02:47 PM

Drawing Flak from the Flacks: Transitions are always painful and emotional

By Tom Foremski for SiliconValleyWatcher

I've been drawing a lot of flak lately from the flacks in the PR industry, as I've been asking where is the disruption in their sector?

Why hasn't the PR industry joined the media industry's hand basket to hell? Media and PR industries have always moved pretty much in tandem--with maybe a six to nine month lag.

My posts have generated quite a lot of debate, and responses from leaders in the PR industry--which is wonderful. [That's one of the forgotten roles of a journalist--to be a muckraker, to challenge the accepted notions of our times.] Richard Edelman, for example, has written a lengthy post. And Steve Rubel, the top PR blogger, has also spent time discussing my posts on his blog Micro Persuasion.

I have a lot of respect for PR professionals (I use flack as an affectionate term, in the same way as I refer to myself and fellow journalists as hacks). I've worked with PR people for nearly 25 years both here and in London. We work on different sides of the same coin: we try to find and publish great, compelling stories. And the best PR folk think like journalists.

Lately, I have been challenging the PR industry to move away from business as usual because of the changing nature of communications and media.


The great paradox of the PR community is that it spotted the changes a long time ago. It spotted the emergence and importance of blogging a long time ago--several years sooner than the mainstream media. And it shows: there are more PR bloggers than journalist bloggers, and they have been around a lot longer.

Yet nothing much has changed in the way the PR industry does its job. Yes, there is a nod or two, here and there to new approaches, but 99 per cent of the industry's revenues come from traditional services.

BTW, let me say this again: blogging and related technologies such as podcasting are not disrupting mainstream media they are disrupting the PR sector; online advertising is disrupting media.

When you have huge disruption happening in the media sector--and none at all in the PR sector--you have to wonder if a reckoning of sorts is on the way.

Shift happens

Among all the feedback I've received, I've also had some of the most senior executives in the PR industry privately tell me, "Tom, you are right." Yet it is difficult for them to say it in public, and I can understand their position. It is much easier (and effective) for me to act as an agent of change since I am outside of the industry.)

I see myself as helping the transition to the new communications industry, and such transitions are always painful and emotional.

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BTW, if you want to know what the new communications will look like--call me :-)

Related: Richard Edelman's essay "The Me2 Revolution."