If there is a favorite hand-wringing pastime in the communications industry, it is most certainly about the youth and their disinclination to read tangible media, like newspapers and magazines. This obviously imperils the current economy of the publishing world, as print publications are costly and most revenues are tied into a critical mass for these products.
PR pros have looked at this development as a pitfall, but not an impediment, to growing PR. The industry has taken the view that cuts in the media mean outreach might change, but companies ultimately need a communications expert to shepherd them through the cluttered informational landscape. However, that might not be true.
By now, everyone knows Twitter – the topic du jour in mainstream media. Twitter's rise to the media's consciousness looks like it's the product of an effective, well-funded PR strategy – but it's not.
Biz Stone, Twitter's cofounder, serves as the point person for most media requests (or, at least, that has been the case with PRWeek) and has said he doesn't use a PR firm. While there are plenty of social media sites that hire firms small and large to help build their communications structure, others (who are vocal in their opinions) have come to embrace the belief that a great product requires little marketing. I have spoken on many panels where smart and successful young businesspeople have spoken bluntly (if unwisely) about their lack of need for PR.
As if a cratering economy wasn't frightening enough, the PR industry now has to worry about the entrepreneurs of tomorrow not believing in the power of PR. Of course, caveats apply. Many of these entrepreneurs are also bloggers, and so they predict the death of the practice because a noisome few spam their inboxes with untargeted pitches, and incorrectly assume there is little more to the industry than writing and sending those press releases. They also haven't yet reached the size that would make a PR pro seem imperative.
Regardless, this is a different environment than the dot-com boom, where people in similar situations were overpaying for PR services because that meant they had raised the funds to do so. At that time, print was still relatively king and an individual businessperson had neither the Rolodex, nor the astuteness, to successfully pitch the influential media. But today's entrepreneurs view the influentials as peers – fellow business owners who also run blogs and full-time bloggers, both of whom might not have the best view of PR.
The money to be made today is with blue-chip companies and their six- to eight-figure deals, and that market isn't going away anytime soon. But as we look to 2009, keep in mind that this industry might have as much of a next-generation problem as its print media colleagues. This will require the industry to think about its own messaging.