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Is the PR Business Extinct? Yes

The day SEC under the Obama administration answers the question Schwarz asked three years ago, will be the end of PR industry


The short answer is yes. In our estimation, roughly 70% of today's PR firms with their traditional public relations and communications business structures will not survive the fast-approaching social media avalanche. The remaining 30% that need to reinvent their position real fast in their newly morphed industry will prosper, compared to where they were and what they were doing before.

For publicly traded companies, current rules dictate that information can be made public by a press release or by a telephone conference call but not simply on a website. Ninety percent of today's PR firms are still in business simply because of this single rule.

For the first time three years ago, in 2006, Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz asked the SEC to change this rule. Well, the new White House is already posting the President's weekly addresses to the nation on its website, completely bypassing the traditional media outlets and vehicles.

Today's PR firms are sitting ducks in the way of tomorrow's social media freight train. They will join the extinct species of dinosaurs right about the same time as newspapers and most print magazines.

When we launched Ulitzer's public beta roughly two months ago, our experience with the public relations firms can be categorized under the following three distinct groups.

1) PR firms who jumped at the opportunity and are using the Ulitzer platform on daily basis to post their clients' news and press releases. In this group of public relations firms we generally see traditional news distribution activity. They understand the platform and use it for effective news syndication. This group will eventually discover new and creative ways to utilize new social media tools.

2) Savvy PR firms who sign up their clients as authors and publish their bylined articles in addition to using Ulitzer's powerful news syndication features. These firms are the ones most likely to adapt and survive the fast-changing landscape of the new PR business.

3) PR firms who understand Ulitzer and are horrified by the idea that their clients may actually find out about it. I had a lengthy correspondence with the owner of a Silicon Valley technology PR company who told me he not only wanted to remove the story posted on Ulitzer but also remove it from Google News and other outbound syndicated news sites. This experience made me think that the founder and owner of this well-known public relations company did not even have a clue how the Internet worked. Now, these PR companies will be the first ones that will vanish with the wide acceptance and use of social media platforms such as Ulitzer.

By the way, new social media tools do not mean Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. I am talking about the tools that do not exist yet or are not widely known today. Today's popular platforms will never pass the stage of mass spam tools; their non-existent effectiveness will be proven null before the end of this year.

Companies with the Largest Number of Professional Bloggers Will Win
Tomorrow's (and I mean tomorrow, not the next decade) marketing game will be played on professional corporate blogging platforms. The companies with the largest number of well-read and respected corporate bloggers will win the marketing and propaganda games. Larger companies will need larger armies of corporate bloggers. The new job description of "professional corporate blogger" will be a very popular one.

To be or not to be, that is the question for the PR firms that will hit the wall at this stage. The ones who are equipped to provide those services whose job descriptions are not yet defined will be tomorrow's brave new PR companies.

Other than that, the day the new SEC, under the White House 2.0 Obama administration, answers the question Jonathan Schwartz asked three years ago, will be the end for most PR companies.


More Stories By Fuat Kircaali

Fuat Kircaali is the founder and chairman of SYS-CON Media, Cloud Expo, Inc. and Ulitzer, Inc.

Kircaali came to the United States from Zurich University, Switzerland in 1984 while studying for his PhD, to design computer systems for SH-2G submarine hunter helicopters for the U.S. Navy. He later worked at IBM's IS&CG Headquarters as a market research analyst under Mike Armstrong's leadership, an IBM executive who later ran IBM Europe and AT&T; and Fuat was the Director of Information Systems for UWCC, reporting to CEO Steve Silk (later Hebrew National CEO), one of the top marketing geniuses of the past two decades.

Kircaali founded SYS-CON Media in 1994, a privately held tech media company with sales exceeding $100 million. SYS-CON Media was listed twice by Inc 500 and Deloitte and Touche as one of the fastest-growing companies in North America. Kircaali launched Ulitzer, Inc., a revolutionary "new media" start-up in mid 2009.

Fuat completed Bogazici University Business Administration program in 1982 with a Bachelor's Degree. He was one of 50 students accepted to the program out of over 1 million high school graduates that year.


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Most Recent Comments
MarcieCasas 06/08/09 12:21:00 PM EDT

I disagree strongly that PR is extinct. PR will never be extinct for the simple reason that PR is more than just news releases. It is strategic thinking at its best. Yes, social media has changed PR but it will in no way kill it. For any company engaging in social media, it is PR strategy that is driving the interaction. I wrote more about my viewpoint here.


Loraine Antrim 06/04/09 08:38:01 AM EDT

"Is PR Extinct, Yes." Hmmm. Not the most accurate title. Perhaps more accurate would be, "Is PR Evolving, Yes."

The new order of social media is like any other transformation in our communication process: some organizations will be early adopters, some will come along slowly and some will not make the transition.

PR IS adapting. The number of PR firms understanding the value of new web 2.0 technologies grows daily. Fuat, you had experience with such a small number of firms, it is truly faulty sampling and totally biased. Sorry that this small experience colored your thinking.

One thing I know about PR, no matter what the medium, if the message is relevant and compelling, it will resonate, whether thru more traditional channels or thru newer vehicles. I do believe based on what I have seen in PR, the industry is not only joining the conversation, it will eventually influence it. Loraine Antrim

aaronschoenherr 05/27/09 02:49:00 PM EDT

Full disclosure: I co-manage a national PR firm, Greentarget, that my partner and I started 5 years ago. Obviously I’m biased here because if Kircaali is correct, I’m going to need to find another way to pay for my kids’ college tuition.

