Some Thoughts on the Current State of the Public Relations Industry

Election season is over, the economy is in the dumps, and winter is creeping in. As such, here are some random musings on the current state of public relations and a few tips for PR professionals.

Now is a great time to reach out to clients or prospective clients in other cities as airfares are moderating and hoteliers are desperately trying to fill rooms. I just paid, taxes included, $271 for a round-trip ticket from New York City to San Francisco and $249 for a round-trip ticket from New York City to Seattle. All the flights are non-stop on major airlines; I booked directly through the airlines; and the flight schedules fit business travel needs perfectly. My four-star hotel in San Francisco booked through an aggregator cost me $119 per night. For reference, back in August I paid $279 for a December round-trip between New York City and Atlanta. That same ticket is now selling for $239; if I returned one day later I could get it for $189.

Two public relations consultants recently told me that clients, in an effort to cut costs, were cutting back their billable hours. One consultant said he told a client that he understood the client’s decision and provided a new public relations plan that showed just how much work the client could expect after cutting his monthly hours by more than 60 percent. The client balked. “They seem to think that they can get more work out of me for less pay. I had to educate them in the ways of the world,” the consultant said.

A journalist friend complained bitterly to me about a company that came to her with a story and asked for an embargo. She agreed, only to see the story end up being broken somewhere else first. The company’s public relations representative later admitted that she had given an exclusive to another publication and then imposed an embargo on other publications. The journalist didn’t run the embargoed story and neither did any other publication. The result was one story and a couple of blog posts instead of a slew of publicity.

A public relations firm in Malta handling the Smart City project told journalists that it would need to post a 2,300 euro bond before speaking with representatives from the technology and media office park. The firm told journalists that the bond would be returned after Smart City representatives vetted their final story drafts and following the publication of said story. Weber Shandwick, which apparently farmed out the PR contract to a local firm, quickly denied any involvement, and placed the blame on the local firm.

Companies around the globe are canceling holiday parties due to economic pressure. This sends an ugly signal to workers and lowers morale. Companies should use the holiday season as an opportunity to thank employees for their efforts. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on a party, and you can have a little fun by using the excuse of a sour economy as a way to generate inexpensive party ideas. I’ve always thought it was a waste of money for companies to splurge on a holiday party instead of simply giving the money they spend on it back to employees in the form of cash.

Speaking of the economy, I know things are getting bad when venture capital firms start email-bombing people with coupons offered up by their portfolio companies. I’ve received three such offers in the past week.

After several weeks of bad press, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley said the city would halt spending on millions of dollars of contracts the city has handed out to public relations firms. The city already employs more than 50 public information officers who collectively pull down around $5M per year in salaries. Daley has proposed laying off 1,000 city workers in an effort to close an almost half-billion-dollar budget gap, thus the outside contracts were viewed as a waste of money, especially since one key firm involved is run by one of Daley’s biggest political supporters. Incidents like this give public relations a bad name because they suggest that the industry is expendable and that government spends unnecessarily in an effort to burnish its image. It’s not the firm’s fault, but someone should have told the mayor that he was making a huge mistake by giving out millions in contracts while the city already employed a large PR staff.

A press release from PR Newswire caught my eye. The firm said that Quarkbase–“a not-for-profit mashup site consisting of more than 30 data sources and many algorithms”–determined that more than 6,400 press releases issued by PR Newswire were referenced in Wikipedia entries, a rate three times greater than that of the company’s closest competitor. PR Newswire releases also garnered more references from bloggers. (eReleases, which publishes this newsletter, distributes its releases via PR Newswire.) Now we know where people are getting all that info when they’re writing Wikipedia entries.

Rick Rudman–the founder, chairman, president, and CEO of on-demand public relations software provider Vocus–had this to say on an October 28th earnings conference call: “In a down economy, there will always be organizations that make indiscriminate budget cuts across the board. However, there are also many organizations that actually increase spending on PR, which has proven to be one of the more cost-effective channels in the marketing mix. Many organizations today also understand the importance of communication more, not less, during times of economic uncertainty.” That’s a good quote to slip into a proposal.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (, a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (, the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit:

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