For Immediate Release – Is PR Dead?

In episode #432 of For Immediate Release, produced by Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson, they discuss some thought-provoking comments, among them:

  • the death of the print media, specifically introduced by Dan York (while reporting in from a dump site); and
  • an in-depth discussion on public relations: it might be dead, says Robert Scoble, and it’s not appropriate for social media, says Joseph Jaffe?

Thought provoking debate.  OK, Georgetown students:

  1. Listen to the entire podcast;
  2. Present your point of view in the comments section below by Tuesday, March 24 at 5:00pm; and
  3. I’ll pick the best comments to be passed on the Shel and Neville, either via email or voice recording.





  1. Jacqueline Says: March 22, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    On PR is dead

    Historically journalists and practitioners epitomized the mutually beneficial model that defines the practice of public relations. With the paradigm shift propelled by the information age and social media, the quid pro quo relationship journalists took for granted for so long (not least because they had the upper hand) has changed. Journalists are no longer king or the gatekeepers to the valuable publics that are the raison d’etre for public relations practitioners.

    As those publics have increasing control over how and where they seek information and/or communication with organizations they are interested in so the role of journalists increasingly resembles that of other species whose existence is under threat. For practitioners this is an opportunity. PR can finally come out from behind the shadows of marketing and advertising both of which have long enjoyed the advantage of being able to showcase their successes with hard data.

    As building and managing qualitative relationships in order to make a quantifiable impact on the bottom line has become increasingly important, public relations can at last step out of the supporting role we have been unfairly relegated to and take the lead that we are uniquely prepared for in driving how an organization can engage its internal and external stakeholders in order to realize better performance and business results.

    Communication, now more than ever, is dependent on three factors:

    RELEVANCE: we now have the opportunity to consider and plan strategies that are relevant to the publics we want to engage in conversation.

    REACH: we are no longer obliged to broadcast every message and every announcement and can in fact choose how many we actually need to reach and focus our efforts on engaging in quality communications which we can measure not just by outputs or outcomes but also outtakes (Paine 2008.)

    RELATIONSHIP: authenticity is key to connecting with informed publics and authentic relationships based on ongoing dialogue and exchange of information are the only sustainable relationships. PR is not dead, spin doctoring is.

    For too long practitioners have had to dedicate a disproportionate amount of time to what amounts to just one of many tools in the experienced practitioner’s bag of tricks – pitching reporters. The information age offers a welcome (in my opinion) opportunity to create and deliver multifaceted strategies that make full use of all the public relations tools at our disposal. I dream of the day when in-house practitioners are not forced into that dark and hopefully soon obsolete corner of defining our contribution to the big picture in meaningless ad-equivalency figures or column inches.

    The king is dead. Long live PR.

  2. Kevin Kaveski Says: March 23, 2009 at 7:53 am

    PR isn’t dead; Innovation is dead.

    Traditional practices of PR are not acceptable by themselves in an evolving world of technology and media. Practitioners have the challenge of connecting with various audiences, audiences who communicate or receive information in various traditional and non-traditional ways.

    Understanding traditional and new tools that are available and how to properly use them in various situations is becoming a problem. Sending emails, posting blogs, using twitter feeds without understanding how it can be used to make a relevant connection to the intended audience is useless. (I.e. sending mass emails to gain attention from a blogger or having Senators tweeting during the State of the Union address)

    First adopters of technology will try many different ways to communicate and better understand target audiences. Many of these new technologies will fail, and the attempt to communicate using them will fail. Successful PR practitioners will be those who constantly look for the next communications or monitoring tool, probably using hundreds that will fail just to find three that legitimately work. (I.e., allows users to follow twitter feeds focused on target words)

    PR isn’t dead, the ability to think clearly and creatively is lacking.

