Psst, Pass It On: PR is Alive and Kicking

Have you heard the news? Public relations is dead. Or at least that’s the word on the street.

Based on my experience at OpenView Venture Partners, PR hasn’t really died at all; it’s simply evolved. And as more people go online to find information and companies start moving their PR activities in house, we’ve found ourselves left with both old and new ways to look at the world of PR.

The Old World

In the Old World, public relations was all about getting mentioned in key media channels, primarily print, radio and TV. If you wrote a book, getting Oprah to talk about it would probably make you a best seller.

There were only a few really important media channels, and the idea was to create a pitch that would cut through the clutter and get certain reporters and editors interested in you and your campaign. PR agencies had really creative people on staff to come up with the pitches and other professionals to execute the programs.

PR pros would sometimes come up with elaborate approaches to get attention, such as special purpose buses (remember the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile?) or even gifts for reporters to emphasize their messages.

The basic idea was to get a message out to a media channel’s audience by influencing that media channel.

The New World

There have been three major shifts that have affected PR as we know it:

1. The media has fragmented and more information is now online.

2. The online audience now participates in the messages being sent.

3. There is more of an opportunity to use the Internet to create your own online media channel and become a key publisher to your target audience.

These changes have made PR much more complex. The best companies, however, have become more sophisticated and are capitalizing on these market shifts.

Still, it’s important to remember that the Old World of PR still works really well. If you write a book or make a movie, then getting Jon Stewart to talk about it would still be a great PR accomplishment. Likewise, if you run for president and want a lot of local media coverage, then painting a bus with your messages and taking a tour of local communities could help generate that for you (think Sarah Palin’s bus tour).

This is all classic PR and it still works really well today.

But the move to online channels has created opportunities for a long tail of influencers, who do things like create articles, blogs, podcasts and videos that appeal to your target audience. Many of them are already being followed by your target audience. The principles of PR still apply to this long tail of influencers, and the more successful PR pros have figured out how to track and engage with these individuals.

So what we now have is classic PR applied to a new long tail of influencers.

Furthermore, online social media channels (like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) provide opportunities to build your own audience and message them directly. The best companies post and monitor the chatter on the Internet and respond to comments appropriately.

The opportunity to roll your own media channel and become a key publisher to your target audience has never been better. Many companies are already working toward this end through content marketing or inbound marketing strategies. At OpenView, for example, we have created the OpenView Labs site, our own media channel for expansion stage tech companies.

While it could be argued that some of these new activities are not technically PR, my sense is that the public relations line is blurring, as messages are going out using old and new techniques.

It’s clear that PR is still alive and well, and the opportunities for a company to influence their target audience have never been better.

Scott Maxwell founded OpenView Venture Partners in 2006 and has worked in venture capital for more than 11 years. For more insight, you can check out his blog and follow him on Twitter @scottsnews.