HB/EMA Now Part of Public Relations Trade Group ICCO

NEWTON, Mass. – Feb. 15, 2016: HB/EMA, a Boston-based integrated marketing firm, is now part of ICCO, the International Communications Consultancy Organisation, as part of its membership in IPREX, the global communication network.

IPREX has 70 partners operating 115 offices in major markets worldwide, with combined annual revenue of $250m. With 1,800 staff they work across the spectrum of industry sectors and practice disciplines.

“PR is often global today, from the most local clients we represent to the most global. IPREX gives us tremendous access to partners around the world, and we expect our new relationship with ICCO to present even more global opportunities,” said Mark O’Toole, managing director, public relations, HB/EMA Boston.

“IPREX is one of the few large-scale networks that have succeeded over time, maintaining our edge by evolving into an information-rich and fast-moving operation that combines global strategy and on-the-ground implementation. As a closely-knit peer group, focused on best practices, we’re looking forward to learning from ICCO,” said IPREX Global President Michael Schröder (ORCA Affairs, Berlin).

ICCO is the voice of public relations consultancies around the world. The ICCO membership comprises national trade associations in 32 countries across the globe in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Americas and Australasia. Collectively, these associations represent more than 2,500 PR firms.

ICCO Chief Executive, Francis Ingham said: “We are delighted to welcome IPREX to the ICCO family. ICCO continues to grow in size, relevance and vibrancy, and we have great plans for the future. The international PR community needs a unified, truly global voice and our members play a key role in making this happen. That is ICCO’s mission – a mission on which we are delivering.”



IPREX is a $250 million network of communication agencies, with 1,800 staff and 115 offices worldwide working across the spectrum of industry sectors and practice disciplines.

About HB/Eric Mower + Associates

Eric Mower + Associates is a digitally-integrated independent marketing and public relations agency. With more than 250 professionals in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany, N.Y.; New York City; Boston; Cincinnati; Charlotte, N.C.; and Atlanta, EMA delivers strategic insights, digital solutions, smart creative, and award-winning results to clients. Part of two global agency networks—thenetworkone and IPREX—as well as the 4A’s, EMA has estimated 2015 capitalized billings approaching $250.

HB/EMA Boston
Mark O’Toole

The Reason Why No One Follows You

Social media is not that different from dating. The reason why you have no followers (or start losing followers) is the same reason you’re not getting a second date. You’re selfish.

OK, not everyone reading this falls into the self-serving category, but take a moment to think about your social presence. Be honest about how your content reflects you and your brand. Is it all about you?

I shared some tips on LinkedIn about how to make your social strategy effective by balancing you with your audience. Check it out and share what you think in the comments below or on LinkedIn.

H2H PR – Haven’t We Always Been Doing It?

shutterstock_142034836Recently, B2B and B2C public relations have had some human company. Human-to-human (H2H), lately one of the industry’s favorite phrases, is now everywhere and it’s gotten there fast. But how people are using it and what it really means don’t seem to be in line.

The two main public relations categories, B2B and B2C, serve to create specificity and clarity when PR professionals describe their tasks and responsibilities. Each segment has its own audience, goals and messaging; differentiating between them allows for more efficient communication between professionals, their potential clients, and their client’s potential clients. In other words, B2B and B2C have their own distinct significations, and this is where H2H differs.

H2H is intended to help focus communicators on the people behind the companies, not on the companies themselves. The idea holds that all interactions are personal, even when executed in a business setting. In this context, for instance, a PR professional for a software security company needs to think about the IT manager as a person in its B2B communications plans, not the general role of the IT manager.

I’ve read and heard many communicators claim that they partake in authentic, feeling, H2H communications. A B2B agency can say they deal in human-to-human communications, just as a B2C agency can – the phrase itself does not speak to the kind of PR or branding being done, but rather to how it’s done. It’s a philosophy behind a practice, rather than the practice itself.

