PR can be an incredible change-making business—and it is enjoying a well-deserved growth stage. Companies and people are beginning to recognize that the old way of building consumer or public equity is changing. IBIS World, a media research firm, says PR spending in 2010 was $9.73 billion and forecasts it will increase to $12.82 billion by 2015. The growth is in part due to PR’s ability to participate in a more nimble and flexible way with the new methods by which people consume media, including social media. That sounds promising until you compare it with ad spending, which even after annual declines in recent years is about $210.5 billion a year in the U.S. The PR business is a tiny piece of the pie compared to advertising; there’s no reason why it can’t continue to grow and take advantage of its agility in the marketplace.
Unfortunately, a lot of what passes for public relations is lacking because it’s ineffective, irrelevant, and intangible. Negative (or alternatively, overly romanticized) public perception of the industry is fueled by pop culture portrayals that are completelyunrepresentative of what real PR work entails. Consider, for example, the character Samantha in Sex and the City. No remotely successful PR pro spends half the day shopping and eating lunch and the other half seducing the UPS deliveryman. PR is far from a glamorous profession (though it can entail plenty of drama).
Various reality TV shows have also purported to show how the business works, and they’ve been way off base. It’s among the reasons why I have turned down two reality show offers through the years. All press is most certainly not good press. Disappointing results from badly conceived or lackluster PR campaigns have also made potentially great clients gunshy about hiring PR firms. There’s a concern that PR will be a money-suck with little or no return on investment. The blame for these difficulties can be placed firmly at the feet of an industry that hasn’t always kept up with changes in the world and hasn’t taken seriously its role as an integral part of a business’s success, including business and brand strategies.
Modern PR has to help brands innovate, market, and message well. My goal is to demonstrate that PR is for everyone. It helps entrepreneurs earn more, small brands become household names, Fortune 500 companies preserve and grow their positions, and personalities and politicians maintain and increase their credibility and relevance. And it helps all of the above rapidly increase brand value. If you have a great idea, product, or service, PR can do a lot to cut through the noise and let the world know.
PR is a mix of journalism, psychology, and lawyering—it’s an ever-changing and always interesting landscape. There are many points of view about PR and what it can, can’t, and should do.
Public relations is an amazing business that offers people, brands, personalities, politicians, nonprofits, foundations, hospitals—you name it—an incredible chance to leverage their strengths and shape public opinion. Who better than a seasoned and forward thinking PR person to anticipate, analyze, and interpret public opinion and attitudes? PR’s biggest advantage over marketing and advertising is the seemingly independent third-party recognition and endorsement it provides—an incredible asset in a crowded, distracted, and confused world. Understanding this point is critical because the right publicity has profoundly more credibility than ads and marketing campaigns. The public feels that when an objective third party—a television show, magazine writer, newspaper journalist, blogger, social networker, or radio reporter, for example—features a company or person in a positive light, that entity is authentic and important.
Brands have to pay attention to personalization, interaction, conversation, efficacy, and social responsibility. Image is everything.
Ronn Torossian is the Founder of 5WPR.