  3. Zhazira Bukina Says: March 23, 2009 at 8:04 am

    PR is dead? PR doesn’t have values? Well, where are the facts? There no such facts. The fact is that professional public relations will continue to grow faster compared to the professions through 2014, the US. Department of Labor states. Over 350, 000 practitioners internationally in business, government and not-for-profit organizations represent everything ranging from small, local enterprises to large, global corporations. The other question is that there are amateurish specialists who think that pitching the reporter and sending e-mails is the only way to make PR.
    As Clay Shirky pinpoints, now we live in the times of information revolution. Therefore, our profession is undergoing enormous change in the way it develops and delivers its services. As a practitioner today, we must maintain positive public attention for our clients in the new-media world, where online and offline technologies have altered the way we interact with target audiences. As public relations functions increased, we need to fulfill marketing and strategic thinking roles in addition to traditional responsibilities such as media relations and employee communications.
    In fact, today every successful person who maintains mutual beneficial relations with his or her internal and external audiences is PR practitioner. The phenomenon of the British celebrity Jade Goody proves it. The last seven years of her life is PR in practice. The appearance of former nurse on the series of reality show led her to have her own television programs and launch her own products. So, PR is more alive than ever.

  4. Keith Parent Says: March 23, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    The public relations profession has taken on more dynamic and interactive roles with the birth of online media like Twitter and Facebook. In Episode #432 Holtz and Hobson discuss how the PR community could have done a better job in the years and months leading up to the global economic crisis. By utilizing online communications to provide transparency, PR professionals could have allowed stakeholders the opportunity to react strategically to bad business decisions in the housing and banking environment. The fact that recently added Twitter to its features, proves social media can open avenues for discussion and improvement in a company and possibly and entire industry.

    If people are held accountable by their stakeholders, thanks to the messages sent and received on twitter, then catastrophe tends to happen less often, and when it does, stakeholders can prepare more effectively. I found the discussion of PR’s failures prior to the economic melt down, critical in our ability to identify where social, web based media can improve on weaknesses. Customer relationship management through new media brings the stakeholder one level closer to the communication leg of any well managed organization. If all these factors represent the new direction of PR, then the assertion that PR is dead or on its way out, gets flipped on its head. I found that within my company, we often find it challenging to connect with our customers on personal levels. By building relationships threw twitter conversations, and Facebook groups, we can break into a personal realm never explored by PR professionals of past generations.

    Holtz and Hobson explained that while these new media venues can provide unique avenues for conversation positively impacting an organization or industry; they also brought a equally intriguing point when discussing the massacre of school children and their later exploitation by a journalist using Facebook. Social media can easily become a weapon allowing less than honest or virtuous parties to infiltrate a personal space, that as learned last week can quickly become public. As PR professionals look to increase our influence at the board room table, we are reminded by Holtz and Hobson to walk a fine line between customer relationship management and exploitation.

  5. Sunaina Bhatnagar Says: March 23, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    Wow, I don’t know where to begin.
    After listening to Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson’s episode #432 of For Immediate Release (FIR), I am feeling very defensive towards my concentration of study, public relations.
    As I was listening to Robert Scoble’s accusations of public relations being “stupid” and “dead,” I couldn’t help but feel sorry for this author.
    He sounded so ignorant! I was shocked because I have read (and enjoyed) his book with co-author Shel Israel, Naked Conversations, that discusses blogging.
    How could someone who gives such insightful advice about blogging and online tools, view public relations as being dead and boring?
    I agree with the commentary that Shel Holtz offers at the end of Scoble’s incomprehensive rant. Holtz points out that pitches and email are only one aspect of public relations, and that Scoble does not have a clear understanding of public relations as a whole because he is not exposed to it as much as say, public relations professional in agencies or corporations are. He is in a whole different arena due to his fame and stature. Holtz also points out that yes, there will be dumb individuals who are not adept at communicating, and these are possibly the individuals who email Scoble. However, to generalize public relations and to put it down like Scoble does it totally unfair.
    I follow Scoble on Twitter, and the man is so opinionated, so his rant doesn’t surprise me. I just wish his accusations were a little more educated because I am getting my masters degree in public relations, and I certainly do not view this area of study as ‘stupid.’
    In fact, I recently finished a case study on a successful public relations campaign that entirely benefited from the social media tools incorporated. The ‘got milk?’ campaign utilizes public relations to build relationships with its key stakeholders. Since when was building two-way mutual relationships, where both parties benefit, considered ‘stupid.’
    I guess what makes me mad is that Scoble does not have a sound understanding of all the functions and parts of public relations. Yes, pitching is one aspect, but pitching does not encompass the entire field.
    Then there was Joseph Jaffe’s piece. FIR presents excerpts from Jaffe’s piece, where basically Jaffe states that public relations and social media do not go well together.
    Holtz and Hobson point out that there have been many comments and backlash towards Jaffe’s views on social media and public relations.
    In my opinion, social media has opened so many doors for public relations. If a public relations is all about building relationships, then social media is the new, fresh and engaging gateway to achieve this. For example, companies or organization that are on social networking sites now have new forums for conversations to take place that are occurring in real-time. Additionally, information is easily and readily accessible with wikis, podcasts, vlogs, etc. Also, Blogs and microblogs that companies establish help to promote transparency and further encourage a mutual relationship with stakeholders and key target audiences. I can think of so many benefits of social media and public relations that I could probably bore everyone for hour ranting about it. Actually, I would suggest Mr. Jaffe go check out Scoble and Israel’s, Naked Conversations!
    Although I clearly disagree with Scoble and Jaffe, I am grateful to have heard their points of views because I am now even more confident in the wonderful subject of public relations.