As a philosophy, H2H has become a diluted buzz-phrase, and, on some level, this is understandable. H2H has no alternative. There is nothing to distinguish it by. What would the opposite of H2H communication be? Has there ever been a situation in which we’re not trying to market to other people? The answer is most likely no. In the end, communicators have always been focused on people.

So if PR and creative communications are innately a human exchange, then why is this aspect such a popular topic right now?


Well, public relations used to be a very linear process, but today it’s not linear at all. PR is merging different outlets and means of accessing information into a single, tailored and aligned communications plan. It reaches beyond creating content or pushing out press releases to creating your own content outlets and nurturing lasting engagement.

Additionally, audiences are more nuanced than ever before. People have more options and outlets to find and express their opinions. While it has always been important for businesses to engage in these conversations, the explosion of communication platforms and communicators has made audience engagement a more challenging task that can’t be ignored.

But we all know this already. It’s this very challenge that invigorates us to strive for success every day. Each era before ours has faced their version of the almighty communications hurdle, and each one after our own will do the same. What we may not be so aware of are the secondary ways in which the hurdles we face influence our communications strategies. Terms like human-to-human and integrated marketing communications are phrases we drew up and then popularized as a way to try to define and somehow harness the hurdles we’re facing. In other words, they’re direct products of our challenges and not necessarily terms for our solutions.

Human-to-human is to business practices as integrated marketing communications is to just plain communications – it’s a method, it’s intuitive, and nobody knows precisely what it means. When you say you’re communicating to humans, what you’re really saying is that you’re doing what you should be doing. When you say you’re deploying an “integrated marketing communications campaign,” what you’re really saying is that you’re doing what you should be doing. These terms aren’t special anymore – they simply identify part of the very fabric of how we exchange news and information for action and reaction.

So, let’s let B2B and B2C delineate the spaces in which communications professionals play and let’s give H2H a break.


This post originally appeared on the PRSA Boston blog on July 10, 2014: https://prsaboston.org/blog.php?id=58&reset=1

The 3 Most Important Things That Happened At The Bell Ringer Awards

Did you miss last’s night’s  46th Annual Bell Ringer Awards? Here are the three most important things that happened at the ceremony.

1. David Wade thinks HB is funny(ish)

The night kicked off with drinks and a few HB shout-outs from WBZ-TV Anchor, David Wade. Before the Bell Ringers began, Wade tweeted out a challenge to pitch him in 140 characters or less. HB’s finest (Julia and Ruth) were publicly acknowledged for their clever pitches during Wade’s intro, while someone else was noticeably excluded (cough, me, cough). “I thought you were kidding! I thought it was a joke! I even wrote it down in my diary…”

2. HB walked away with three major awards 

Jokes aside, this year’s Bell Ringer Awards proved that PR in New England is at its best. The competition was one of the toughest in recent years. HB walked away with three awards–two Silver Bells in the Product/Service Publicity: High-Tech Campaign category for our work with clients Attivio and ProfitBricks– and a Merit for Local TV Placement for swissnex Boston/PlanetSolar.

3. @baznet was the night’s biggest winner!

In addition to bringing home some hardware, Ruth won a coveted raffle prize…

…and McDonald’s! Happy meals on Ruth to celebrate our wins!

DISCLAIMER: The post previously mentioned that the Pub Club tweet-punked Ruth re: the McDonald’s gift card. This is my public apology: I’m sorry for what I blogged when I was hangry

Sick of Crappy Infographics? Blame the First Press Release

Ivy-Lee-New-York-Times.jpgIn 2013, “Can you create an infographic?” became the new “Can you make a viral video?”

The craptastic nature of so many of them has inspired pinboards and even entire websites. I could dedicate an entire blog post to all the elements of awful infographics, but that’s well-trodden ground.

Instead I’d like to focus on a small insight I had while putting together a client memo on an infographic concept shortly after finishing up writing the final exam for my PR and social media class at BU.

