In praise of free PR

11 Dec

Groundswell, Here Comes Everybody, Crowd Surfing, Tribes: some of the most interesting books published this year have referred to the significance of the amateur and the importance of bottom-up, organic campaigns.

That’s not to dismiss the importance of professionalism or to devalue the importance of money. But, as a classroom exercise, a group of students were asked to imagine how they would help an individual raise money for charity, for free. Their recommendations were competent, but they kept displaying their dismay at being asked to do this for free (this was for practice, remember, not for real). They hadn’t considered that a well-funded charity campaign might be counter-productive. If the charity has the money to spend on promotions, then does it really need our money? That top-down messages are not always persuasive.

It takes experience to give good advice; it takes time to conduct good research. Good public relations does not usually come for free, but it has the benefits of the message being freely transmitted (by the media, via social media and word of mouth). So here’s the paradox: good PR advice might be expensive, but has the benefit of appearing to be free.

Here’s my standout sentence from Seth Godin’s new book, Tribes (my italics):

Marketing used to be about advertising, and advertising is expensive. Today, marketing is about engaging with the tribe and delivering products and services with stories that spread.

You can call it viral marketing, but I call this public relations.

7 Responses to “In praise of free PR”

  1. David Child 12/12/2008 at 12:01 pm #

    Couldn’t agree more – there’s also a feeling amongst friends and contacts across digital, PR and advertising that companies are moving spending to digital and PR and away from print/radio/TV ads. Are we to see the end of ads?
    Just bought Tribes so will be fully informed by the start of 2009!

  2. serena 12/12/2008 at 2:25 pm #

    great post richard.
    i think that story-led pr is the way forward for charities.
    i work in charity pr and we aim to make the story the most important thing and where possible facilitate people to tell their own story.
    the glossier and more ‘corporate’ it gets, the less effective the results seem to be

  3. Richard Bailey 12/12/2008 at 2:59 pm #

    @ David: Tribes is a big idea packaged in a small book. Hope you find it worth it.
    @ Serena: Would you like to write about story-led charity communications for our magazine, Behind the Spin ( We are focusing on the third sector in March 2009.

  4. Luke Armour 12/12/2008 at 8:47 pm #

    Thank you, Richard, for posting this. Great point.
    I have frequent conversations with my self-titled “marketing” colleagues where we use different terms to cover the same concepts. The lines are blurring and activities are being shared across numerous titles and departments.
    It’s a great opportunity for PR to take the reigns as the experts we are in these matters.

  5. Philip 13/12/2008 at 10:18 am #

    Excellent post, Richard. As you would expect, I agree completely!

  6. Dawn Gilpin 14/12/2008 at 6:26 pm #

    Yes, that sentence from Tribes stood out for me as well, and is a big part of why I’m using it in my Campaigns class next semester. “Stories that spread” is a terrific descriptor of PR messaging.

  7. julie 16/12/2008 at 9:54 pm #

    Having used a group of students as part of their assessment to co-ordinate a fund raising campaign whereby they gave their time free I found this an interesting read. Having no money to market their cause they resorted to other means of communications which spread the word and ensured a successful outcome. Viral marketing/Public relations it worked for them.

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