It's a tough time to be in the public relations business.
It's going to get a lot worse.
Recessions always thin out the marketing and influence industries. This downturn will prove particularly brutal. Companies and agencies are laying off PR people as budgets and revenues dry up. Many struggling companies are eliminating their communications departments altogether.
When the smoke clears, there will be considerably fewer jobs for communications specialists and marketing publicists. And there will be many more qualified people who are desperate to have them.
Here are three reasons why the market for PR people will never be the same:
The commoditization of information ... What used to take a staff can be done by one talented person with a laptop and Blackberry. The need for general-purpose PR worker bees is dwindling faster than doing a Google search. Companies forced to cut the fat aren't going to bring those jobs back.
Shrinking media outlets ... Newsrooms are getting much smaller. Even National Public Radio had layoffs. The financial crisis is exacerbating what the Project for Excellence in Journalism called "the new paradox of journalism... more outlets covering fewer stories." That means employers and agencies have too many publicists pitching the same decreasing numbers of reporters.
Reporters at the gate ... The market is being flooded by laid-off reporters, columnists and TV anchors. Many have excellent skills, great contacts and deep understanding of the industries they covered. Whether they can make the transition to being PR people -- what many called flacks before they needed jobs -- is always a question. Even so, unemployed journalists will take many of the positions that would otherwise have gone to corporate and marketing communications people. Count on it.
How you survive the years ahead depends on how you respond to these new realities.
If you're a generalist PR staffer, hone your writing skills and become expert in something relevant. Fast.
If you're a PR student, consider changing your major. Seriously.
Many of you are in for a big disappointment.
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