In class we talk about what is commonly accepted as the first press release, written by Ivy Lee in 1906, which was no doubt the first and last time that a press release appeared in toto in the New York Times. It represents the the unmet dream of every PR person: verbatim editorial pick up of your messaging.

Infographics are the last gasp attempt of PR and marketing professionals everywhere to control the message.

Image via (but not by) New Breed Markeing

Image via (but not by) New Breed Marketing

We’ve completely lost control of the written text, but infographics represent something that’s a little harder to muck with. This theory nicely explains why it’s so tempting to cram as much text as is humanly possible into an infographic.

But it may not be the only reason.

Google may be as much to blame as Ivy Lee. PR pros’ goal of verbatim or near-verbatim adoption of a messaging platform might actually be seen as “content farming” and be penalized by Google for repeat content.

While at first blush the idea of hiding SEO-rich copy behind the “bit screen” of a JPEG, GIF or PNG image format (and thus rendering the text invisible to search engines) might seem detrimental, or even moronic (my first take on the phenomenon of text-heavy, mile-high infographics), the tactic may actually benefit marketers and messengers by preventing it from being penalized in the search engine results pages.

I still think there are much better ways to communicate your key messages than an infographic. Despite their name, infographics should be used to illustrate and create new insights, rather than to inform. Text is still the best medium for that — at least for the time being. But maybe I’m being old-fashioned. If so, call me on it!

Update (February 5, 2014): BONUS VIDEO
I stopped by the offices of Critical Mention during my last visit to New York, and they threw me on camera to talk about this post a little more. Here’s what I said:

Craptastic Infographics (Todd Van Hoosear Video) from Critical Mention on Vimeo.

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.

Who’s to Blame When PR Practitioners Spam?

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 3.14.25 PMDavid Segal usually keeps his magnifying glass trained on big consumer brands, frauds, rip-offs, deceptive practices and other complaints from his readers. But two weeks ago, he turned his attention to a very different beast: PR spam.

The Haggler, it seems, had reason to complain himself: he was getting way too many unsolicited and grossly off-target email pitches. As he put it:

The odds of the Haggler writing about any of these topics could safely be described as nil. Yet some company hired a public relations firm to send the Haggler, and presumably countless other reporters, the same information. This seemed like a waste of energy and money, so the Haggler decided to find out what was behind this antiquated attempt to win media attention — who was paying for it, and why?

The Haggler started by emailing the P.R. reps whose names were attached to these emails, posing a simple question: Where did you get the Haggler’s address? One answer came up time and again: Vocus, a publicly traded company based in Beltsville, Md. Among its products is access to a database of reporters’ email addresses.

So the Haggler set out to get removed from these lists, curated by companies like Vocus, Cision, MyMediaInfo, Meltwater and the popular PR wire services. One less media contact in our databases, but hundreds fewer bits of email spam in his inbox. His gain, but our loss. My loss, to be exact. When other irresponsible PR practitioners make my life more difficult, I take it personally. Or, am I wrong? Perhaps it is his loss, and maybe not as much of a loss for us as I thought?

Does It Work?

The PR world wasted no time in commenting on this. While most trashed the practice of “shotgun PR,” at least one observer noted that [emphasis mine]

as a result of [the agency’s] scattershot, “let’s see what sticks” media outreach tactics, Soireehome [the company called out in The Haggler’s article] and its product received a mention in the New York Times. I’d be curious to see what Google could tell us about upticks in searches for that drinking glass. Something tells me volume is probably up. I admit it: As someone who likes his martinis bone cold, I thought about googling it myself!

While Eric Starkman, the author of those words, quickly goes on to distance himself from the practice, he in turn points to the reason why spray and pray PR might be more effective now than ever before:

Journalism’s “standard operating procedures” have plummeted to such a low level that increasingly what Mr. Segal decries as PR spam finds its way into the blogosphere and ultimately into mainstream newspapers. Gawker in its “PR Dummies” column once decried a PR firm for sending out a staged photo of an actress purchasing some orange juice, but the image – and the Gawker column – actually garnered some pick up…. Granted, not all the mentions were positive, but there is a school of thought (which I don’t subscribe to) that all PR is ultimately good PR. In the client’s eyes, the “buzz” could very well have been a perceived win. (For what it’s worth, I hadn’t heard of that brand of orange juice until I read about it on Gawker, but now I know it has 50 percent less calories than that company’s other orange juice products!)

