How B2B PR will fail in 2011

We’re three days into 2011 and I’m already seriously concerned about the shape B2B PR will be in by 2012.

The number of reporters is shrinking at an alarming rate. Marketing silos are collapsing, which means PR budget and activities are under significant “synergistic” threat. Audiences seem most responsive to a gritty, natural marketing approach and attention spans are at an all time low.

Simply put, it’s not an easy time to be in the “awareness” business.

Now, here are the current products that PR believes will solve the problems of a changing environment:  Bylined articles. Social media. Newspaper quotes. Trade shows. Media pitches. Press releases.  TV appearances. Messaging.

How long do we think these will truly meet the evolving needs of reporters and our clients’ targets?

The age-old business model of the Public Relations industry is at risk. (And no, the answer is not social media. That’s a wonderful channel that can help your company grow in 2012, but it’s not enough.)

We need to become content marketers. The good ones, such as Kristina Halvorson and Joe Pulizzi, do two simple tasks incredibly well:

  1. Identify, extract and develop great ideas
  2. Determine how best to package and distribute the ideas


I hope you noticed that these are skills that almost every good PR professional already possesses. But it’s time to evolve our capabilities – and our “products.”

Our product is now content. Here’s what PR content is becoming:

Take a careful look at that list. How many of these elements are in your planned 2011 PR programs? Can you afford a lack of experience with these products?

Perhaps more importantly, can you afford another year of thinking of yourself as just a traditional PR professional?

To reach Elizabeth:

Phone: 212.840.0017
Twitter: @elizabethsosnow
LinkedIn: Elizabeth Sosnow

8 Comments on How B2B PR will fail in 2011

  1. Well Elizabeth, thanks for the post and I agree with your conclusion if not your half-empty opener! 😉 I guess I don’t limit myself to being in the awareness business. It is unquestionably true that if you continue to do what you’ve been doing, things will get bleak and quickly. I wholeheartedly support the notion that we are in the content business now. Online, good content is good content regardless of who it comes from. Good content is also expensive to generate consistently and we’ll have to see whether clients are willing to invest in it. Some clearly are doing so. I do believe, however, that helping people who your audiences knows and trust to be more visible advocates will continue to be a big part of what we do as well. And I believe that the niche orientation of B2B actually makes certain social media applications a great fit. Plus, content strategy only works when it’s integrated with social networks to aid in syndication.

    • Hi Aaron:

      And here I was thinking that my opening had just the right tone of “wake-up call” 😉 Seriously, I do think your point about the expense of good content is an important one. Our clients are often amazed about the expense involved in developing a video or creating a study.

      However, it’s also true that many of these pieces of content actually cost far less than you’d think. We’re developing a song for one client and I’m amazed at the quality of the work AND the low price. I guess the fact is, there are lots of talented people available and they are easier to find than ever.

      In the end, clients pay for results. If your content delivers it, there’s no need to worry. If it doesn’t, I worry that our PR colleagues will give up and go back to selling press releases. That would be bad.

  2. Elizabeth, thanks for writing a thought-provoking post.

    I agree that PR will need to focus on the right content. But there’s still a need for the byline and the print article. Good old-fashioned earned media still belongs in the comms plan, right alongside all the great content you listed as well as analyst generated content (sponsored or otherwise). Especially in the enterprise or corporate IT space, where we continue to see end user RFPs requiring third party commentary on or validation of a product or service. Customers may find us through different channels, through YouTube for instance, but they want to help justify or rationalize their decision to purchase our product. That’s where “age-old” content comes in.

    • Hi Liem:

      Thanks for stopping by. I agree that you don’t need to abandon earned media…but I’m not sure how long we’ll have it around. Or what it will look like in the future if it survives.

      Seems to me the best plan is to continue developing programs that include the traditional tools that clients expect, but to add new content elements wherever possible. I’ve found my own clients are happy to try some selective experimenting.

      I very much appreciate your thoughtful comment!

  3. I could not agree more, Elizabeth! During our PRSA meetings, I say to the board, “Don’t you think we should be educating members on how things are changing?” And during Counselor’s Academy meetings I get the “You’re trying to commoditize our business.”

    It’s not commoditization of the industry. Things are changing. And it’s our entire industry, not just B2B. It’s scary and if PR pros don’t learn some marketing skills (i.e. financials and how to read a P&L), they will become non-existent.

    P.S. I had a dream last night that I was using your office for a week and you had a freelancer who was sharing a cube for me who spent all of his days building radios instead of doing his job. And I woke up as I was trying to decide whether or not to tell you. Weird.

    • Gini:

      Bingo. I think many in our industry are so busy focusing on “how to leverage social media” that they are missing a much more important “product” shift that’s taking place.

      The folks who think of “content as commoditization” are the folks at the most risk. I know those people pretty well – and count a bunch of them as my friends. It particularly pains me to see how few senior people are willing to stretch creatively, let alone recognize that their business is on the line.

      P.S. to your P.S. You make me laugh. Alot.

      should be the year we connect in person.

  4. What a great post and a perfect ‘to do’ list for the upcoming year. A few items in particular jumped out at me: infographics (need to work on that one); songs (love that link for Richard Saul Wurman…his friends just call him Ricky); and your take on social media. I couldn’t agree more that while social media is a ‘rock star’ among tools, it is not what powers the overall PR machine. Without really good content, packaged and presented in a way that hits the mark, it’s more quantity than quality and only adds to the noise.

    Thank you for this list…now off to make my song!

    • Hey Erica:

      I’m so glad you liked the post. I’m particularly excited about the power of songs to move audiences. We are working on a song project for one of more adventurous clients right now, and I love the possibilities that are emerging.

      Perhaps even more interestingly, I’ve tested the song idea out with a few more conservative clients. While they initially push back, they often wind up intrigued. Why? I think it’s because every human being likes FUN content. No matter what kind of content we develop in 2011, I’m going to make sure it starts with that POV.

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