Public Relations

Do You Still Need a PR Agency?

So it’s been a couple of weeks since TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington wrote a post questioning the value of PR agencies. In the post, Michael suggested that media relations are a little more than “smile, dial, and pray” these days. Of course, he was referring to media relations, in response to a New York Times article about how PR is done in Silicon Valley these days. I think I was most impressed by the fact that PR superstar Brooke Hammerling was featured in both articles about what she does best, leveraging relationships to help clients make big-time news. I wonder if she pitched that story? If you read between the lines though, I think there’s a valid question of whether or not organizations still need PR agencies for media relations. In the age of blogs, social networking, and other social media, it’s easier than ever for an expert to position herself in front of reporters and bloggers. As more and more experts take the plunge into blogging or twittering, some are discovering what good PR pros have known all along: it’s all about the relationships.

If you’re not the type of person that likes to network and schmooze with reporters and bloggers, then yes, you probably still need a PR agency to help you score interviews. If on the other hand, you prefer to spin your own proverbial Rolodex, you can probably do just as well (or better) generating your own publicity opportunities.

For years, clients have hired PR agencies with the strongest relationships to help them meet and greet the press, in hopes of generating gobs and gobs of media attention. Today, anyone can build long-lasting relationships with influential reporters and bloggers. And as the articles suggest, mentions from an influential Twitter user with a lot of followers can be just as effective as placement in The New York Times. The PR game continues to change.

I can’t help but wonder if the days of using a PR agency to generate your publicity are drawing to a close. As I look around at many of the agencies I follow, most seem to be focused on providing clients with more social media services, rather than sticking to the tried and true media relations angle. What’s behind this shift? I think a big part of it is helping clients build their own relationships, as agencies begin to step out of the role of middleman and into that of the connector. The best media relations pros have always been connectors.

In the months to come, look for more and more agencies to shift to helping clients build their own relationships with the press through social media, distancing themselves farther from the middleman approach of years past. Reporters and bloggers want to develop relationships with experts, not necessarily PR firms. Unless of course, those firms have people as connected as Brooke Hammerling is.

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