Forecast: Numbers entering PR as a career to decline (sharply)

When a few poor lost souls occasionally come to me to ask about a career in PR, I always preface any remarks by telling them that I am probably the worst person on the world to give them advice.

When I was in college I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I definitely knew what I did not want to do, and there were two areas at the very top of the list:

  • Public Relations
  • Computers

Given the fact that I have spent the past seventeen years working in PR in the technology sector I think that precludes me from positioning myself as a career guidance guru. When I think back to why I shunned those two areas, computers was obvious, at the time it was a career that required you to be at least mildly-intelligent, something (my family would agree) that excluded my participation.

The dislike for PR is less obvious. But my only perception of PR at the time came from the BBC TV series Absolutely Fabulous which presented a view of Public Relations that was an absolute anathema to me. It was only a TV sit-com but that was what formed my opinion.

I fear that the news that broke yesterday, namely that Kim Kardashian is planning a new reality show on Public Relations will turn a whole new generation off the career, or maybe even worse turn a whole new generation on to Public Relations!

The proposed series follows Kardashian’s pals, PR gurus Jonathan Cheban and Simon Huck of the bicoastal agency Command Public Relations. A pilot for the show, which has been viewed by PEOPLE, has been shot and an undisclosed cable network is eyeing the series for a 2010 debut.

I am dreading watching this, but I know I will…



  • Shel Holtz has a great post and unlike me a great suggestion for the PR industry on this program.
  • He also managed to find their “web site

PR has reputation issues?

It’s not terribly busy in the PR blogosphere today, two items for your delectation….

1) Morgan McLintic ponders why PR has such as bad reputation (PR Week Insider blog). (Obviously there’s enough fodder there for a couple of books, but Morgan is restricted to a blog post):

The PR sector has been reputedly dead, dying, or making a mess of it for at least the last decade. We’ve all read the ‘PR people don’t get it’ tirades. Many of them are valid. It’s a perennial story, but why?

I meet a lot of PR executives who are passionate and smart. So why does the industry keep coming in for a hammering?


2) As many of you know, Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz host the twice weekly For Immediate Release PR podcast.  I’m not sure where they get the time or the energy, but they produce a great show and provide it to the PR community free gratis.

They are currently polling listeners to gauge potential interest in attending a FIR conference. Given their contribution to the online PR community, the least you can do is vote.

If you haven’t already subscribed to the FIR podcast, then do yourself a favor and do so!

The Personal Press Release

Paul Simms offers his own take on the “Personal Press Release” in The New Yorker:

Tim Williams, a member of the company in varying capacities for five years, has been promoted to Best Friend, and he will report directly to Kerner in all friendship-related matters.

“Tim has proved himself to be a solid guy who’s always up for whatever,” Kerner says. “During the past five years, I’ve watched him excel in every position he’s occupied. From Mere Acquaintance to Periodic Dinner Companion to Frequent Midweek Business-Lunch Cohort, Tim has consistently shown himself to be just the kind of person we’re looking for in a Best Friend.

Can we rely on PR’s “moral” minority with this issue?

Last week, as you may have already read, there was much “outrage” and “gnashing of teeth” about a PR firm who sent a broad e-mail to a wide range of (PR) bloggers promoting a book.  It was a faux pas, a mistake, but hardly the end of the world. Unfortunately as often happens in the rarified online atmosphere, we saw an epic over-reaction to this snafu.

Earlier today a more heinous accusation was leveled against a “Sales, Marketing and Public Relations Company”.  (*The accusation is that they created and posted “independent” consumer reviews of their client’s products)

So can we expect these same defenders of perfect PR practice to wail and flame post about this, far more serious, issue? 

Well, probably not, but we’ll see.

I have to say I’m somewhat uncomfortable discussing this latest issue.  One media report doesn’t necessarily provide the full story, and the agency’s response does reference a disgruntled former employee who is doing the rounds bad mouthing the agency.

I’m sure you are speaking with one of our former employees that has been contacting media outlets… I’m not sure what “unethical practices” you are referring to so it would be hard for me to comment, but I am hoping that you will do the proper research to ensure that the facts you are reporting are accurate and nit written based on information provided by a disgruntled former employee who is violating his confidentiality agreement.

That said this does raise a couple of interesting issues:

  • To be credible participants in the social media sphere should PR firms (who have been ensnared in many of these issues since the Interweb emerged and in the real-world before that) publicly state that they eschew these kinds of activities? [This was proposed by the Anti-Astroturfing campaign three years ago]
  • Where do PR industry organizations such as the PRCA stand on this kind of activity?
  • What does this mean for all the “social media gurus” who claim that the ”crowd” will rid the ills of the world – if the crowd is in fact armies of marketing people posing as teenagers (though I’d imagine real teenagers would spot the sweaty 30-something imposter)

It’ll be interesting to see events unfold, and as the facts emerge, it’ll be interesting to see if the moral minority climb up on their high horse again.

Yeah right… I won’t hold my breath.

In the meantime, what can you do?

Back in 2006 Trevor Cook and Paull Young co-founded an Anti-Astroturfing campaign.

We oppose the practice of astroturfing, defined above, in any form. The practice should never be a part of a public relations campaign as it is anti-democratic, unethical, immoral and often illegal.

We will attempt to raise awareness of this practice, expose it for what it is, and encourage our fellow communicators to join us in opposition.

We call for all professional communication bodies to strongly, publicly and actively oppose astroturfing; alongside PR agencies, individual practitioners and bloggers.

