Brian Fuller's blog on the media, marketing and content creation

Crunch time

Posted on | October 13, 2008 | No Comments

Before one of the cyclical downturns of the semiconductor industry in the mid 1990s, I was in the press room at the S.F. Moscone Center with my colleague Ron Wilson and a longtime PR woman (skip ahead if I’ve told you this tale before). It was November of, let’s say, 1994. She exclaimed the conventional wisdom at the time: “Isn’t it great? The cycles are over!” Wilson took one look at her and said “Overcapacity by Christmas,” and he walked away. The industry tanked in January and didn’t come out of it for two years.
We’re about to get beaten about the face and head for a protracted period of time, thanks to the mortgage lending binge of the early part of this decade.
For the media, especially business-to-business press, it means the end of print. Take that comfy old porch rocker and throw it on the pyre. Tip back a strong beverage and celebrate once was as the flickering flames reflect in your teary eyes. Then get serious about social media. Yes, plenty of social networks will go belly up in the next 18 months, but that doesn’t mean the concept doesn’t work. Even older audiences are starting to get it, as evidenced by the 40-plus crowd flooding into Facebook in the past six months. Oh, and when you do get serious, keep your IT department at arm’s length. Those guys never understood Web 2.0 in the first place, and those who did who saw it as a death threat.
For PR, synchronize your watches: You have 24 months, if that. Every recession sears the landscape like a forest fire and destroys much in its path, but once the embers die down, fabulous things grow in its wake. PR will either burned to a crisp or will sprout anew. This recession marks the transition of communications services from distinct niches (PR, advertising, integrated marketing) into something different. Frankly, it’s PR’s game to lose. PR, done properly, tells the most comprehensive story–from messaging and positioning through to press releases, story pitches and contributed articles. If you don’t know the story, you can’t tell the story. And today the story is told as much within the folds of a company Web site and other digital properties as it is directly to the old gatekeepers. It’s not just about picking up the phone and calling the reporters any more. This recession will codify that.
The last long recession, 1981-82, lasted 16 months. It wrote the obituary for Big Muscled Manufacturing in the United States and ushered in the age of information technology. The optimist will point out that three of the past four recessions have lasted eight months or less (the first wave of the Great Depression lasted 43 months). So despite the Byzantine complexities of mortgages and derivatives, this one could be short but brutal (or long and protracted). I’m no forecaster.
Either way, the communications industry will be unrecognizable by today’s standards when it’s done.

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No Responses to “Crunch time”

  1. Bev Barnett
    October 13th, 2008 @ 10:22 pm

    What if part of the interesting times ahead include HR getting involved in IT policy? They’ll be the first on the IT manager’s doorstep the day after Facebook is blocked, since the HR folks are using FB and other social networks to gather background on new hire candidates.

    Changes in PR for sure, but changes all the way around, too.

  2. mclarke15
    October 14th, 2008 @ 4:49 am

    PR never goes away… it just changes. The need to convince people to do things will never go away.

  3. Loring Wirbel
    October 14th, 2008 @ 8:14 am

    Unless it’s a world in which all persuasion is replaced by coercion.

    “And when justice is gone, there’s always force.
    And when force is gone, there’s always mom.”
    — Laurie Anderson

    I’m full of happy thoughts today!

  4. Brian
    October 14th, 2008 @ 8:27 am

    “Long words.
    Excellent words.
    I can hear them now.
    This is the picture.
    Looking out.
    I’m watching now.
    But when I see the future, I close my eyes.
    I can see it now.
    I see pictures of people rising up.
    I see pictures of people falling down.
    I see pictures of people, they’re standing on their heads.
    They’re ready!”
    — Laurie Anderson

    Happy thoughts…me too! 😉

  5. Loring Wirbel
    October 14th, 2008 @ 11:30 am

    Brian D., I never responded to your Birdland comments – I’m churning spreadsheets on an FPGA project and slightly batty as a result.

  6. Lou Covey
    October 14th, 2008 @ 7:31 pm

    What we generally call PR and what PR actually is are two things. Most of what the B2B media deals with are publicists, which is a very small part of PR. those are the people that distribute news releases for clients (with very little input) set up meetings, scan editorial calendars (and aren’t those helpful nowadays) and place contributed articles.
    But REAL PR is the process of engineering opinion. It involves the media to a great degree, but isn’t dependent on it.
    I think your time line of 24 months is probably appropriate. In two years time, media as we know it will cease to exist. And large social media platforms, like Facebook, my go with it. I’m starting to see small social media platforms targeted at specific communities spring up, not unlike the days when every town had at least one local paper. All these platforms will be networked, but not by the companies that promote them. The connection will come through the readers. PR people — like you Brian — are going to become the gatekeepers of information.
    So if people who call themselves PR professionals want to survive, they should consider doing some study in communication theory and journalism.

  7. Greeley's Ghost
    October 15th, 2008 @ 8:50 pm

    Lou, I agree with your notion that PR people need an expanded skillset. However, I hope we don’t become THE gatekeepers.
    The proud American in me (which is different from the business/PR part of me) wants an independent third party validation of messages. I think you do too (being the old ink-stained wretch you are). But “vendor-as-publisher” and media (whatever that looks like) are not incompatible.
    Companies need to think of themselves as repositories of accurate and timely information about their products and services (because 65 percent of corporate Web traffic comes to a site off search). But readers/viewers/customers will always want vetting and validation. Even when we watch presidential debates we wander back to our favorite networks or newspapers or magazines for validation of what we thought we saw.

  8. Lou Covey
    October 16th, 2008 @ 9:20 am

    I think what I want is the ability to say to my clients, “you can’t say that.” I want a return to ethical practices. And I want the respect of those clients.

    And I’m not being selfish. I think that’s what we all need.

  9. Loring Wirbel
    October 16th, 2008 @ 1:34 pm

    But, Lou, how many hungry PR people in a down economy will be willing to say that? I worry in particular about those who help cover for illegal or unethical behavior (or even boneheaded behavior) by saying, “Sure, you’re the client, keep my billable time, I’ll do anything.”

  10. Anonymous
    December 23rd, 2008 @ 8:41 pm

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