In Defense of PR – Why Dennis Howlett is Wrong

I just read a post on Social Media Today from Dennis Howlett who claims “PR is so over.” I simply cannot imagine a more ridiculous sentiment. The fact is today, information drives the dollar and we, PR pros, drive information.

When is the last time you made a purchase without having first done research? When is that last time you didn’t read reviews or check the blogosphere about a product before buying it or a company before joining it?

Public Relations has never been more more influential than it is today where everyone is the media – and the media is everywhere. The entire PR landscape has changed and there are so many more communication channels available to us; I believe we are seeing a true evolution of our industry that will be felt for decades to come.

But, first, let’s look at Dennis’ chief complaint: In any one day I field up to 20 PR requests. I can guarantee that 90+% of them have done zero research to find out what I’m interested in. In the worst cases they won’t have done a basic Google search to find out who I am or where my interests lay. In 2008, that’s beyond unacceptable, it’s criminal.

Now, here, Dennis is absolutely right. This is just bad PR, period.

Of course, every few years we hear from journalists who are fed up with bad PR practices and I don’t blame them for their frustrations. The first rule in media relations is to know your target media – who are they, what do they cover? There is no excuse for not knowing this. You can use Google and Cision to uncover official information. You should also read what they write to not only get their beat but their style as well.

I’ve always found directly asking the reporter what stories and trends they are watching works wonders. So often people forget the “relations” part of public relations. In this business, everything begins and ends with the relationships you build. If you truly tailor your pitches and devote the time to give the media what they need to tell a complete story, you will succeed. So, although Dennis is wrong to discredit an entire industry because of poor work from a few PR pros, he is absolutely right to expect relevant pitches.

In his little rant, Dennis also said he no longer responds to email pitches from PR pros and instead sends them this: “I’ve stopped accepting email pitches. Please follow me on Twitter and pitch in 140 characters or less.”

For me, this sums up just how strong PR is today. Dennis, with all his resentment of PR pros, will still accept pitches, he just wants them in the latest format. That Twitter is replacing email for media pitching is no different from email replacing phone pitches. It’s simply another medium – and a more convenient one at that. So, this, along with YouTube and iReport and the blogosphere and social bookmarks and podcasts and webinars, etc. etc. proves PR is not over, but the old way of doing it is.

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