PR Agencies: Join the Viral Messaging Business

It’s time for PR agencies to examine their navels, hum deeply, and ask that oh-so-90s question: What business are you in? If you’re in PR and you think you’re in the “contacting editors” business (a.k.a. getting ink), then you’re doomed. The future of PR lies in the “viral messaging” business, and anyone who says differently ought to open an online ice-delivery service.

Look at it this way: Why do clients want you to contact editors? Because editors have a trusted channel to “bullhorn” your clients’ messaging to masses of people who are in the market for whatever uber thing the client is selling. An article in the right place does an incredible job of increasing overall awareness of a message.

Now, the web has created thousands — arguably millions — of new outlets with editors for PR to contact. And PR agencies have risen to the increase in outlets by hiring legions of teenagers (OK, maybe that’s not being nice) to help them contact editors.

Sounds like a great time to be in the contacting editors business, right? Welcome to IceOnline.com, baby!

Just the opposite is true. As the web continues to proliferate, the editors who maintain and nurture their editorial channels are going to find their audiences clinging even more strongly to their words. Cut and paste this thought to everyone in your PR agency: The more outlets there are, the fewer will matter.

Why? Do the math. Hundreds of thousands of PR people are contacting tens of thousands of editors to reach hundreds of millions of people. Where’s the problem? At the end of the chain, people still have only 24 hours in a day and — with the nuisance of eating, working, and sleeping — they are able to dedicate only the same tiny fraction of that to absorb the news for an increased number of outlets.

It’s a horrible downward spiral that’s likely to threaten civilization itself.

Here’s the point: There’s no future in the contacting editors business because it doesn’t scale well.

But the viral messaging business not only scales well, it offers an excellent product extension for PR agencies. Like PR, viral messaging is about increasing overall awareness of a message. PR agencies should already be experts at the messaging part and need to learn only some basic skills and tactics to launch into a successful future. But recognize that with viral messaging, a new bullhorn exists in the address books of everybody with email.

Don’t get me wrong. Being in the viral messaging business doesn’t mean that you don’t contact editors. In fact, you continue contacting editors; you simply do it in a far more responsible manner. Remember, since there will be fewer outlets that matter, there will be fewer editors that matter. So go at it, baby, but do it right because fewer editors means that your risk of getting frozen out is pretty high!

You can pick up the slack tenfold by adding viral messaging into your product mix. Here are just a few of the opportunities open to PR agencies that take the viral messaging plunge.

  1. Building and managing opt-in lists. The care and feeding of opt-in lists is the single biggest asset a viral messaging agency can build for its clients. From targeted banner campaigns specifically designed to populate and grow an opt-in list to managing the integrity and the messaging, these opt-in lists are completely new business for PR and provide the domain in which PR can flex its messaging expertise.

  2. Developing web site content. Viral messaging agencies should be heavily involved in the content at client web sites. Fresh content rules and is the single biggest reason for a visitor to return to a site. And a returning visitor is far more important than a first-timer.

  3. Being a strategic partner. PR’s dream of being a strategic partner could come true with viral messaging. More and more smart companies are going to view viral messaging as a critical component of their marketing strategies, and nobody is there to help them.

Moving from the contacting editors business to the viral messaging business is not going to happen overnight, but make it happen quickly. While PR might have a natural advantage, the field is by no means barren. You can get a jump-start on the internal conversation — and engage in some viral messaging while you’re at it — by forwarding this article only to your most trusted colleagues.