Opt Out or Blacklist?

So what to do about this quandary?

When I read this story, I hearkened back to the last major flare-up around PR spam: the one that led LifeHacker‘s Gina Trapani to create and curate the PR Spammers Wiki. And my immediate thought was maybe we should reinstate the PR spammer blacklist. After all, surely it has to be better than the alternative — losing valuable contact information from good editorial contacts. But then I remember how relieved I was that my company wasn’t on the list of PR spammers, and how many good companies were on that list, usually because of one or two bad eggs out of dozens or hundreds of PR people and thousands of pitches.

So, torn and indecisive as I was, I tweeted my frustration:

Both Meltwater and Cision got back to me quickly. Perhaps it will be no surprise that I’m a customer of both.

Cision connected me with Heidi Sullivan, who in fact spent a good deal of time speaking with John Cass and Jason Falls back in 2008 when the first flare-up happened. I spent some time getting her perspective on the issue as it reemerges in 2013.

Accidentally on Purpose?

“We do still run into situations where people who are abusing our database,” Heidi said. “If they use our distribution service, we have limits in place to prevent abuse. If they export our data, we have to rely on abuse reports from journalists. Once we get these, we ask people to stop. If they don’t, we shut them off.”

Heidi is convinced that in most cases, it’s a matter of poor training, rather than deliberate abuse. “Spray and pray PR doesn’t work, and we spend a lot of time helping our PR clients better focus their pitches,” she told me. “More often than not, these abuses come from young, poorly-trained, well-intentioned PR practitioners under pressure to get more hits. Correct that and you fix most of the problem areas.”

Training is a big part of Heidi’s job at Cision. She organizes three to four webinars per month focused on topics like pitching the media, content marketing and other areas. The Cision Blog is another resource that offers tips on doing great PR.

Cision has also tweaked the tools and services it offers to help address this. I mentioned earlier the distribution limits it put in place. The product now offers an influencer search to find what journalists are tweeting about, so you can get much more specific with your searches.

Who Needs Who?

Let’s take a moment to explore why Cision and other media databases exist. Like media query services such as HARO and Profnet, they don’t just help the PR professionals; they also help the reporters out. While a reasonable case could be made that David Segal is an exception to this, since his sources are almost exclusively emails from concerned consumers, he is in the minority. Most journalists need PR people as much as PR people need journalists. Today, perhaps more than ever.

As an illustration of this fact, I asked Heidi how many journalists took up The Haggler’s mantle and removed themselves from Cision’s databases. The answer? “We had fewer than five removal requests after the Haggler’s article. We spoke with each of them, and ultimately removed fewer than half of them from our database. In fact, we got way more emails from conscientious clients than reporters.”

Oh, and yes, David Segal was among the one or two media contacts that the PR world lost. But was it much of a loss?

Skeptics or Believers?

David Segal is a skeptic not only of PR, but social media as well — I can’t find a Twitter handle for him or his pseudonym. In both social media and email, he appears to be among a dwindling number of professional journalists able to exist without these channels of communication.

Heidi gave me a preview of some research conducted by Cision on trends in journalists’ use of social media. The number of journalists who classify themselves as social media skeptics dropped from 31% in 2012 to 9% in 2013 according to the company’s soon-to-be-released survey data.


What Next?

Back in 2008, Jason and John put the onus of responsibility on the media database companies, urging them to develop an industry protocol for gathering and managing contact information, tracking the history of contact changes, fact checking and permission seeking with each contact, the creation of a media hotline for each database company, and the creation of a “community taskforce to stop bad pitches.”

