What’s Wrong With Traditional PR?

The Chinese practiced the “art” of foot binding for over a thousand years. I imagine during that time there were some decent foot binders, some mediocre foot binders and maybe even some high-end boutique foot binders that specialized in some subset of the “science” and discipline of foot binding. I’m sure they had logical ways to justify their fees based on the quality of their work and overall outcomes; although, I doubt they had a retainer model back then. Fortunately, this barbaric practice was banned in 1949. That said, a thousand years is a long, long time for a tradition to exist that is not only bizarre and absurd, but crippling and debilitating to those that it was practiced on.

This death grip on crippling traditions got me thinking about PR. The traditional PR that focuses exclusively on placements and exposure instead of results, the kind that is strictly tactical and strategically weak, the kind that has no idea how your business works, what your objectives are and speaks in some indecipherable mumbo jumbo. Frankly, it’s a waste of energy, dollars, and resources and it’s the style practiced by most PR professionals today. PR is a tradition that needs to go the way of foot binding.

Traditional PR does not work because:

1) It fails to accept the fact that PR is a subset of marketing and marketing’s job is to support sales.
2) It fails to be transparent. Don’t speak in techno-jargon and hide behind algorithms. Explain exactly what you are going to do and how you are going to do it in easy to understand terminology.
3) It refuses to be held to standard business practices, such as ROI. If you are asking for funding for a PR effort, what is the return on that effort? What will it cost to sell another book? Book another speech? Acquire a new client?
4) It creates empty metrics. Eyeballs, viewership, readership, unless any of these are predictive indicators of a valid, measurable business outcome they are useless.

Now, just to be clear, I’m talking about traditional PR. There are many creative, innovative, and results driven PR professionals out there. However, a vast majority continue to cling to an outdated way of thinking that is detrimental to their clients. Certain traditions are worth clinging to because they continue to be relevant and effective, but things change, and in the world of PR they do so incredibly rapidly. If you choose to work with a PR firm that touts how traditional or great they are, don’t be afraid to challenge their “logic.” Sometimes tradition just means, “Something that may or may not have worked in the past but has no benefit to my organization today.”

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