2009 PR Predictions

By Doyle Albee
President & New Media Practice Director, Metzger Associates

2009 becomes the year when “everything old is new again,” and the shake-out to the public relations industry will be significant.

PR started as a one-to-one industry: PR pros forged relationships with reporters and pitched stories to members of their network (often over a three-martini lunch, but that’s another blog post!). PR people would expand their network as necessary in order to get the right story to the right reporter, often through a personal introduction. Press releases and other more mass communications were usually more targeted simply because of the distribution effort required — who in their right mind would snail mail a release to every reporter in America?

Then two things happened: a job in the media, like most, stopped being a “job for life.” People moved every few years, making it more difficult to nurture and maintain relationships. And then technology came into the picture. Suddenly, a press release really could be sent to just about every reporter in America with the push of a button — whether it made any sense or not.

Case in point: TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington authored this piece last month. While I felt a bit sorry for Ms. Whitman, I am also irritated with her. Nothing makes my job more difficult that trying to convince someone like Arrington that not all PR people are this ignorant.

Just as the media was once local and as two-way as the technology could allow (anyone else remember calling a disk jockey and requesting a song?), the “one-to-many” model we’ve come to over-embrace in the last few years will accelerate it’s transition back to a more personalized model. While technology’s role will increase rather than diminish, the best among us will learn to use it more wisely.

Since we can now all publish our own news to mass outlets, we will need to understand that media outlets will have less interest in mass-packaged stories — the New York Times has no desire or need to compete with Google News to cover the same story in the same way. Instead, outlets like the Times must strive to provide a unique angle and insight to every story they choose to cover, and we must help with that process in a personalized way. Reporters will continue to brand themselves even as they work for branded media outlets, and the pitches that will resonate will help reporters develop those personal brands. We must learn to harness social media tools for the old school personal touch — because everything old will be new again.

With a little luck, 2009 will be the year the “Lois Whitman” approach finally goes completely away.