Progress has been made toward those goals, but more progress must be made. My final thoughts go to the parties involved:

To David Segal, I say: “While I think removing yourself from the list was an overreaction, it’s one I entirely understand. But every once in a while, a journalist is thankful for a PR person ignoring the ‘not a media contact’ warning that I think would have been a better solution for all.”

To the surprised CEO who had no idea what his agency was doing with the $1500 a month they were being paid, I say: “Sorry, but you get what you pay for. Spend more money on PR, but demand accountability from your (no doubt new) agency as a consequence, as David rightly suggests.”

To the agency involved in this, I say: “Sorry you lost that client. Train your younger associates better. Find better ways to measure your efforts than the number of pitches sent. And avoid phrases like ’email blast’ around the office.”

And to my fellow PR professionals, I say: “The biggest lessons here may be about setting expectations and learning to say no to smaller budgets. The sweet spot for effective and profitable PR will be different for every agency, but make sure you know what that number is and try not to go under it. Smaller budgets lead to lower margins and unhappy (and surprised) clients.”

12 PR Tactics That Can Save You From Indescribable Horror

Scary PR TacticsWith Halloween 2013 behind us, there are still things out there haunting the PR halls.
Before you get tricked into thinking your PR tactics don’t need improvement, here are twelve simple things that can save you and the rest of us from the horrors of bad technique.


  1. Pick Up the Phone – As much as reporters are going to tell you to only connect with them via email, you still need to pick up the phone. It’s worth warning you that if you do decide to call, you better have a good reason. Note: Following up on an email you sent yesterday is not a good reason.
  2. Go Beyond Traditional Media Relations – With all of the social media tools out there, now’s your chance to get creative and have some fun with pitching.
  3. Review Your Entire Press Release Copy – It surprises me how many PR people do final read-throughs of their client’s press release and don’t read the entire thing. Yes, you need to read every single character on that page, from the contact information to the boilerplate. You never know what mistakes you will find.
  4. Check Your Links – If you are going to link to anything, whether it be in a press release, a pitch or a blog post, check your links. The last thing you want is to send an email to a client in the early afternoon and they get a glimpse into your lunch reading material.
  5. Use a Signature – You know what’s scary? When a client or reporter, or even your boss, has to dig through their inbox because you barely ever include your signature in emails. Use your signature. Every time.
  6. Don’t Wait Until the Witching Hour – Nowadays, the lead time for editorial calendar opportunities can be up to four or even five months in advance. If you wait until the month before you can kiss that opportunity goodbye.
  7. It’s Not All About You – PR professionals need to be their own PR people. If you call a reporter, stop by your colleague’s desk, or even just try a quick IM to a client, remember that they are busy too. Before you start into your one-sided conversation (at least for that first minute anyway), remember that they may be in the middle of something. Simply asking, “Do you have a quick minute to chat?” goes a long way.
  8. Take Your Expert Pitch All The Way – If you’re taking the time to put your client out there to media as an expert, do yourself a favor and tweet about it. I’ve landed numerous inbound media inquiries just by doing this one simple thing.
  9. Remember That Not Every Awesome Article Is Awesome – It took weeks to land that feature article on your client and it finally hits the web. When you send it over to your client the worst thing you can do is to rave about it. You just never know whether there is a line in there that they might absolutely cringe over, or perhaps there’s a factual error that you didn’t notice. Send over articles in a neutral tone and let the client praise you. Then you can share in their excitement. If you don’t, you risk looking like you have no idea what your own client wants.
  10. Use the Right Medium to Communicate – When you send out an IM, email, telephone call, Facebook message, smoke signal; whatever it is I want you to think: What is the purpose of this message? What is the outcome I am looking for? When do I need a response? You just might realize you’re using the wrong medium and not achieving your goals.
  11. Search Is Your Best Friend – Before asking a client about the details of the new product release, their CTO’s bio, or whatever other information you need, for the love of all that is holy, search for it first. Search your emails, your shared files, the internet – doing a quick search keeps you from asking repetitiously and looking like you don’t have your PR act together.
  12. The Most Important Desktop File You Will Ever Use – I can’t stress this enough. You need to have a client contact sheet on your desktop. This is a document of all of your clients’ contact information; this includes cell phone numbers, emails, proper titles and office addresses. I usually have the C-level management and other day-to-day contacts on this sheet. Most of the time when I need to use that sheet, it’s for an urgent matter.

