In an audience of start-ups, digital marketers, publishers, app developers and various millennial and non-millennial types, someone, somewhere usually thinks “we can do this in-house.”

Refreshingly, the stories surprised me.

What I heard was a wonderfully affirming theme – and one that I certainly believe in – that said “PR firms, we need you.”

In the stories of my fellow “slammers,” the clear through-line was that PR firms matter, albeit in different ways to different folks. In all, four key themes emerged:

  • PR firms are engines for awareness: To be effective, awareness-building must be eternal. That focus, and the drivers to ensure news and content continues to come out from a company, lives best within a PR firm. There’s a little bit of “arms and legs” mentality in this thinking, but sometimes that is what our clients need.
  • Finding the right voice is hard: Establishing the right message is critical. PR firms have latitude to experiment with different messages, and help a company hone in on what resonates with media, analysts, trade organizations and other important audiences.
  • Content creation creates a rallying point: There’s no doubt we are in a sharing society. Company staffs want to share their pride in their organizations by sharing news, information, images, almost anything. But doing so without awareness of, and access to, the right company news, content and messaging could get messy. PR firms, and the power they have to create smart, engaging and shareable content, help corporate teams tell the right story.
  • Amplification is a shared responsibility: Just so you know the PR Slam was not entirely a PR firm lovefest, there was debate over how deeply a firm should engage with its clients. Some believe that an in-house marketing team is best-equipped to develop the company story, and the PR firm then needs to tell that story. I buy that. Others expect a firm to develop an abundance of creative assets and then turn them back to the company for distribution and amplification. I’m cool with that too. Some suggest that agencies focus on media relations, since that is a skillset that does not typically reside inside a company. OK, I see that but I’m not on board with limiting your firm to just media relations (unless that’s primarily what the firm does). Still others see PR agencies as the lead strategic voice in the communications effort. Guess where I stand on that?
The first selfie? (circa 1985)

The first selfie? (circa 1985)

Broader than just the role of the firm, the audience agreed that PR has risen in organizational stature and that affects how they work with their PR firm, including:

  • Not looking for that firm that is a merely “extension of your team.” Rather, look for a group of communicators that think differently, challenge your team and help create something original.
  • Embedding PR in every facet of your marketing.
  • Engaging your staff to become advocates for the business and in that role, amplify the content created by your PR firm.
  • Telling stories – there is no more powerful way to express what your business stands for, and what it can help your clients achieve than storytelling; it gives your clients, prospects, employees, partners and friends a clear point to rally around.

Thank you to our friends at SpringpadGrasshopper and Workbar for making this terrific event happen, and to Harpoon for great gifts for the winner.

Speaking of stories, feel free to read below for my story that kicked off the PR Slam, showing how pervasive communications and communications technology are in our lives today – and will be for a long time, if not forever, in our lives and businesses.

Mark O'Toole

About Mark O'Toole

Although Mark regularly creates meaningful, sustained relationships for clients, secures media coverage that builds no matter how long a client engages with HB, and consumes every type of media every single day, he knows PR is not about traditional media anymore. For Mark, PR has never been about media, but rather about helping clients meet business goals. By constantly applying his marketing mentality to solving business challenges, Mark created a platform that catapults client campaigns to new levels.

Learn more about Mark


  1. […] the right message (the idea, emotion or story) clearly. The HB Agency of Massachusetts refers to this as finding the right “voice” for a company or brand. As public relations professionals, […]

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