The old way of doing PR is broken. Social media might, might glue some of the parts back on.
I'm a little hesitant to write a blog post about the way that the PR industry is adapting to online media (or how, in some circles, maybe it ought to change). Maybe it's too "inside baseball" for people whose attention is on technology and business strategry, rather than on the day-to-day foibles of technology journalism. But I think this is an issue worth examining from a meta-view, because the whole notion of our lives being affected by online communities is that it changes how everyone works. Even the PR people who work for your company. Think of this as a case study for a not-terribly-technical part of your business.
I'm probably the right person to look at this, since I have a bit of fame in PR circles as the lead author of the Care & Feeding of the Press, a guide for PR professionals. That document is so old that its pixels are fraying about the edges, now; it was written in a time when it was remarkable for a company to have a /press page on its site. But you'd be appalled, really, by the number of Sweet Young Things who still call me to ask if I've gotten the e-mail with their press release. Yeah, the unsolicted one with an 8MB attachment.
So I was very interested to read a blog post by one online-savvy PR firm about a presentation they gave on More Effective PR Through Social Media. I don't know this PR firm, or at least I'm not aware of it if I have interacted with them, but I like what Perkett PR said about using social media. It is indeed a new and sometimes-better way to communicate and to collaborate.
[T]heir eyes did light up when Heather explained Twitter like this: It's like entering a noisy, crowded stadium and saying, "Is there a doctor in the house?"... The entire stadium quiets to silence and everyone sits down except for four people that raise their hand and say "I can help!"... It's that powerful and can provide a whole new lifeline of resources to draw from.
We at CIO are personally engaged with similar topics, just as you are: using Facebook for business, taking advantage of LinkedIn, the business value of Twitter, and so on.
The old PR machinery, which was established when faxes still walked the earth, simply is no longer relevant, and it does a poor job of helping a company with a worthwhile message reach the people whom it needs to reach. We CIO.com writers and editors are inundated by press releases and (however nicely worded) "write about us!" pitches from vendors and their PR staff. And you've probably noticed that our coverage generally isn't about products.
Yet, if we had a nickel for every poorly-targeted press release we received, we'd probably be able to afford the kind of business lunches that you all imagine we indulge in. (Instead of scarfing a borderline salad at our desks while we type, which is the true state of affairs.) Yet the old-school PR people "solve" the problem by blasting out press releases with little attention to the identify or the needs of the recipient. Face it, PR folks; CIO.com isn't going to write about iPod skins. (Oh darnit. I just did.) We respond to the deluge by using the Delete key; few tech journalists I know have the time to write a polite "No, thanks" reply.
In other words: the old way of doing PR isn't cutting it anymore.