Give these a try and let me know how they work out for you. If you would like to add something to the list, drop a note in the comments. Together we can save ourselves from the horrors of bad PR tactics. For that I will be truly thankful. Happy November.

There is No Pitch in PR

5959544809_518c9047b5_nIt’s playoff season, and the Red Sox are headed to the World Series to play the Cardinals. Baseball is a pitcher’s game, and as any batter can tell you, pitching is not a win-win scenario. The pitcher is up on that mound with one goal in mind: to strike the batter out.

PR professionals are all about the pitch. Our goal — to mix metaphors (or at least to mix professions) — is to be pitch perfect.

Maybe this is the wrong way to think about things.

Jim Ayraud, CEO and founder of Next Level, Inc., teaches sales, and I had the pleasure last week of attending one of his two-day intensive sales training programs based on the Sandler System.

While he was focused on training us on business development techniques, I couldn’t help but apply what I was learning to media relations as well.

Jim taught us that pitch is a bad word in sales, because it implies that a win for the salesperson is a loss for the buyer, and that’s neither correct nor healthy for us. “There is no pitch in sales,” he says. Jim suggests that sales is more about catching the ball than pitching it. Only the ball is pain.

Maybe PR is too.

Jim taught us ways to catch our prospects’ pain. I think this applies nicely to media relations. What pain are your reporters and editors facing? Get to know those pain points. And you accomplish that through rapport. You can’t build a relationship with a reporter or editor in 2-3 minutes. But you can build rapport. You do this by setting a clear, upfront contract with the contact right off the bat, and then through active listening.

When we focus on the pitch, we’re forgetting the pain. Maybe our pitch can help solve that pain, but maybe not. How will we know, if we don’t ask?

PR people talk too much, and don’t listen enough. You know it’s true. I like to talk. So do you. It’s probably why we’re both in PR. But the best PR people listen more than they talk. They ask about their reporters’ needs, and then find ways to help even more than the latest press release from their client can.

The Red Sox’ pitching has been inconsistent in the post-season. But throughout the World Series, and into 2014, I’m going to remind myself what the guy on the mound is trying to accomplish, and how it’s different from what I do. I hope you do too.

Photo Credit: Keith Allison

What Scares Me About PR

What scares me about PR

PR challenges that should scare the industry

PR is changing. I spend a lot of time talking to anyone who will listen – my team, clients, prospects, strangers at cocktail parties, Twitter friends – about how and why. I believe a shakeout is coming and firms that cannot deliver on the new needs of their clients will fall behind.

Does the industry need a unified voice about how PR should be practiced, professionals should be trained, results measured, and ethics defined? Is that even possible? While there is no single approach to this “new” PR, consistent conversation points continually arise.

The debates are healthy I suppose, but if I had any ability to be objective about PR, the dissonance would strike me as seeing an industry that (still) does not know what it is and what it can accomplish. While I know this isn’t true given the smart people, innovative firms and great PR programs I see, that there is even recurring discourse about the themes below scares me. Read below to see what keeps me up at night, and keep reading to find out what’s really scary.

PR is dead. Guess what? This week, I read an article proclaiming PR is dead. Again. Really?

Public relations is an estimated $11 billion business in the U.S. – just agency numbers, no in-house corp comm numbers included – $8 billion in the U.K. and significant in many countries around the world. There are 7,000 PR firms in the Unites States. 7,000! That averages out to 140 firms per state.

