Today’s PR Is Not Your Mama’s PR Anymore

Throughout the year, we get a lot of enquiries from local PR and ad companies who want us to send them a rate card.

Talking down is not allowed in the new media world

A rate card simply means a price listing of products/services. They want a rate card so that they can tag on web design as part of their services too.

Which means they may now inform their clients that they too now offer web design services. This happens a lot because naturally if you service a client, say for an advertisement, he might ask casually if you could create a website for him too.

In most cases, why would an ad firm or PR company refuse this pot of money staring at them?

They’d be insane to do so.

But this is not only happening to PR or advertising firms. Even regular mom-and-pop companies are also tacking on ‘we do website design’ on their business cards.

In 99% of these cases, these companies do not have a full-time website designer on board.

If they do get an order for web design, they will outsource the work to another firm or to some freelancer. Or if the boss is sneaky, he will force the job onto his poor graphic designer who has NO idea about web design.

But it doesn’t matter because the customer won’t know better. The customer won’t demand much as it’s a case of the blind leading the blind anyway.

The Internet Changes How PR Is Done

But let’s get back to the media (advertising and PR companies). The reason why some things are changing is because the Internet is changing the face of PR (public relations).

PR In Those Days

In the olden days, if you were the CEO of a business and wanted some form of media exposure, you would either hire someone and place her in-house to help you with PR and all forms of communications with the outside world. You would give her a Corporate Communications position.

She (it’s usually a woman, don’t ask me why but I think our feminine, gentle ways and persistence seem to stand us in good stead as communicators… but then again, I may be wrong! It could be sexism ha!) would generate press releases and get in touch with the media, hoping they’d give them the time of the day and possibly some space in their newspapers.

If the news is published, she sighs with relief. If not, she has to work harder at getting the editors to ‘pretty please and come cover our event’ or ‘ don’t you think our CEO is worth interviewing?’ It’s very much annoying to newspaper editors.

Or if the CEO is a little smarter, he’d hire a PR company to do some schmoozing. He could still have a Corporate Communications person but the PR company will be his lobbyists because they are chummy with the news editors and they know or rather seem to know every journalist at every section. They can arrange with the news editor to give you a nice full page interview and even get you on the front page of the business magazine. So the PR firm with the most muscle wins the day.

Today’s PR Ain’t Your Mama’s PR

But the past couple of years has changed some of these schmoozing dynamics. Somehow, people are a little wary of what goes into the newspapers these days.

Or maybe social media is changing how we perceive PR and what PR ought to be.

How It Worked…Using 6 Degrees of Separation

In those days, normal people couldn’t even get near the people who published news.

You had to know Alex, who knew Yen Li who knew Sharifah who knew Dev’s ex-girlfriend to be able to get remotely near the editor of a magazine or newspaper. And even then there’s no saying if the media will print your news or look through your media invite.

You’re just a little ant. Go away. Don’t bother us.

Today, if you wanted to publicize a company event or news, you don’t really need PR companies (unless you’re really blue chip and old school and a “Corporate Company”) to get your news out there.

News dissemination is much more democratized. In fact, Nic and I often read the news online 2 days before the news gets into the newspapers. We’re probably going to unsubscribe to The Star soon and maybe get the online version.

Remember March 8? Everyone scrambled online to find out the general election results! Malaysiakini’s website was completely overwhelmed by surfers excited to know the REAL results. Those like my poor Dad who kept his eyes glued to national TV (RTM & TV3) didn’t know a landslide victory was in the pockets of the DAP, PKR and PAS.

Having the Internet means that you today are your own news editor and publisher and media consumer . You can publish your news directly on your blog (whatever it is you need to shout off mountain tops), you can put in your ezine, you can email it to all your customers.

You don’t need the big media anymore.

And that is super scary for the media.

You can disseminate your own press release online. You can write the most up-to-date news, even as the event is happening right before your eyes if you can blog real-time. And you can do that any where as long as you have access to the Net.

You can create your own Facebook Group, Twitter about and get fans and followers.

The media is no longer inaccessible.

In fact, the media of the future is all about users like you and me.

That’s why user-generated content is the key driver of the most successful of today’s web businesses. Don’t know what user-generated sites are? Think Youtube, think Wikipedia, think Facebook, think of all the millions of blogs and websites out there.

We love being our own Paris Hiltons anyway.

These days, you get your event noticed if you invite celebrity bloggers to cover it. In fact, I would say, getting a celebrity blogger is a much better pay-off. They have legions of fans and you can hone in on the reader demographics. If you are doing a yuppie event, you’re better off getting Kenny Sia to talk about your event on his blog compared to running ads in the traditional media! And hey, you don’t need a PR company to contact Kenny. His contact details are on his blog. So yes, PR companies can be easily bypassed!

Marketing and PR Beyond 2008

Marketing, PR and advertising in the 21st century is about smarts and creativity.

The old skool way will no longer be relevant and that’s scary for PR people unless they innovate. (By the way, you can learn from this TV programme on CNBC called The Business of Innovation. It’s also available online.)

What is innovation? It doesn’t mean using the same old practices used offline in the online world. It doesn’t mean pushing your way into blogs or websites. It doesn’t mean interrupting conversations online. It means joining in the conversation! That’s what the social in social media means.

Power To You, The Content Generator

Sadly the power isn’t with you the PR folks anymore.

The power is with the end-user, the consumer. The one who can turn off his PC, refuse to click on ads, ignore your marketing messages no matter how often it pops up (he will just disable pop-ups and pop-unders, so there!).

So where am I going with all this? I’m saying that unless PR companies are smart about what they offer and more, they will be horribly left behind if they continue this way. More and more companies are going online to promote and sell themselves, even big corporate ones such as Dell. Dell as its blog, Dell has its own Twitter.

Think about this for a second. A big giant playing with ants on the ant field?

And PR companies must not just tack on ‘website design’ as part of their services. They must understand that it’s a whole new ball game altogether. Asking for a rate card isn’t going to cut it either. A rate card assumes that something is predetermined – how much is a full-page advert in The Star, for instance.

There are no rate cards for websites because a website is tailored to the client’s needs for his business. It’s not a one size fits all solution. Maybe other web design firms have a one size fits all approach but we offer advice and design services which are customised to the client’s business strategies.

So this is a long post. But it is also something I thought about for sometime. How the Internet is changing the face of our businesses.

What are YOUR thoughts on this? Are you in the PR business? How do you innovate to stay focused? What are your challenges? I’m all ears!

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