PR is dead and we have killed it

If you read that headline and it irked you in any way, the chances are you’re a PR practitioner.

But it’s undeniable. PR is dead. Print newspapers are, as we know, in decline – and the Public Relations industry just never caught up with how the web, social media and email forever changed the way we consume news. Fancy software aside, PR is still mostly done in the same way it was in 1992.

As a method of storytelling, Public Relations is expensive, time-consuming, resource-intense and not particularly impactful compared to the multitude of other choices available to businesses these days.

Whether you invest $10k a year or $100k into your PR strategy, there’s a good chance it would yield greater results if you spent it on Inbound Marketing.

How do I know?

Because I’ve done both. My career took me from internal communications into PR, and from there to Content creation.

Part of my job has stayed the same throughout that journey: crafting core messages in a variety of different formats, from articles and advertorials to blog content, social media, and email newsletters.

The difference between the two comes in how that message is distributed. In PR, I spent inordinate amounts of money posting press releases to newswires, paying agencies to pitch with limited success and constantly trying to create new angles that would be of interest to the press.

The companies I worked with were constantly trying to work their way into publications that were deeply reluctant to give us free advertising. The media was the middle man between us and our target audience. It was a constant push and pull; winks and nods with suggestions of advertising in the future, or attempts to leverage advertising deals already in place. Pestering journalist pals for coverage. An unending stream of follow-up calls.

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And even when we landed the coverage, it was tough to measure the impact it really had – how many read it, and took the action we hoped for? We would loftily claim reputation enhancement but in reality we often had little evidence to back the claim up.

As an Inbound Marketer, I don’t have to do that. I focus on creating content that’s useful to our target audience and instead of finding ways to push that content at them at my convenience, they come and find it at theirs.

It’s a much smoother exchange. We’ll blog about a topic you’re interested in and you’ll follow us on social media. We’ll give you some valuable tips and you give us your email. We send you an offer and you become a customer – and the process continues.

There’s no need for the middle man anymore. We can build stronger relationships with our target audience directly, based on personalised interactions. And we can measure our impact in minute detail, allowing us to improve every month.

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PR agencies committed to retaining lucrative contracts will continue to try and convince clients of their relevance, but for all but a handful of blue-chip companies and those who need crisis communications support, Digital Content is a better investment.

PR is dead. It’s an outdated model that only worked in a world prior to social media, email marketing, web content. Media Relations needs to be radically revamped in a world where there are 6 PR people for every journalist – all desperately trying to get that elusive coverage instead of building their own relationships with their audiences.

When you do something truly newsworthy, journalists will get in touch. That’s what they do. You no longer need to spend days pestering them to publish your press release. It’s a waste of your time, and theirs.

Do you agree that PR is dead, or do think it’s an evolving art? Leave a comment.

To connect with me professionally, add me on LinkedIn, or follow me on Instagram if you’d like to see lots of photos of my puppy, Sparky.


 Katie Harrington is a Communications and Content Creator based in Dublin, Ireland. Her e-book, Strategic Communications: The Science Behind the Art launched in November 2016. Katie has worked with global brands including Accenture, EY, Emirates Airline, and Allianz, as well as in the Irish parliament and Qatar’s semi-government oil and gas company Nakilat. 

6 thoughts on “PR is dead and we have killed it

  1. Shilpa J says:

    Hi Ms Harrington,

    I enjoyed reading your article. Though I agree when you say that social media has taken over in today’s’ world but so has PR. As a PR professional, we have evolved from Print to online. Yes, the documents may have been the same but the style to attract the readers have changed. Today’s Millenials prefer to have news on news app or on Instagram. I wouldn’t exactly say PR is dead but has evolved.

  2. Tatjana Harms says:

    I see what you mean. I’d say however that media as such has become redundant, not public relations. We still have relations with our public just not via media (which has the meaning of “middle man/medium/channel”) but directly.

    Celebrities no longer depend on outlets to get their actual story across but do it directly via their own channels.

    So yes, classic PR where someone stands
    between the message sender and the message receiver is dead. Now we go direct and I think it’s a good thing. Because, previously not only consumers/customers were your target audience but the media too. Actually primarily the media! We had to win the hearts and minds of the media instead of our end customers. Which was so damn boring and exhausting as you fairly describe.

  3. Jared says:

    Hi Ms. Harrington,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, however, I must disagree with you wholeheartedly. What you described in your blog post is not public relations but media relations, which is just one small part of what a public relations professional does. When we as professionals perpetuate the myth that they are one and the same, we continue the disservice that has been done to the industry. In fact, your new role as a content creator is still a part of public relations. Has the practice of media relations changed with the changing news landscape? I would definitely say I agree with you that it has, but it is still far from dead. Is the practice of public relations dead? The answer to that is a resounding NO. As someone who has practiced PR for many years and believes strongly in the profession, I would ask humbly that you take some time to look into what PR truly is because your description makes it seem as if there is a lack of understanding. I hope this response does not come across as harsh but more as passionate about a profession I love.

    • Katie Harrington says:

      I disagree entirely Jared. I’ve managed PR teams as well as outsourced PR agencies and in each case media relations was the primary role. You say it’s just a small part. In that case, what would you say is the main function of a PR department?

  4. Andrew says:

    We need more voices like yours, Katie. Louder too. Businesses and young talent need to know the realities before they invest in this field. Public influence, publicity will always be around. But PR isn’t set up to tackle these challenges, not anymore. It isn’t set up to provide MEASURABLE value. All other marketing fields now produce outcomes that can be linked directly to business impact, because its practitioners spent the time early on to optimize and innovate. PR practioners (we see some here) spend most of their time arguing that there is actual value in good ol’ PR, the same way we’ve done it for decades . We (I’ve been a decade-long PR practitioner myself) aren’t even in the same stratosphere when we talk about actual business value. I’ve had a PR director tell me once, “Oh, you can’t always trust digital data anyway.” Yeah, you would say that. Is that why businesses pay millions to ensure their data infrastructures are set up correctly? And pay shocking $$ to data scientists to develop complex algorithms to get tighter correlations between their actions and outcomes? In this context, PR is the equivalent of cat videos, and almost everyone else has graduated to award-winning films. We can’t let cat videos win. It’s bad for progress.

  5. Jasmine says:

    I want to add in my story to support Katie’s argument. I was a major in public relations during university days and entered public relations only in my 30s. I started my PR career in a PR agency doing investor relations, financial and corporate communications. Thereafter I moved in-house and in total was in a PR-focused role for 10 years. The first 5 years were good, as I had a lot of interaction with media. But the second 5-yr stint was deteriorating rapidly. Social media literally killed traditional media outlets, as senior management recognized that media relations cannot bring business to the company. Yet they have to be careful communicating with the media. So this effectively reduces the in-house PR to doing other forms of communications – internal comms and CSR. But often these are the bits that nobody wants to do nor spend on in the company. Suddenly you became the videographer, the video editor and cheer leader to gather pp to do volunteering events (which not everyone wants to do so).

    Same as Katie, I decided to move into marketing, and now I just embarked on a field marketing job. There is a better budget and you are able to show analytics and data compared to PR where you cannot measure, and it is now cat out of the bag that journalism is dead.

    I loved public relations. It used to be my favourite subject in university and I was so happy going to work and seeing the story I pitched so hard get printed in papers and online. But that happiness was short-lived. Hence I agree with Katie. PR IS DEAD.

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