Every Dot-Com Needs a PR Firm: Have You Got the Nerve?

A recent ezine headline, “Nerve Creates Internal PR Firm,” brought crashing home the impact of the dot-com revolution on the public relations business. And it ain’t pretty.

Why Nerve.com, a content site described by its founders as “literate smut,” should feel the need to “expand its horizons by launching a public relations firm under its own masthead” is a telling commentary on the state of PR in cyberspace.

More importantly, the precedent presents the latest troubling example of the blurring lines between editorial, promotion and publicity in the digital space age.

It seems that NervePR was created largely because of Nerve’s dissatisfaction with PR agencies (who shall remain nameless). “In general, there is a very high level of frustration with PR firms, and, like many e-companies, we’ve had frustrating experiences with PR firms,” said Nerve CEO Rufus Griscom, in a statement that I hope is no reflection on NervePR’s wordsmithing ability.

Griscom said handling public relations internally makes it easier to address press inquiries. “Our intent,” he said, “is to try to be useful to journalists, rather than harass them…” Another telling comment on the state of the PR practice online, as well as of the often unrealistically high expectations (in time and results) of many dot-com clients.

“We understand our company better than a PR firm does, and I seemed to have a better relationship with journalists when I kept the PR firm out of it.” Again, not a very positive statement about the need for clients to effectively partner with their agencies, or of the ability of agency personnel to understand their clients (especially when, like Nerve, they are not mainstream dot-coms) and to interface with the media.

“One of the mistakes PR firms make is to take on too many clients, including those that aren’t of much interest to journalists.” NervePR initially will take on only two clients, both dot-coms. One hurrah to Nerve for putting a cap on clients in these times. A second hurrah for counseling clients as to their potential newsworthiness.

And here we arrive at the heart of the matter. In a market so driven by IPO mania, not to mention the competitive intensity of technology development, EVERY DOT-COM NEEDS A PR AGENCY.

While on the surface, this landslide new business environment presents PR agencies with a veritable gold rush, and opens the doors wide for all those (journalists included) who wish to enter the field, it plants the seeds of its potential downfall. Why? With the continuing e-economy boom, there simply are not enough PR agencies to handle the deluge of business prospects.

The immediate results present troubling portents. Already, leading cyber PR firms and old-line wannabes are dictating their fee structures (let’s talk five figures for starters), accepting only the most promising businesses, declining to participate in agency reviews, or not currently accepting any new business. With this kind of pressure on the PR industry, Nerve’s move comes as no surprise.

What does this situation bode for the level of service a client can expect? Today’s low five-figure monthly fees will generally buy you a “team,” which, while managed by “senior” executives, actually fields several overworked, under-trained junior staffers. They’re the poor slubs who are forced to follow up mass emailings to journalists with those “harassing” phone call and faxes. Poor things. Poor clients. Rich agencies.

But the real NervePR play is to “help cover the cost of its own in-house PR,” said Griscom, who plans to offer “lower costs, better service, and lower risks.”

Even more troubling than the lack of experienced PR practitioners to go around is the emergence of new editorial/advertorial/promotional practices that are fueled by continued online/media mergers in a new environment where traditional editorial rules of church and state carry little weight. But that’s another subject altogether.

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