One day all the PR agencies in the world disappeared. With no press release or target tweets to announce the profession’s demise, we could only speculate that PRs had either flacked themselves into oblivion or vanished up their own arses. The world did not immediately miss the 80,000 bespoke brand storytellers or the constant churn of hype.
PR thinkers went from out-of-the-box to out of work – forced to transfer their brand management skills to more socially valuable endeavours like derivatives trading or boutique dentistry. They were joined in the dole queue by the D-list comedians who were formerly reliant on steady bookings from PR award ceremonies.
‘New news’ emerged; like Jeremy Corbyn it was authentic and boring in equal measures. The Kardashian stock plummeted and their profile was reduced to fame by association and sex tapes (even Kris released one – to limited appeal). The Shoreditch pops-ups burst and the Thames was cleared of the floating promotions that had been concealing the glorious ooziness of our noxious waterway.
The world of knowledge was not dealt a blow through being denied regular buzzfeedings of animals that look like marshmallows and other brand-plugging lists. The evaluation tools, surveys and digital optimisations that had extracted a veneer of indispensability from PR found themselves without carcass on which to feed. The public enjoyed not being ‘reached out to’ and felt empowered to make up their own minds.
Journalists were less sanguine. Their inboxes, once splitting at the seams with releases on disruptive, boundary-pushing innovations, were empty. No one was providing stories and newspapers were forced to recruit more reporters or close.
Within six months there was only one tabloid paper left standing and the price of broadsheets skyrocketed. Marketers agonised when their genius campaigns didn’t gain traction. Advertisers continued to do creative work, but with fewer people watching TV and over 70 per cent of online ads being clicked through or not noticed, their budgets came under increasing scrutiny.
For obituarists of the industry like Robert Phillips, the extinction of PR was meant to herald a new era of truth telling. Big corporations adapted well to truth because they had a hand in defining it. Smaller upstarts struggled to be heard.
Eventually a gap opened up for media-savvy professionals with an eye for a good story to help unique people find their audience. They led the return to what the legendary ad man Bill Bernbach (a visionary who valued innovation and intuition over science and rules) called "simple, timeless human truths".
Starting afresh, this new service was free of the jargon of other comms fields and showed that the secret to creativity was less than you might think. A compelling story was at the heart of this new business. It was able to stitch together the siloed patchwork of brand messaging across multiple channels. It was called by a variety of names: audience engagement, story seeding, purpose activation. Everything, it seems, apart from PR. We don’t need more of that, do we?
Mark Borkowski is founder of Borkowski.do