  6. Shakirah Hill Says: March 23, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    Public Relations is not dead, but it is increasing. Is it increasing out of necessity or from convenience? The demands of public relations professionals are expanding as blogging and social media continue to expand. The public relations professionals of yesterday have become accustomed to the strategies that were acceptable during their reign as public relations gurus yet they struggle to adapt to the new mediums of reaching out to the media and bloggers. On the other hand, there are the new public relations professionals who have not fully been trained in the public relations tools that are the foundation of the career but are latching on to the social media wave as a means to increase awareness for clients thus, there is a struggle to define what public relations means for 2009 and the future. It is like a public relations civil war, “to embrace social media or not to embrace social media.” Does society really need social media? Publicist must weigh whether utilizing different mediums of social media are effective for their clients.

    The discussion should not be whether PR is dead or not, but it should be about whether or not society is giving social media more credit than it deserves. Public Relations is a tool that serves a very specific purpose. It has a proven track record of being a powerful model in the communications field. Social media is new and is still finding its niche. Communications professionals should be hesitant to merge the two. Sure, two tools can be used to fix one problem, however, each tool’s purpose must be clear and understood.

    Additionally, the purpose of public relations is key in this argument. If public relations is in fact dead then are relationships not being maintained? Schobel expressed frustration that public relations professionals are pitching via email. There is a valid point in his argument. The underlying contention is managing your relationships. Every journalist has different expectations of how they would like to receive pitches. There is an element of innovation that is needed to maintain and increase these relationships but this does not mean that public relations is dead it just means that there is more due diligence needed on behalf of communicators of yesterday and tomorrow. This can be getting back to traditional means of pitching stories through face to face conversations or understanding social media and using it only to benefit a client and not, as Keith aptly stated, for exploitation.

  7. Felicia Akoh Says: March 24, 2009 at 7:47 am

    PR is not dead. Pr involves establishing and maintaining beneficial relationships. The advent of the social media has instead fostered the growth of Public Relations, these social media tools like facebook and, twitter and YouTube for example helps to bring all groups of people together. Thereby implementing the role of Public Relations.

    Although some people have a poor approach to the use of emails one of the social media tool as Robert Scoble, underlines it does not mean that PR is dead. These PR practitioners just lack the idea of how to pitch their target audience. The idea is they have the tool at hand but fail to put it in practice.

    The social media is helping the PR profession stay in the limelight and if social media tools had existed before the profession could have attained more success than what it has today. In a nutshell the social media tools are keeping the profession alive.

  8. Yinka Olajide Says: March 24, 2009 at 8:17 am

    Personally, I think Scoble’s statement about PR is dead sounded a little bit arrogant. I would like to recommend to him a book written by Chris Anderson called The Long Tail. I believe that this will open to him the idea that all markets have niches and Public Relations is not an exception. While social media is a strong aspect of Public Relations, there are definitely other aspects of Public Relations that are still going strong. I do believe that there is more to Public Relations than blogging, Twitter or any other online media outlet.
    Neville Hobson made us realize that both Joe Jaffe and Robert Scoble are not in Public relations so I would take their opinion with a pinch of salt. They should concentrate on social media where their strength lies. I am interested in finding out how they came about this pronouncement. I mean real measurement that goes beyond somebody pitching to them, maybe they might convince me. While I agree that there is room for innovation in Public Relations, simply pronouncing it dead is totally wrong.

