I’m Afraid For Public Relations. Here’s Why.

The techification of the entrepreneurial world spells bad for PR

by Jason Falls |

The tech success of fleeting entrepreneurs like Brian Acton and Jan Kourn has tainted the business world. The WhatsApp’s are the darlings of the entrepreneurial world. Like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram before them, these fleeting tech startups that are great at collecting users but awful at collecting revenues are covered ad nausem by Wired, Fast Company, Inc., and others. They have led many an entrepreneur to believe all they need to be a billionaire is a neat idea and a couple of decent engineers.

Unfortunately, the techification of the entrepreneurial culture is also warping the greater business community’s understanding of, and appreciation for indirect marketing benefits. Technologists are data driven. Everything is based on direct response revenue. This bodes well for direct mail, SEM and other dollar-made-for-dollar-spent measurement channels. It may be the death nell for public relations, social media, brand advertising and more. Sans customer service, which for some reason even direct-response marketers “get” as a necessary evil, the touchy-feely channels are in trouble.

A public relations professional friend of mine told me of a media client recently that hired his firm to perform brand awareness-style public relations and social media. They are measured on how many subscriptions and pay-per-view movies sold through their efforts. Let me be more clear: The goal is to make more people aware of the awesomeness of this company’s services. But they’re being measured on how many dollars are sold in subscriptions and PPV sales.

It would be as if you hired a plumber to fix the toilet but judged his or her performance on whether or not the TV works.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in working with an online retail company for over a year now it’s the distinct difference in direct response marketer’s expectations and those of brand marketers. Direct response marketers say things like, “How many units did we sell because of that billboard?” You mean the one celebrating our community service that has no call to action or even phone number or web address to direct people to? I’m guessing none, but you can run the numbers if you like.

Brand marketers respond differently, asking questions like, “Did the mayor and the local chamber of commerce director see the billboard?” “Have we gotten any online mentions applauding us for the community effort?”

Only Two Solutions

There really are only two options for a solution to this problem. The first is that we educate even the tunnel-visioned tech-minded CEOs on the difference in direct response and brand marketing. But that’s a long and hard row to hoe. Sometimes, even after the education, they revert back to the Pavlovian response system and want to know the direct ROI.

The other solution is for the brand marketers to get way better and measuring their impact than they ever have been. Or at least savvy enough to ensure they’re tying all or part of their effort to a direct response mechanism.

Public relations is at a cross-roads because PR folks are really shitty at measuring their worth. Ad equivalency and clip counts are 100% bullshit and always have been. Stop counting words and start measuring impact. Make it real and make it make business sense for the CEO or the client in question and you’re headed down a better path.

Do anything less and, well … I hear pharmaceutical sales pays well.


About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).