In 2005, classified advertising had its best year ever. Classifieds brought in $16 billion in revenue, almost twice the entire Hollywood box office gross for the year, despite widespread Internet use. But by 2009, that figure had been cut in half, and then cut almost in half once more, destroying the finances of the newspaper industry.
It's easy to imagine the sales force for classified ads in 2005 as being too blinded by success to reinvent themselves. Our challenge in PR is to avoid the same mistake.
The pace of change in PR is fast and getting faster, meaning that the “adapt or die” mentality I wrote about on Monday must be adopted by firms and their clients sooner rather than later. It's far too easy for today's Goliath to become tomorrow's punch line.
To do that, we need to think broadly. There is a world of service vendors that all claim to have the only solution needed. Sometimes that's a Facebook strategy. Or a search-engine-focused approach. Or one that relies on mommy bloggers, Twitter influencers, or a single mention from a top-tier reporter.
None of these approaches is wrong, exactly. Like the parable of the blind men and the elephant, each of these groups is accurately describing a corner of the communications world. But only seeing a corner of the marketplace is fatal. Success stories require the ability to weave together content creation, digital syndication, internal communications, and a dozen other disciplines. As I said yesterday, PR should be well-positioned to synthesize these different skill sets into a unified communications approach.
Tackling change in this way is not without risk. We will be challenged to find “non-traditional” hires to expand our thinking. We'll need to invest in constant education to stay ahead of the curve, especially with the explosion of digital. And we'll have to experiment – and risk failure – to test drive new and better ways of reaching our core audiences. That can be uncomfortable, and not everyone can stand that kind of uncertainty.
Unfortunately, the only other option is wishful thinking. But, as classified departments learned over the past few years, that's no option at all. The time to act is now.
Jim Weiss is CEO of WCG.