I'm a PR consultant. I like my job and I like my clients. I think I'm good at what I do. I help CEOs to raise their profile and develop their reputation. I deliver measurable results. Yes...yes, I can hear you say, that's all very nice. *yawn*.
But - if you'll let me finish - I'll tell you that I don't like PR.
PR Is Eating Itself
In my view, PR is eating itself. In fact, it has put down the napkin, asked for the bill and is - as we speak - searching for the right credit card. It has finished eating itself.
The PR industry started to lose the plot in the years running up to the big economic crash. If you can cast your mind back to those heady days you'll remember that businesses were throwing money around in alarming quantities. And much of it was being thrown, sometimes literally, at PR agencies. In fact, it was being chucked at anyone who had the remotest idea what the words meant, never mind anyone who was a bona fide PR person!
This massive explosion inflated not only the bank balances of many PR agencies but also their egos. Suddenly, they could do no wrong. Suddenly it was OK to write the odd very bad press release and call it PR, darling. Suddenly, clients were an inconvenience; the 'little people' to use a topical ill-conceived bingo-ad-related allusion. PR agencies had become far more successful than their own clients. This was not a healthy situation. Once a business designed to raise the profile of someone else becomes better at, and more interested in, raising their own profile it's not going to end well. And it didn't.
'Traditional' PR is currently not a very nice business and it's not a healthy one either. The digital revolution has had a profound effect on many PR agencies, speeding things up and turning once decent, solid businesses with rational, well-balanced staff into retainer-obsessed factories filled with raving, hyper-competitive maniacs. It seems to me that in some agencies, money has become the measurable end result which has led to a churn mentality: PR for PR's sake. And the client? Well...who are they anyway?
Where Next For PR?
Even if you don't agree with my analysis, PR is changing. There is a subtle shift away from the traditional agency model towards a more individual approach. I know this because I'm one of those people who owned a PR agency that was on the verge of eating itself. I managed to stop before I reached the point of believing my own PR by down-sizing massively. I now work with a small number of CEOs and thought leaders, giving them my personal attention. I have a handful of dedicated staff and, when needed, I work with a group of specialist 'perma-lancers' that I've known and trusted for more than ten years.
For me, PR is about challenging people to think in new ways about themselves, their ambitions and their businesses. To push them to go further. To use all the media and digital tools available to help them build their networks, contacts and confidence at the same time as their reputation. You can only do all these things effectively if you work as an independent, or a few of you in a specialist collective.
This business model is being replicated by a new and growing breed of young independent PR consultants. It's a popular model because it allows the consultant to work much more closely with their clients. It allows you to really get to know the people who are your clients. Other independent consultants I've spoken to all agree that they deliver better results because they're more agile. They can plan better and respond faster. There's no chain of command or office politics slowing things down. There's no rush to take each and every client which comes through the door, just so they can afford to keep the lights on.
The PR agency model is dying - but a shiny new type of PR is emerging; one that will flex to meet the demands of the digital age. More and more PR professionals are going solo, not just here but globally, and over the next ten years it's going to be these independent consultants, rather than the big agencies, who will - like me - be standing behind the most powerful people in the world.