From the desk of Patrick Ward
My colleagues will tell you that when someone creates a new model or methodology to "fix PR," it is an invitation for me to start popping blood vessels. And when I find out it's some 25 year-old who thinks they've cracked the code or some person who has never worked in a PR agency or in-house department, well then let the invectives fly.
The latest is AirPR, which launched today and promises to fix PR by applying some matchmaking algorithm to PR firms and start-ups, achieving the perfect chemistry between client and agency.
First of all, this isn't mixing paint. The chemistry between a client and agency is not unlike that between a newly introduced couple over dim-sum. Wait, no, actually, it is totally unlike that. It is about experience and insight, trust and execution, and mostly about the ability to comprehend a business objective and apply some thought on how to solve it. But even if you could match firms and prospects with sudden accuracy, that's not solving PR's apparent problems.
The "problem" with PR is not a problem at all, at least not with PR. The problem is that many have missed the difference between publicity and communications. Publicity is for celebrities. Publicity is the provenance of bespectacled sexagenarians hawking stories in thick New York accents. When a prospect puts a quota on the number of stories they expect or apply a metric like, "We want to be on the cover of the Wall Street Journal," I run. As fast and as far as I can.
To say PR is broken may be to forget that PR has an inevitable and inexorable dance partner called journalism. Our reporter, columnist and editor friends have suffered an irrevocable disruption. If you want to "fix" PR, well you had better "fix" journalism. You'd better jump in a time machine and go back 10 years when the tech industry had scores of trade magazines, business magazines had 15 people in their Silicon Valley bureaus and you could get six appointments a day on a press tour.
Forget it. Not going to happen. Especially not for some start-up founded by two guys in a downtown loft who were until last week mid-level managers at a now public Silicon Valley darling. Oh, but they have figured out another way to manage your social graph!
The media are always going to be an essential component to any communications strategy and should be. They have a very big megaphone. But what's broken is this inflated notion that start-ups can rely on the media as a channel to customers and communities. So long as entrepreneurs think that their only path to glory is through a Fast Company cover story, this apparent frustration with PR will endure.
So, what's the solution? Well, I am sorry to say, we save that for clients and prospective clients. I will say, that we don't think PR is broken. But it is different, and those who adapt will thrive. Those who keep doing it the same way and keep banging their heads against a wall, well, they'll get a headache. What is the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.