I was intrigued with your position here right up until paragraph 5 where you start your pitch on why Ulitzer will change the world. I’ll admit that I wasn’t familiar with Ulitzer until now and will save my comments on the site except to say that it looks and feels exactly the way you’d expect from a site that boasts 6,000 authors.

Your premise, that 90 percent of today’s PR firms are in business simply because SEC rules dictate that publicly traded companies must communicate information via press release, is ridiculous. Firms whose business model depended heavily on earnings releases faded long before 2006. But there are many firms still in existence who have developed strong businesses and brands focused on helping publicly traded companies communicate strategically and effectively with investors, analysts, etc. It’s the difference between a commoditized service (blasting releases out because SEC rules require it) and a strategic one. Pretty simple, really.

Your second premise, that PR firms are “sitting ducks in the way of the social media freight train” is also completely off base. I’ll set aside your ridiculous method for evaluating firms based on their knowledge of and use of your own service, and instead focus on the larger issue. The prevalence and increased use of social media networks has created even stronger demand for public relations firms who are able to advise these clients on effective and credible use of these tools. Social media networks have increased the amount of white noise. They’ve also made it easier for companies to make very public and embarrassing missteps. All of this results in greater demand for a PR firm’s services.

It’s a growth industry for PR firms, not a threat to their livelihood.

Your third premise, that the most successful corporations will be the ones who hire the most professional bloggers, misses the point completely. It’s not about volume and who can broadcast the most, it’s about the quality of the message, whether it’s being received, how it’s being processed and the impact on an organization’s bottom line.

These factors depend on an authentic, credible dialogue initiated by organizations in a targeted, strategic manner that can be measured, evaluated and adapted as necessary. An army of corporate bloggers achieves none of this.

Your rudimentary understanding of the profession has resulted in an article that is full of holes. Am I being harsh? Maybe. I’d argue that the headline you chose for this article warrants a strong response.

While I’m on the topic of authenticity and credibility, the Ulitzer site has a very provocative and interesting quote: “In five years TIME, Harvard Business Review, Scientific American, and Condé Nast Traveler will be replaced by Ulitzer.” What’s interesting about this quote is that there’s no attribution. It begs the question “According to who?” This is exactly my point.

By the way, it looks like you could use a PR firm of your own:
http://digg.com/programming/ Sys_Con_Steals_ Content_then_Defames_ and_Libels_ the_Author
Let me know if you’d like some advice on how to handle this. I’m around (despite what your headline might lead people to believe).

Aaron R. Schoenherr
[email protected]

sflachuck 05/27/09 10:53:42 AM EDT

I agree that PR professionals who are not actively engage in social media and new technologies will not survive. I also believe the fall of traditional media will accelerate as well. The communications industry has basically evolved overnight. The greatest challenge for PR firms will be placing value on social media work that has basically over-simplified the business of communication and relationship building. I predict an increase in the need for professionals who can handle crisis matters, public affairs campaigns and issues management since those fall outside of "basic" PR.

DougPoretz 05/27/09 10:06:12 AM EDT

I've been predicting the death of the PR business for a long time -- see my December 2008 predictions for the PR business here: http://tinyurl.com/pegfhd

But at the same time, I think the ad business will also die. I believe the entire communications business is in the midst of a largely misunderstood revolution. But the biggest issue isn't "new media" or technology, or even shrinking budgets, etc. It is the current business model -- my thoughts on that are here: http://tinyurl.com/dk8ked

arthuryann 05/27/09 09:42:07 AM EDT

The public relations industry has been reading about its demise at the hands of social media for about a year and a half now. We've all see what Scoble, Arrington, Calacanis and now, Kircaali (who mistakenly believes that publicity = public relations, while promoting his as the industry-killing app), have said.

The fact is, public relations isn't declining at the hands of social media; it's gaining, and will continue to gain.

Don Wright, Ph.D., APR, Fellow PRSA, who is a professor of public relations at Boston College and editor of PRSA's peer-reviewed PR Journal, estimates that approximately 70 percent of all social media programs are being driven by public relations professionals.

Here are 10 reasons why:

1. Social media puts the consumer in control, and public relations professionals are accustomed to operating in an environment that cedes control to others.

2. Public relations has always been about engaging with key audiences to establish mutually beneficial relationships.

3. Public relations is a two-way discipline. It disseminates information about an organization and brings back information for analysis and response.

4. Like all the different forms of traditional media — television, radio, newspaper, magazines — social media is a conduit to engage audiences and build relationships. It's not about the technology, it's about the people who use it.

5. The decline of traditional media is encouraging public relations professionals to identify new means of engaging audiences and "earning" new media.

6. Public relations is a content-creation discipline. The written word, certainly, but also photos, audio and video, which are expected with online engagement.

7. In an environment where information moves at tremendous speed, public relations is one marketing and communications discipline that can keep pace.

8. For a medium built on authenticity and the ability to trust "people like me," public relations is a builder of trust and keeper of the corporate conscious. We speak in a credible voice, while adhering to ethical communications principles.

9. Public relations educators are some of the leading sources of social media research.

As for number 10., I'll just cite Edward R. Murrow, who may have said it best: "The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say and how to say it."

Arthur Yann is vice president of public relations for the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

megfly 05/27/09 09:02:32 AM EDT

Interesting conclusion, I applaud your research. But I believe your PR analysis is missing a key component: strategy. PR firms, at least most successful ones today, are not just about releasing press releases and building relationships with media members. Strategy is one of the best key components to successful PR campaigns.

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