Rumors of Tech PR’s Demise are Greatly Exaggerated
Many wish to continue to write off public relations and kick it to the curb – by coldly saying that the profession and/or its trappings are dead. First it was gripes about the press release, and in the latest example, a report that tech PR is dead, which I just read in Inc.
Yeah, I know, it makes for captivating clickbait. These kinds of “XXXX is Dead” hit jobs are perennial, evergreen stories that keep on cropping up, as sure as the calendar turns, not just about PR of course, but that is my peeve, so allow me to vent.
This slight may seem trivial compared to real life and death situations, but PR is my livelihood, and puts bread on the table for my family and 275K other people in the industry across the US, according to the BLS (2019 numbers; expected to grow by 7% annually through 2029, more on average than other professions). I’ve witnessed time and time again how a strategic and well-thought out PR program can bring real value to a business.
So why have a blog with “revenge” in the name if I can’t get me some? Or at least blog a strongly worded rebuttal.
Is the Press Release Truly Dead?
I was already in a crusty mood when I saw the Inc. piece because I had heard from a colleague that her journalist friend said the press release is dead. She wanted my thoughts, and is probably sorry that she asked, because I chided her and gave reading assignments from my blog (like this post and this one).
I wasn’t trying to shoot the messenger, after all, a reporter said those words. But that does not impress me. I mean, what journalist would admit to liking press releases, or relying on them, generally? Who’s going to rise to defend our industry’s punching bag, documents that seem cookie cutter, useless, all too often written poorly with trite, overly cheerful quotes and obscure buzz words?
I WILL, GODDAMNIT!!!!!!
Because just as soon as we have news without a press release, you’ll have a journalist who doesn’t think it’s real news if there’s no release. You’ll have investors pining for potentially stock-moving PR news. You’ll have industry analysts wondering what’s been announced. You’ll have end users searching in vain for the latest product news.
And last I heard, the newswire business is doing well thank you, still a hearty institution supported by an ecosystem that generates, distributes and consumes the “news.”
But people have been saying press releases have been dead for years, since the advent of social media. Since Silicon Valley Watcher reporter Tom Foremski wrote Die, Press Release, Die in 2008.
People, the press release is just a conduit, a capsule. In addition to that, it is a helpful tool for many journalists who really are asking for more information than a simple, pithy email pitch provides. Granted, there are other ways to share your update in today’s media landscape. But press releases still happen, and yes, they can be written well and tell great stories.
Is Tech PR Really Dead?
Then, I got my own unwelcome bit of non-press release news, via an Inc. piece that says Tech PR is Dead. That really hits close to home.
People I know who work in this area would find that statement laughable. Speaking for Fusion PR, we are in growth mode (and hiring, please spread the word!). It is not just us. There is no shortage of competitors on our new business pitches, and other tech PR shops are doing quite well thank you, best I can gather.
So why even respond, and draw more attention to the article? Well, it is Inc. And there are enough truisms and smart sounding but inaccurate statements that could convince a casual reader.
The writer builds her argument by restating things that have been widely known for years, if not many years (there are shrinking newsrooms, fewer journalists, news cycles that are dominated by big news and brands, and increasing industry noise). She throws in a gratuitous “because of COVID.” These realities make it harder to earn media coverage.
But the same trends can be applied to so many other industries. So, how to account for the bullish growth numbers for public relations more generally?
I submit that the tech PR field is growing too, due to the expansion of tech in every aspect of our lives and business. There’s an ongoing march of tech startups. Some say that every company is a software or tech company.
Indeed, Joan Westerberg writes:
“The demand for technology news is bigger than ever. There are more tech companies, more startups, and more VCs than ever before. The appetite is there. But it’s not a journalist’s job to create content for you; their job is to report on and cover the news.”
The last bit is insulting, I’m sorry, it just is. Yes, it’s harder to rise above the noise, and interest journalists who cover tech – that is why you need professional help. But no one I know thinks that it is the journalist’s job to write puff pieces for clients.
“Your brand is not likely to cut through anymore… You don’t need to go broke on unnoticed PR campaigns when you can tell a captivating story online — and share your news with the press only when it’s news.”
The prescription? She advises to “tell better stories using owned and shared channels, like your website and social media… Make those channels shine. Appeal to more minor writers and content creators and partner with them.”
This sounds like warmed over content marketing advice from about five years ago.
Her conclusion that the tech PR model is broken seems based on an outdated view of PR as simply media relations. Since the latter is broken, tech PR is dead, the argument goes.
First, there is no monolithic “tech PR” model. Different shops offer different services. I don’t know of any agency that just does media relations, tech or otherwise. The arsenal has evolved to a service mix spanning content, strategy, digital, and others – some of the very things Westerberg advocates.
It is true: the media still are front and center in PR (see this Muckrack survey). However, the better PR shops are finding ways to deal with today’s challenges. I wrote about the enduring importance of media in the PR mix three years ago. It was true then and it is still true today.