There is significant spend on PR, more PR professionals than journalists, thousands of firms, including big, publicly traded companies that must keep shareholders satisfied, and the industry is dead? It scares me that this perspective continually rises. Then again, there is constant noise that marketing is also dead, along with SEO, and content and social media. That’s a lot of dead.

Google makes press release distribution irrelevant. As maligned as it may be, the press release remains a trusty corporate communications asset. Algorithm changes by Google have had an impact on links in releases distributed via wire services and how the search engine views them. So what? This is not the death knell of the press release.

Releases are still an effective storytelling device, and as clients repeatedly tell us, provide credibility to their companies. I’m cool with that. Honestly, there’s hardly a journalist today who eagerly anticipates a press release before coming up with an article idea. If there are journalists out there waiting for releases, please let me know; I’ll start a list.

For my friends at wire services, however, I am scared. They’ve built healthy businesses, first on getting releases into newsrooms, and more recently by driving website traffic and helping stuff Google Alerts. What’s next for the wire service, and what impact will their challenges have on press releases? Even disclosure and earnings reports can happen through media other than wire services now.  Less SEO boost and an unengaged journalist audience does not make for a great outcome.

There is no creativity in PR. How do you define creativity? Is it a great pitch letter or turn-of-phrase in a speech? At HB, we advocate that businesses must act like media companies. While this concept encompasses the distribution, creation and consumption of content – and building community around the content – we believe the content must be visual, or at least supported by visual elements. But this does not happen consistently enough in PR, and leads people to think that there’s no creativity. Even if it’s a post for a corporate blog, create a square image that communicates the story through the graphics. Ignoring the power we have to communicate through multimedia assets is scary… and an opportunity for those of us who keep the creative juices flowing and earn the media hits as a reward.   

Who owns social media? Why does this industry make such strenuous arguments over ownership? Does it matter? Social media and community-building – more often than not moving in-house these days – is not about ownership. It’s about story and process and companywide philosophy on how to embrace social and community within an organization. “Owning” such a, well, social component of marketing is not good practice, and the debates over ownership scare me.

What about a great idea? I suppose this scares me the most. Great ideas rock. The right idea can be supported by PR, marketing, digital, social, whatever. That idea can power an entire company’s brand platform, infuse every piece of everything that it does. The best ideas don’t fall neatly into one aspect of marketing or another; they move an organization ahead powerfully because the idea is powerful. Nor, as Paul Gillin once wrote, do they necessarily have ROI. So what’s scary about a great idea?

This is: who funds it?

Marketing budgets are often still compartmentalized. PR gets this much, branding this much, etc. Buyer behavior is scary. It’s not the buyer’s fault, as PR and other marketing disciplines have worked so hard to create their own silos. Buyers are only doing what we trained them to do for years, ignoring the sea changes that were coming. And that was not buying the big idea in many cases.

It’s not as bleak as I make it out to be, of course. The PR industry is doing just fine. At HB, we find some prospects get it when we talk about helping them become media companies and others don’t, and some can fund it and some cannot. That’s OK. There are choices out there. 7,000 of them!

To overcome my fears, I take comfort in knowing that:

  • PR is alive and well, and done differently at different firms.
  • Press release must tell the company story, and search results do not dictate the entirety of a PR program; the best firms know how to address search and where it fits in a program’s content.
  • Creativity is subjective – clients and prospects – and their audiences – know the right creative for them when they see it.
  • Social media is part of the fabric of progressive companies.
  • Buyers are listening more to idea-driven marketing, and we will see change – slowly – in how marketing and PR initiatives are funded.

Do you want to talk about something really scary? Clowns. We all know they’re scary.

Catch HB and a group of other great companies this Thursday at FutureM as we tackle these issues and more. We’re speaking on the topic: PR is Marketing’s Future. Join me and talented professionals from The Holmes Report, Digiday, Connelly Partners, allen & gerritsen and Springpad. It won’t be scary.

What scares you about PR?