Interestingly only five PR firms signed up.

Maybe it’s time to dust off the turf.


Suuplemental: Tom’s Notes:

1) Following some feedback I’ve made a change to this post marked with an asterisk.  Someone suggested I should outline the allegation, which makes sense. 

2) A couple of other people have questioned if this practice really represents astroturfing. They believe that the term astroturfing applies more accurately to companies or industries creating NGOs or think tanks for the purpose of supporting their views on an issue. I think there’s a direct link between both practices.  Though I’m interested in your views on the matter.

The only worse thing than being spammed…

imageNow I have a very cute eight month old daughter and sometimes (thankfully rarely) when she’s tired, she gets cranky and has been known to throw her rattle/bottle/toy out of her high chair/car seat/pram. But you see she’s eight months old.  She is frustrated she can’t communicate.

So, what’s the story with all these adults who can’t communicate – adults who are communicators?

Now you may be wondering what I am dribbling about this time. God knows I often do, but bear with me.


It appears that a PR person – now please, prepare to be shocked – spammed a group of people about a forthcoming (admittedly social media) book.

Well all hell broke lose.  In fact you couldn’t move for all the rattles being tossed online.

How about this blog post headline: “How a single email killed a PR firm”.

Pardon me?

As we often say in Ireland, would ye ever cop yourselves on.

All this chest beating from PR people… you know folks I operate this blog under the greenhouse code. Mistakes happen, yes I know it was pretty dumb, but mistakes do happen.  The guilty party has gone public  responding to the blog posts.

The funniest part for me was a comment on one of the indignant PR blog posts that says (and I am paraphrasing to protect the guilty):

“… he is the pot calling the kettle black.. I get spam from him constantly..”


You know the thing that really galls me is that none of these people have the right to feel indignant.

Nope. None of them.

It’s people like me who didn’t even get the spam that should be indignant, because the only thing worse than getting the spam, is not getting it.

Sigh….. I’m such a loser.

Is the online world growing up? What about PR?

Interesting news from New York that a supreme court judge has ruled that Liskula Cohen is entitled to information that would help her to identify an anonymous blogger who called her a “skank”.

If she follows through that could be a very interesting development indeed.

Meanwhile Mark Creaser is pondering if PR agencies are redundant in 2009.

Digital Agencies are already elbowing PR aside, and within a couple of years, a traditional PR agency will be fairly niche. Times change, and in 2010 people will want to feel increasingly engaged with the brands and people they choose to do business with.

Now I think Mark makes some interesting points, but I don’t buy it – his argument that is, not PR agency services. I do buy them.

If there’s been one consistent PR-related theme on the interweb over the past five years it has been the death of PR and the death of PR agencies.

From what I am observing, there is a lot of innovation taking place inside PR firms, probably not enough, but it is happening.

Yes I am also seeing “digital” agencies stepping in and driving online campaigns, which in my opinion, is a huge missed (revenue and mindshare) opportunity for PR firms, but if PR agencies are smart and continue to develop their services and skills, then over time you could see PR firms taking back much of that budget.

Great communications is all about understanding your audience and engaging with them.  The idea that we’re facing into a time where we do all our outreach in-house just isn’t credible in my opinion.

Firstly let’s not forget that online is one (albeit a strong growing) element of the communications mix.  Secondly, while I am not by any means an apologist for PR firms, they do bring a range of benefits to companies from an outside-in perspective, to reach, expertise and much more.

PR firms aren’t going anywhere.

Communications in an age of social media is arguably more important now, than ever. Firms who invest in their people and their expertise, who spend time understanding the impact of online and how it sits with traditional channels (not just media folks) will continue to thrive.

Of course that’s just my opinion. I’d be much more worried about the future of “social media” gurus than PR firms…. but that’s for another day.

PR gives PR a bad name..


Welcome to Tuesday. 

I had a lovely week off (thanks for asking).  Travelling around the North Cascades is to be highly recommended.

Of course returning to civilization also means dealing with a backlog of post, e-mail and voicemail – and for you cool social media kids, loads of unread RSS feeds. (I remained joyfully unconnected for the week – something I would also heartily recommend).

It is of course ironic, and often humorous (but in a sad way), that PR people are the single greatest cause of negative perception for this “profession”.

Skimming my RSS backlog threw up loads of examples.  My favorite is Phil Gomes’ account of e-mail correspondence with a PR spammer.

Sammy: Thanks Phil, it would just take me ages to find your addres in our database.

Phil: Probably no more time than it took for me to fish your note out of the trash and find the link, I’d imagine.

Read it.


Also raising a smile is Nick Blakin’s guest post on the ever-reliable Bad Pitch blog.

Speaking of lessons, these are absolutely the only ten you’ll need throughout your entire professional life. Remember, PR isn’t all smoke and mirrors, and name dropping, and hot parties, and lookin’ good while you sip your free martinis at the lowliest dive on the block. That’s only 95% of what we do. To make it in this business you have to one day get your hands dirty. And that, I’m afraid, is the one really ugly truth.

Read it (and read the comments, they made me laugh).


Shel Holtz has some nice common sense on why PR and Marketing remain as relevant as ever.

If your reading was restricted to social media purists, you’d think that PR and marketing had no role left to play, that the rise of the trusted peer has so marginalized the communications profession that agencies everywhere should just fold up their tents and encourage their employees to learn a new trade.

Read it.


Typical isn’t it?  You go away for just one week, turn off the WiFi and… well nothing changes…