  9. Should Twitter be used as a customer service tool? This idea may be valuable, but for some businesses and organizations it might spiral out of control. The great thing about social media outlets it that it provides an open podium. Using Twitter, in particular as a customer service tool might limit that flexibility. This will also create additional positions with organizations to monitor these comments and accurately measure success. Considering the current state of our economy, for some this might seem farfetched. Social media outlets like The Facebook and Twitter in my opinion isn’t enough. People create pages to defend an idea or action, 500 plus individuals join and then what? I can comment on Twitter all day long on recent stories or issues in the news, only for my thoughts to soon be replaced by CuTie478’s comments on new store closings.
    PR isn’t Dead! We still need professionals that will continue to establish and maintain mutually beneficial relationships with stakeholders. I’m not saying that these outlets or comments made on social media networks are irrelevant. I just believe that many messages are lost and will continue to get lost if an organization fails to implement a strategic plan to monitor these social media outlets, if in fact they decide to proceed with using these outlets. We must first understand the new forms of technology in media before adapting to the culture.

  10. Alec Jeffries Says: March 24, 2009 at 10:00 am

    Public relations practitioners have a distorted image and need to apply their own skills to develop a better reputation. People are learning more about public relations as the industry becomes more transparent and unfortunately, a few bad apples have turn-off a whole lot of people (e.g. poorly constructed email pitches).

    Many communications professionals and self-proclaimed social media gurus do not fully understand the theoretical approach behind public relations. As new media is introduced, businesses are relying more on their own internal knowledge and networking abilities while pushing away from traditional public relations practices.

    All successful industries must adapt and mold to technological advances. The public relations industry is ahead of the curve and pushing into unchartered territory. Hill & Knowlton, Fleishman-Hillard and a slew of other reputable public relations firms are embracing Web 2.0 tactics and helping clients navigate through a sea of technological advances. Practitioners are conjuring new ideas and approaches to stale industry standards.

    Public relations is transforming during an epoch of limitless ideas and pushing the boundaries of traditional practices. Unconventional methods of public relations are becoming the normality and not all professionals have embraced the new concept.

  11. Tzu-Ying(Daisy) Chen Says: March 24, 2009 at 10:00 am

    I was a little astounded when I found Robert Scoble expressing his shallow understanding of public relations in a biased way. He just judged what public relations people are doing with his own experience in receiving spam e-mails. It is really a flimsy argument to say that public relations is dead.

    Public relations is still alive, because its real value exists in how public relations practitioners manipulate media, and what media (either print media or developing social media) to pursue its ultimate goal – building and maintaining mutual understanding with any constituent. I wish Robert Scoble could have known the most basic concepts of public relations so that he would not have such negative thoughts about what public relations practitioners are doing.

    Joseph Jaffe’s standpoint of engaging in what people are talking about clearly explains what public relations practitioners need to know about how important it is to tailor the messages to most people’s interests, depending on different situations, goals, and target audience. The way of communicating with people is adjustable case by case, but the content of messaging should be appropriately created with the mutual understanding between organizations and people.

    Still, many do not realize where the public relations value is based on. That is why public relations has been faced with questions about its function, position and profession. Here is an interesting point that I come up with: if people know everything, including what public relations is, why are public relations practitioners still here to dedicate to organizations and the public?

    Public relations is not dead because where people are, public relations is.

  12. Shana McMahon Says: March 24, 2009 at 11:54 am

    The argument that PR is dead is not one I feel many people would be making today. The difference today’s public relations compared to past public relations tactics is it is taking on a new route in using social media to enhance their clients goals in their campaign. Social media is the new way of public relations reaching people and the statements Robert Scobel are making, do not seem like he is taking into consideration the evolution of public relations and the call for social media today. The social media sector is the new way public relation employees are enhancing their relationships with their audience.

