Been meaning to post this, but now is as good a time as any. Dan Riehl at Riehl World View is less than impressed with the response of mainstream organizations generally, and the PR community in particular, to new media:
Not long ago, PR in politics, and a host of other areas, dealt mostly with responding to queries filtered through a somewhat conglomerated mainstream media. Today, news and political junkies, as well as experts and keenly interested parties in a range of fields, have direct access to media they never had before. Given these three examples, it seems reasonable to ask if the public relations industry across the board is truly keeping up with the growth in size and significance of new media.
Given my own experiences in j-school and in online media over the last four or so years, I don’t blame him for the skepticism.
While in journalism school at Arizona State University around 2003, I had the opportunity to talk with the then-VP of one of the bigger PR shops in Phoenix (which, by extension, means the state of Arizona). His take on my school was something like this:
“I have never hired graduates straight out of the Cronkite School. I’ve interviewed several, but I’ve never hired them. Why not? Because they know everything, you can’t tell them anything, and they have this idea that it’s all about circulating press releases and pitching stories, when in point of fact that’s such a minuscule part of the business anymore.”
“We’ve talked to the professors at the school,” he continued, “tried to explain, ‘Look, you’re not giving us the graduates we need.’ And they just won’t listen. They are hopelessly behind, but they refuse to change. They have this notion of PR that’s at least 15 years behind the times.”
When I heard that indictment of my school of choice, it became clear that I was receiving an obsolete education. So I went out of my way to augment that education to the extent possible. At the advice of that VP, I got in as many internships as possible (I ended up doing six in total), but by far the very best decision I made was to start a blog. As I say on my bio page, I really did it just for fun and experience – I didn’t anticipate it would actually translate to anything worthwhile as far as career options.
I was very mistaken. That experiment in blogging as a student led to my blogging stint with the Alliance for School Choice, then going corporate, and now in my present role in web marketing. But back then, I’m fairly confident the blogosphere didn’t register a blip among my professors.
However, I rather suspect I’m an outlier as far as my time in school.
Understand, I graduated in ’04, back when blogging was really coming into vogue. In Internet terms, that was a generation or two ago – before the rise of the iPhone, at a time when Facebook was but a twinkle in Zuckerberg’s eye, back when Twitter only had vaguely to do with small birds or old ladies. This radical change in how we use the Internet, how it has altered the power structure, how it has changed the way we relate to and communicate with one another, has just happened way too fast for many big organizations to keep up.
The more obvious victims have, of course, been the legacy media. While most people (well, the navel-gazers within the MSM particularly) have focused largely on how new media has upended their traditional business model, not enough have focused on how the nature of communications has also changed. As Trent Reznor pointed out in connection with the destruction of the recording business:
“Anyone who’s an executive at a record label does not understand what the internet is, how it works, how people use it, how fans and consumers interact — no idea,” he declares. “I’m surprised they know how to use e-mail. They have built a business around selling plastic discs, and nobody wants plastic discs any more.”
Meanwhile, the entire system that for a lucky few turned those discs into hits — rock radio, MTV, music mags, CD megastores — has crumbled, and label execs have no idea where to turn. “They’re in such a state of denial it’s impossible for them to understand what’s happening,” Reznor says. “As an artist, you are now the marketer.”
Simply put, these are pretty radical changes that have taken place in just a few years. Bigger organizations with more insular thinking are getting caught flatfooted. As Glenn Reynolds likes to point out, smaller, more nimble organizations have a real edge.
In my professional work in search engine optimization, the thing that has really come to the forefront is how effective SEO – namely, backlink building – and effective PR are heavily connected. The line between the two has gotten so blurred that I really believe it’s increasingly hard to see where one ends and the other begins. But all this has happened outside the ivory towers that are churning out new batches of PR professionals. And with the rise of social networking, you can expect the dinosaurs at j-schools to become that much more befuddled at what is happening in the world beyond.
I’ve actually seriously considered doing some sort of graduate work related to PR and online marketing. But what journalism school out there really understands the intersection between the two?