Marketing, advertising and public relations most negatively affected by the combination of the digital revolution and a thrifty D.I.Y. mentality
Do you watch AMC’s Mad Men? Of course you do, everybody that reads this blog does. During Madison Avenue’s heyday and the dawn of television, companies didn’t design their own logos, write their own tag lines and develop their own ads and images. It was the practice of the day to hire a professional partner to manage your company image and to drive sales with clever campaigns.
In 1969, the Internet was as unfathomable as a non-alcoholic lunch and companies of all sizes relied on professional partners to help them communicate to potential consumers.
That all changed in the early 1980s with the onset of the desktop publishing revolution. As soon as individuals could start developing identities and marketing collateral, they did. That is not to say they should have. Many did because they could remove a line item from their expenses. As design software improved and became more ubiquitous the percentage of companies bringing more and more creative in-house increased until now, in 2011, we’re at critical mass.
The meteoric rise of personal computing, and the diversification of all that the personal computer allows one to do, means that more and more business owners are cutting costs by cutting outsourcing.
In 1970 it would have been unheard of for a small business to author and submit news to the press on their own. You had to know how to develop the story and punch it up with clever phrasing and catchy colloquialisms; you had to craft page-stopping headlines; you had to know the mysterious methods of submission to an un-networked and constantly morphing group of publications; and you had to spend time developing relationships with editors so that your story would get picked up.
Like everything else—say desktop publishing, design and commercial communication—the Internet has changed all of that.
Now, the secret to successful submission has been demystified with the launch of websites for the masses like PR WEB and Pitch Engine. These devices synthesize publicity and format so that business owners can author and publish their own releases. But does that mean they should?
As more and more businesses brought desktop publishing, design and commercial communication in-house, the industry standard declined. Severely. What would have never been acceptable as even satisfactory marketing—let alone, excellent—is contributing to the lowering of the global business communications curve, and this includes public relations. Lackluster writing, misspellings, poor grammar and bad design portrays an inferior product or service but it has become acceptable, to a large extent, by the businesses creating it and consumers consuming it.
If you’ll accept nothing less than excellence in your business communications then, odds are, you are already working with a professional partner to execute many of them. In the case of public relations, ad hoc execution runs the risk of hurting the brand’s image and falling flat after submission because it’s not properly integrated.
TOOLS WITHOUT SKILLS
We have a client for whom we developed an online business, an engaging Internet presence that includes an integrated blog component that pushes submissions to email blasts then Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts automatically. We developed all of the content for the site and prepared a manual that showed them how to utilize their powerful new tools. The result is awkwardly worded, unclear and cryptic postings because, even though they have tools, they do not possess everything that it takes to properly utilize them.
What the World Wide Web has done is provide the submission and integration tools—once the exclusive domain of the public relations professional. What it has not done—and what it can never do—is insert the passion, experience and talent of a public relations professional into the equation.
Recently, we received an email marketing message from a big, national brand announcing, “YOUR INVITED TO OUR ANNUAL SALE!” and we have to wonder if it was an honest error or if a former copywriter was sacrificed for the bottom line.
Admittedly, some companies have better writing and communications—and even design—skills than others, but on average, companies are sacrificing high-quality communication to cut costs. Rather than suffering because of it, a new standard is slowly and sadly becoming acceptable.
Another paradigm shift in public relations that has occurred during the past ten years is the dissolution of all but the largest pure public relation firms. 2011’s reality is smaller public relations agencies that have evolved to include creative just as most creative firms now have a public relations competency. This is a result of economic realities causing firms to diversify more as well as a response to the changing landscape of public relations. Public relations used to be all about quality publication lists and relationships with editors. Now it’s more about social networking and search engine optimization—much more closely related to online marketing.
So what are we saying here anyway? We’ve given you the links to two of the most powerful public relations aggregators that we use everyday, but we have decried utilizing them.
From VFC’s perspective, as business communications consultants with deep experience, we’d prefer to be engaged as consultants to make businesses better. We could attempt to administer our 401k Plan, insure our company vehicles, repair our furnace and put a new roof on the studio but we would never do it as well as the professionals, and that would just be unacceptable.
The author, Todd Palmer is Creative Director at Virtual Farm Creative, Inc., a full service strategic advertising agency specializing in cultivating client personalities with powerful programs that include inspired design and engaging writing from VFC PR. .