What is public relations in the web 2.0 world is something I often think about as I work to improve the marketing efforts at Mimeo.com. Today's New York Times further fueled that thinking with an article by Clare Cain Miller called "Spinning the Web: P.R. in Silicon Valley."
The Times article describes changes in the PR from the traditional to the "buzz" creation tactics of one of its lead Silicon Alley practitioners Brooke Hammerling. The article does an excellent job of describing the direction PR is heading with the need to "whisper" into the ears of opinion leaders such as "Jay Adelson, the chief executive of Digg; Biz Stone,
co-founder of Twitter; and Jason Calacanis, the founder of Mahalo." Gone is the traditional press release, the PR agency pitch and all of the traditional media approaches of the past.
As an interesting aside, Fast Company magazine showed how Madison Avenue leaders who are introducing products they develop are more reliant on PR than advertising as a tactic to promote their fledgling low budget brands.
All this said, I think the article left out an important component or flaw in the approach of most PR agencies, the need for some ROI accountability. In this environment it is difficult to ask for the thousands of dollars needed per month for PR agency fees when it is unclear how any placements fuel the business. While intuitive that it helps, it is difficult to support as hard chioces on funding cuts are being made.
I'd propose that PR should start thinking more like DR, what I call PR DR or direct response public relations. Why can't a press placement have a call to action similar to a direct response campaign. For example, a green energy company can invite editors to experience an online carbon savings calculator. The number of visitors can be measured as well as those that go on and become leads and revenue for the company. PR as described by Brooke Hammerling is fine when publicity is the goal, but support for PR programs will be fleeting. They may feel good, as I'm sure the Wordnik people are reacting right to their mention in the New York Times, but the attention is fleeeting without understanding how traffic will translate to revenue.