The PR Hype Cycle

As part of the Global PR Blog Week I have contributed an article entitled Pragmatic Public Relations which suggests that we, as a profession, need to take a long look at how we undertake PR programs today and how that might change over time based on our audience and the tools and channels that are becoming available.

As anyone who has read this blog in the past will know, I’m not shy coming up with advice :-) But as part of the preparation for the article I started trying to see how I could map the intersection between all our existing tools and the newer developments.

I came up with the idea of using Gartner Group’s Hype Cycle. Gartner put this graph together to illustrate the maturity of any technology in a given market. I thought it might be a useful, if very subjective way of looking at the technologies PR practitioners will be using today and tomorrow. This of course is terribly non-scientific and very subjective….

I’m very interested in getting people’s thoughts on it. Is it a waste of time and space? Is it accurate or irrelevant?

Gartner Hype Cycle
Here’s the empty hype cycle

Click here for a larger image.

There’s a couple of things to note:

  • New technologies start on the left hand side of the graph and typically travel from left to right.
  • Following their introduction tools can be subject to unrealistic hype bringing them to the “Peak of Inflated Expectations”. Once reality sets in these tools then fall into the “Trough of Disillusionment” before emerging at the right hand side where they finally begin to deliver some of the benefits that were originally promised
  • Not everything travels the full cycle, some new technologies simply reach their peak and then disappear without trace
  • It’s not sequential, some new technologies move along the cycle faster than others
  • Finally some technologies will remain at a given level forever

The PR Hype Cycle

So based on that here is the PR Hype Cycle:

Click here for larger image.

The first thing to notice is that our traditional tools such as press conferences, press releases, telephones etc. are mostly collected on the right hand side of the diagram in the “Plateau of Productivity” section. They all provide well understood features and returns and are unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

Some traditional elements such as message control or the fax machine are in all probability becoming less important for many practitioners however they do still exist and can be more important for some practitioners than others.

On the extreme left of the diagram you’ll see a whole host of new tools that many believe will have a fundamental impact on Public Relations. These include “Citizen Journalism” “RSS”, “Podcasts” and “Wikis”. As previously mentioned this is where you’ll begin to see differences between industries, for example in technology PR blogs are probably further to the right.

It may surprise you that I’ve put well established tools such as e-mail and databases only emerging from the trough of disillusionment but I have my reasons – we still don’t use them effectively.


So does it make any sense? Is it of any value? There have been a couple of comments so far, I’d be interested to hear what you think.

10 Responses to “The PR Hype Cycle”  

  1. 1 Paul Sweeney


    I came to this blog through Bernie Goldback’s blog. I like the basic idea behind this. As a Marketing Director, with limited resources, in a high tech company, the question for me is “who is my audiance for PR, and what is my goal with them”. It would be interesting for instance to present the information on RSS into an RSS adoption vector so that you can see the RSS hitting different audiances over time. So what is the “first challenge?”, perhaps it might be “establish credibility for the technology with Technology Architects, whereas in the Trough it might be “establish credible ROI for Financial Influencers”. But I think it is worth pursuing as a topic. PS: if you put % of PR spend per year against each element of the curve, that would be even better again !

    Kind Regards

  2. 2 Kevin Dugan

    Viva Le Tom!

    Great to have you back with content like this.


  3. 3 Scott Baradell

    Tom: Not rubbish at all. I love this. I’ll be posting it on Media Orchard later.

  4. 4 Robert French

    Enjoyed this very much, Tom. Thank you.

    Rubbish? Not at all.

    I see blogs are ready to peak. Not a surprise, but likely to be denied by many. By denied, I mean the slow realization that their (blogs) usefulness, strategic fit, ROI will not be as broad and sweeping as many hope (or believe). Another tactic and tool, is all. And, far away from being truly understood.

    Excellent material for class discussions. Thank you.

  5. 5 Georg Kolb

    Take a more dynamic view!

    While I do applaud your article’s conclusion on “Pragmatic Public Relations”, I would suggest to make parts of your analysis a bit more dynamic. Funnily enough, I recently used Gartner’s Hype Cycle myself to give a perspective on Peer Media (as we call the Internet publishing tools like blogs that empower virtually everyone to have a voice in the open conversation of the public. This piece was co-authored by Bob Winslow: ( )
    I think you need to consider two more aspects than you suggest when applying Gartner’s Cycle:
    1) Assigning tools like blogs to a single point on Gartner’s curve is at any given time a simplification. It only represents something like an average view. The reality is much more complex and dynamic. E.g. it might be a fair statement to say that some of the new online tools are currently hyped in some markets, if you take the average perception as a measure. But there are still cases showing that these tools already can live high on the “plateau of productivity”. I will give you only one example. Joe Trippi, National Manager for the presidential campaign of US Democrat Howard Dean in 2004, pioneered the largest grassroots movement in presidential politics using online technology. He creatively used the internet for small-donor fundraising and ended up raising more money than any Democratic presidential campaign in history (over $ 50m, cf. ).
    2) If you know what a tool can do beyond the hype, you can use it with high productivity long before the crowd has gone through the “trough of disillusionment”. More than that, if you believe in the potential of a new tool you can and should work to flatten the trough using established PR strategies. You can educate your audiences, develop relationships with the right influencers, and improve the reputation of the respective tools, so as to make them more productive for more people earlier. I think that is what is needed now for Peer Media. Otherwise your internal clients within your corporation or your external clients as a consultant won’t even see the opportunity.
    So, I guess what I’m suggesting here will in the end again be in line with your overall approach: rather than being paralyzed by the hype, be pragmatic about both the risks AND the opportunities of new tools. Avoiding the risks will protect you from wasting your resources, but taking the opportunities early will make you a leader rather than a follower. Don’t stop with the positionings on your Hype Cycle, start to play with them, find out where the biggest opportunities for your audiences are, be rather an influencer than an observer of the curve!

  6. 6 ARonaut


    Just one point about analysts: the analysts that are visible are not always the one vendors care about, meaning the ones that are advising technology buyers. The point we’re making is that your hype cycle has “visibility” as metric, which is a bad one for to measure analysts.

    Read also the thoughts from ARpro on your diagram:

  7. 7 timkitchin

    This is fun.

    The thing with gartners model is that it assumes that the elements of the cycle have some ‘mass’ with which to move along the cycle.

    The trouble with PR ‘trends’ like buzz marketing, coversation, or citizens media is that they are nothing but hype. Meta-trends.

    Obviously the hype cycle is supposed to reflect technologies or solutions – not ideas or audiences.

    Also I don’t actually agree with the hype cycle, because it neglects to mention that productivity can tail off, as well as increase. Surely email is now in that category.

    It’s interesting to consider the vector and velocity of individual technologies.

    I think blogging may be over the peak and beginning to pick up some practicality. IM has never been a PR tool, and probably never will be. Word of mouth is not a technology, but the foundation of the industry.

    Nice concept to play with. Prompts me to have a play with the magic quadrant…

  1. 1 Vy Blog
  2. 2 Strategic Public Relations
  3. 3 media + MESSAGE

Leave a Reply

You must log in to post a comment.