    There is some truth to what both Joseph Jaffe and Robert Scobel say in stating that public relations is handled better in the physical world, but people today are still calling for the use of social media as a way of contact. Public relations cannot ignore what people ask for and so the use of social media is just another way to enhance public relations. It is just a new wave of public relations and if done correctly could be a huge boost for the firm and their client. The social media used needs to reach the audience you are interested in trying to reach. Scobel seems to be focus on the failures that have happened in social media instead of seeing the vast increase of success cases that social media has influenced in PR today.

  13. Catherine Avery Says: March 24, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    After listening to the podcast and looking through my notes, I realized that Dan York’s comment about the death of print media is a topic that continues to appear in the fundraising conferences that I attend for my job. In particular, York’s assessment of the evolution and transition from print to online media confirmed my own questions about how to approach this revolution as a communicator. From the various fundraising conferences that I have attended over the past two years, many of the speakers talk about how direct mail fundraising pieces are on the way out, and how as fundraisers we need to look to the future of online fundraising and the use of social media. The use of social media in Obama’s campaign tactics continues to be an example of a trend in the use of online media; however, the communicators and fundraisers that use this example fail to discuss how one might move print media to online.

    How do you make that gradual transition? Is it gradual? I do not believe that the transition happens over night, so how do we as communicators educate our constituents about the use of online media, while continuing to pursue options in print media?

    From York’s analysis, it appears that during this transitional period from print to online media, communicators need to look at all of the various places where communications take place whether that is on Facebook or in a face to face meeting. As a fundraiser, I believe and practice in personal communications through meetings or events. In my job, events and meetings are the best way to make those personal communications and effectively establish two-way communications between myself and my constituents. However, the reality is that I am unable to meet with the 8,000+ constituents, and therefore, I have to seek alternative forms of communications.

    For now, I will continue to pursue online media formats and communications, however, I look forward to the day that the revolution from print to online communications is over.

  14. Alicja Patela Says: March 24, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson’s episode #432 raised some very interesting points and opinions. Personally, I was taken aback by Robert Scoble’s tone and comments regarding Public Relations. His claim that PR is “dead” and useless was not supported by any valid evidence. Scobel is entitled to his opinion but he should be able to back up his claims with more validity. Instead of just saying that PR is dead and stupid, Scobel needs to prove it. Social media is constantly changing and Scobel does mention that we need to continue to ask people to “do something new,” which I think the majority of professional are doing. There is a vast abundance of social media outlets and tools that are being used by Public Relations professionals, people are no longer strictly sticking to only traditional media. “Balance” was also mentioned in the episode and it is important for all Public Relations professionals to find a social media balance that suits both their audience and the messages that they are trying to convey. Shel pointed out that you need to find people who are not only interested in your message but also able to reach your targeted audience. Building and maintaining relationships is crucial in Public Relations and Shel also adds that there must be transparency. The audience has to be made aware of what is being put out there, when, how and by whom. Public Relations professionals should be encouraged and motivated by the ongoing media changes and innovations.

  15. There is an enormous difference between evaluating a business model and assessing an entire industry. Robert Scobe’s evangelical declaration that the PR industry is dead, as though he were a reputable pundit or the final “prophet” capable of such statements, only serves to remind us that there are many irrational people out there who use social media to disseminate unfounded, misguided opinions. This is the reality of Web 2.0: don’t believe everything you hear, or read for that matter. Nor do I buy his statement that Public Relations is about creating “magical experiences with magical people,” unless you work for Disney. Thus, my point is twofold:
    1) The housing market is dead. So is the big banking business model, the US auto industry model, the airline industry model, and so forth. Many industries and professions as we knew them have expired, but that doesn’t imply the death of the industry or profession itself. All it implies is business is never static, but an ever evolving entity, like all else in an evolutionary world. Public Relations in the absence of a social media context is extinct; we cannot ignore or discount Web 2.0. This is the paradigm shift of PR.
    2) Social media has changed the manner in which we develop relationships with stakeholders – there is nothing magical about it. There are tangible results based on our efforts that can be measured.
    Furthermore, Scobe mentions that he gets stupid pitches in emails on a regular basis. This might have more to do with his status in the public relations hierarchy than with the quality of public relations itself.
    And finally, perhaps Scobe should hang is hat if PR is dead; clearly, the way he views Public Relations in his podcast is about as fresh and new as a dinosaur. This is the naked truth.

