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DIY PR in a ‘Cheap’ Economy

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Putting aside all the recent rhetoric and controversy surrounding Web 2.0 companies, a few facts remain, one of which is this: the costs associated with starting and running a business today are significantly lower than they were a few years ago.

Some will say it’s for the better, others that it’s for the worse, but most will agree that the financial barriers for bringing an idea from concept to reality are much lower today – perhaps the lowest ever – which is driving countless new tech companies and products to surface, especially here in the Silicon Valley.

This being the case (and the business waters that PR firms must swim in), I can appreciate why “business as usual” is frustrating right now. From a client perspective, the cost of business for essentially everything is trending down.

Case in point, outsourced programming is cheap, code is cheap (really, free), hardware is cheap, communications is cheap, design is cheap, commerce is cheap, advertising is cheap, etc., etc., so it’s really no surprise to hear that companies want cheap PR too. 

It’s also no surprise, although still heartbreaking, to see posts like this from Creating Passionate Users pushing TypePad, yes, TYPEPAD as a cheap alternative to a dedicated PR program.

Ironically, I think this is actually good advice if you keep it in context with the post, especially for smaller businesses that should be focusing their resources on creating a great product first, but it also speaks to a bigger trend – something that has deeper implications for PR firms in the “new cheap economy.” It’s called Do-It-Yourself PR (DIY PR).

DIY PR has been around for a while now (I ultimately blame the Swedish), but in the last few years it has gained considerable momentum, especially among tech start-ups strapped for cash. The DIY PR movement has also been spurred in large part by new technologies like RSS, blogs, podcasts, and social networking.

The simple thinking being you no longer need an intermediary to engage with your audiences, be they customers, partners or media, because new technologies allow you to talk with them directly in a timely, more efficient and yes, cheaper way. So the role of PR as the traditional info gatekeeper and relationship broker diminishes, as do the budgets.

All this being said, the PR services industry certainly has some challenges. Are we destined to fade into obscurity? No way. Can agencies survive in the cheap economy? I think so.

My two cents: the industry is in a transition period, the challenge as I see right now is that too many companies are fighting to keep the old business (and billing and services) models viable and getting frustrated with market conditions that just can’t sustain them. Instead of the force fit, we should be adapting and exploring new ways to bring new value to businesses – something we’re investigating here at Voce, but clearly this needs to be in step with a broader industry shift.

I’ll be writing more about this in a follow-on post. This one’s long enough. Tolstoy would be proud.

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Mike Manuel is the founder of the award winning Media Guerrilla blog. Media Guerrilla is an insiders take on the practice of technology public relations with a focus on the issues, tactics and trends that are specific to the tech industry.

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DIY PR in a ‘Cheap’ Economy
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