An article in The Economist last week claimed that public relations companies are feeling much better about things and doing far better financially. The article stated:

“According to data from Veronis Suhler Stevenson (VSS), a private-equity firm, spending on public relations in America grew by more than 4% in 2008 and nearly 3% in 2009 to $3.7 billion. That is remarkable when compared with other forms of marketing. Spending on advertising contracted by nearly 3% in 2008 and by 8% in the past year. PR’s position looks even rosier when word-of-mouth marketing, which includes services that PR firms often manage, such as outreach to bloggers, is included. Spending on such things increased by more than 10% in 2009.”

This is true I think a certain area of public relations is really starting to thrive and that is the digital PR sector. Three or four years ago when we started to speak to clients about social media it took me and my team about ten minutes to explain to them what a blog was and what it did – now everyone is looking for the next big social media tool to use. The tool of 2010 is without doubt Foursquare with people checking in and out all over the place leaving others who have never used it slightly bemused.

Every day we are seeing new digitial pr or social media specialists springing up, some with experience in public relations and a lot without. My good friend Jed Hallam mentioned it on his company’s blog today:

“I feel like social media is (in the UK, at least) in an odd state at the minute (maybe it’s just hit the trough of disillusionment or something) and I don’t think anyone quite knows what to do.

“Agencies don’t really seem to keep pace with audiences, some clients still see it as gimmicky, big traditional agencies like to hire ‘social media strategists’ to ‘sort out that internet stuff’… The list goes on.”

Jed’s right we are at a bit of cross roads now with social media because clients know what Facebook, Twitter, Xing and Linked-in are. I strongly believe these newcomers who have sprung up all over the place charging clients money to set up Facebook pages will drop off and we will be left with the good PR practitioners who know how to react properly in a crisis and how to use these tools to engage better with an audience and customers. I mean it’s all very well setting channels up when things are going smoothly and it’s all good fun but if something goes wrong and things spiral out of control it must be managed by a trained professional and that is a PR person.

The truth is PR people are often undervalued when compared with the big budgets of the advertising sector but now that the game has changed forever, I think that the perception of PR professionals will change too.

Do you think the game has changed?

About Chris Norton

Chris Norton is the founder of Prohibition and an award winning communications consultant with more than twenty years’ experience. He was a lecturer at Leeds Beckett University and has had a varied PR career having worked both in-house and in a number of large consultancies. He is an Integrated PR and social media blogger and writes on a wide variety of blogs across a huge amount of topics from digital marketing, social media marketing right through to technology and crisis management.