  16. Listening to Robert Scoble and Joseph Jaffe’s comments about PR on “The Hobson & Holtz Report” illustrates a lack of understanding that many have about the profession.

    Robert Scoble’s comments that PR is dead, and what is being practiced is lame were inaccurate. Public relations is critical today more than it was even last year. This is because companies/public figures need to remain relevant and in-touch with their selected audiences even if they are on a tight budget, and public relations provides the highest ROI.

    Scoble continues to explain that many are still using email to pitch, and that that is stupid because he only reads 1 percent of the email he receives. I can respect that he doesn’t want to be reached by email, but some reporters, bloggers and editors prefer to be contacted via email. It is my job as the PR professional to know what the preference is and develop a personal and relevant pitch.

    If I ever do need do need him to cover a product I will remember that he likes to be taken out to dinner. However; if I have to travel 2000 miles across the country and wine and dine anyone I do expect them to “put out” and give my product a great review. Fortunately, many reporters and bloggers have strict guidelines on receiving gifts (including dinner).

    In regards to Joseph Jaffe’s article “Who Owns Digital Media”, I had to go and read the entire article after I listened to the podcast and have nothing nice to say.

    I disagree with Jaffe’s statement that social media falls in the space between the digital -web 1.0- world and the virtual world, which he states includes blogs, podcasts, social networking sites and virtual worlds such as second life, because blogs, podcasts social networking sites and even virtual worlds are actually social media platforms. So how can social media fall between the digital and virtual worlds?

    In his article Jaffe states, “my definition of a virtual world is any environment that utilizes avatar and/or profile-based participation, with the option of anonymity. In short, it’s a place or space where people can interact with other people in ways they could never do in the “real” or digital worlds.”

    Maybe he doesn’t understand that public relations is about establishing and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and its publics. Using this definition of public relations and his definition of virtual worlds and social media we see that the two do go together because social media actually allows for an organization to interact directly with its selected audiences. It takes public relations directly to the public.

    – side note –
    If PR was all about pitching I would not have chosen to pursue a career in it, or invest my money in a master’s degree, instead I would be managing one of my grandfather’s bars.

  17. Raquel Fuentes Says: March 25, 2009 at 9:50 am

    There are 3 comments that resonated with me after listening to the podcast.

    One, the value of face to face communication in relationships and, hence, public relations. Robert Scoble went on a tirade about how “lame” and “stupid” public relations is these days. The only specific example he gave was pitching via email, other than that, there was no logic or a well thought-out argument. As Shell and Neville pointed out, he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But Scoble made an interesting comment, at one point in the said, and I’m paraphrasing here, he’d get more value out of going to dinner with 10 bloggers, talking with them and then listening to a soft pitch. Scoble is completely at home in the virtual world, yet he sees value in face to face communication. While online peer-to-peer public relations model, as Kelleher calls it, may be the future of public relations, we should never forget the power of face to face communication which is nothing more than offline peer-to-peer public relations.

    Two, the drastic revolution from the physical environment to the virtual environment. While we lived in the physical enviroment of TV, radio and print for many decades, we moved into the digital environment of websites in the last 10-12 years and raced to the virtual environment of Twitter, Facebook and blogs in a matter of years. Public relations is still trying to find its role within these environments. Joseph Jaffe says public relations practicioners knowledge of the virtual environment is “anemic”, and it may or may not be true, but the more important point is that people in public relations will have to determine which one of these environments help them maintain mutually beneficial relationships with their publics. Just because something is new and cool, it doesn’t mean it’s the right tool, so having an good understanding of the various publics and striking the right mix among the 3 environments will be the key to effective public relations in the future.

    Three, public relations faces a transparency issue. Arthur Page said it many decades ago, Tell the Truth, but today this may be the most important rule for public relations practitioners to live by. Where as before a lot of public relations efforts were filtered through the media, nowadays, many public relations efforts are directed at the general public. The general public is exposed to more direct communication from organizations, has a chance to respond and know that its voice will be heard by both the organization and other publics. The power of social media is that any organization that engages its publics with anything less than the utmost transparency will be “smoked out” in not time.

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