Does Social Media Make PR Agencies Obsolete?

A fascinating discussion arose during Journchat Live in Toronto last night:

Does social media let everyone act as their own PR agency?

No. It doesn’t.

More than publicity

Is it always right to do it yourself?Public relations is much more than just pitching reporters. It’s event organization; it’s issues management; it’s media training; it’s strategic planning; it’s internal communications. In our company we broaden it further to include web property design and development, relationship building, community building, online issues management and more.

Social media does let people conduct some aspects of public relations themselves, such as building relationships with journalists and online influencers, and outreach to those people.

However, public relations isn’t as simple as drafting a release and pitching it. It requires skill and experience. I could become a butcher; a baker; a builder if I wanted to – however it would require years of training for me to do it well. Similarly, you can’t just pick up the reins of public relations and undertake the full suite of functions that the PR department does.

Desktop publishing software let anyone design documents but few people could do it well. Online tools let anyone be a journalist, but only a few sites do that well.

What’s more, anyone can undertake rudimentary public relations efforts through social media, but few people will do them well. Public relations is the outward face of your organization – do you want someone without a thorough knowledge of the nuances and skills of the discipline representing you publicly?

However, that doesn’t mean the status quo remains.

Public relations needs to evolve

Mainstream media dismissed the emergence of online media only to realize later that they had missed a seismic change in their industry. PR also needs to evolve.

As an industry, public relations need to embrace social media tools in order to stay on top of the changes underfoot. As more and more research shows that public relations is a natural fit for social media, we need to make this case to our clients.

We need to blog; to create podcasts; to experiment on Twitter; to produce videos; to build social media sites; to foster online communities. We need to do this so we don’t lose relevancy during these changes; so we can provide integrated solutions to our clients; and so we don’t lose the game to other disciplines and other business functions.

That’s my take. Social media doesn’t mean everyone can do public relations; however, it does mean that we need to up our game to get the best results for our clients, and to separate ourselves from the also-rans.

What do you think?

(Image: Shutterstock)

Dave Fleet
Managing Director and Head of Global Digital Crisis at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.