Getting the “F” out of SHIFT, and the State of Public Relations


First off, a piece of personal news: today marks my last day at SHIFT Communications. It has been a great ride and I am leaving some friends, particularly a great team, behind, What’s next? It is too early to tell tales, but my next move is sure to include explicit responsibilities relating to social media. I believe social media is only going to take more and more of our time, attention and resources- whether “we” toil in PR, marketing, advertising, or numerous other departments.  In fact, that thinking leads me to the meat of this post; rather than talk about my own moves (though I will be sure to update here once I have decided on my next step), I thought I would take a gander at where public relations is and how I think it, and its related disciplines, are changing.

Isn’t this a better idea than an “End of Year” list or “2010 Predictions” post? I



think so. Even if you don’t, let me have it in comments.

Where Public Relations Has Come in the Last Five Years and How It is Changing

I’ll start by saying that I am making no declarations or writing a manifesto here- but stating my observations. If you think that’s the same thing, cheers.

  • Public Relations as Media Relations Mill is Coming to an End

Public relations agencies have actually made progress in scaling down the mass-spamming of media targets, at least in my experience (that’s not the same as saying it’s gone, of course). However, the reliance on media relations as the backbone of PR agency work seems to be getting its oxygen only from client demands to be in this or that publication.  When clients deprive us of that oxygen, we will be freer (or forced) to pitch our talents in other areas: strategy, social media, content creation and other more creative, effective pursuits. I can say from experience that clients are already clamoring for more strategic counsel vs. more of the same ol’ media relations. That’s a great, early sign of what may come.

  • PR Agencies Must Catch Up to Each Other in Social Media Know-How

Some agencies “got it” early, and I have been lucky enough to work for two–SHIFT Communications and Topaz Partners– over the last several years. Other agencies, including larger ones, have caught up (have they?). Is the next step that the early leaders dart out ahead on the Next Big Thing? Or do larger agencies scale up their social media services to the point where it’s a standard discipline? I would love to see the former- and I think we are already seeing the latter (witness Edelman, no slouch in social media awareness anyway, and its recent hire of David Armano).

The opportunities to teach social media and create more awareness among clients, agency talent, and the industry at large is still there. If anything, the audience has increased and is hungrier.

  • We Won’t Figure Out Measurement, or Will We?

I am fond of saying that PR should own social media because we have had decades of practice in not being able to figure out measurement. Social media was made for us? Of course, we can figure out measurement- the only question is do we want to, and do we want to do it in a way that will show clear benefits to clients? I will continue to pay attention to the likes of Katie Paine to try and stay on top of this important, untamed aspect of the PR industry. I will definitely be working harder on measurement in 2010.

  • “Personal Brand” Should be Recognized for What it Is: a Networking and Reputation Boon for Companies

Here in Boston, when I go to events, I am used to the fact that typically, very few PR agencies are represented at the events. Good old-fashioned face-to-face networking is a must– and the people that use social media to build up their own “brand” or whatever you want to call it would be foolish  to squander that on online pursuits only.  I’m not talking about traveling to conferences if you don’t have the budget- but I can’t say enough about the value of that- I am talking even more about what you can do without a big budget: impromptu “Tweet-ups” and other gatherings- especially to greet visitors from out-of-town; local industry events, whether they be for PR/Marketing groups or for clients’ vertical industries.

The most visible agencies will win that battle in each city. In Boston, I would argue that mantle is up for grabs. Looking back to my earlier paragraph, many PR folks know more about PR than others know. Time to stop hiding that light under a bushel.

  • Will PR, Marketing, Advertising and other Functions Merge?

That’s a fascinating question. I watch to see if companies look at “full-service” agencies, or if social media becomes a set of tool fitting the needs of the separate disciplines (include customer service and even sales in that group), which remain distinct. I lean toward the latter. PR and advertising, in particular, want to hold on to their at times diametrically opposed views on earned vs. paid attention, and how social media serves that. I continue to be entertained and educated by the stories of PR efforts that strike a wrong chord- or even anger customers, as well as advertising efforts upended by creative that is too clever for its own good, at the expense of relevance and engagement.

Who will win? I don’t think we need a winner.

On to 2010

Will I stay in PR? I think there is a lot of unfinished work I could attend to, whether at agencies or in-house. On the other hand, it is also an opportunity to redefine what I do- does it make sense to pursue positions that have more specific social media responsibilities? I think so- now is the time. What form that takes is a matter of time, people and opportunity- and there is a lot of that right now. 2010 is going to be a great and fascinating year.


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  1. Doug,

    First of all, let me be the first to say that it’s been a pleasure to work with you over the last couple of years. Your social media savvy and know-how has been invaluable. Second, good luck with whatever is next. I’ll be curious to see which fork in the road you decide to pursue given your multiple skill sets.

    I also wanted to mention that I like your though provoking questions about the future of PR. As a client of SHIFT’s, we’ve been pleased with the balancing act you all have maintained between traditional PR activities and embracing the power of social media. I agree with you though, there will be some interesting transitions in 2010.

    Last but not least… Happy New Year!

    Aaron | @aaronstrout

  2. Might not be a manifesto, but youdaman! May the next thing be the best thing!
    Much repect due to you as a professional, but even more in friendship.
    Cheers, Adam

  3. Doug,

    Of course, nicely done. You hit the nail on the head with many points here, and I think you know where I agree with you most…that PR has forever changed and those who practice it must continue to evolve or risk forever playing catch-up, that measurement can no longer be the 100-pound gorilla in the room that PR tries to ignore or fight owning, and that branding–personal or otherwise–is something we all must own or it will drive itself.

    It’s no coincidence that you and I have spent more time together in the past year than in the 10+ years we’ve known each other. Our lives and careers have evolved in the right ways. I’m personally grateful for this change, and hope to be a part of your next big adventure, if only to help you celebrate your next successes. I agree that 2010 is going to be a great and fascinating year.

    Best wishes,

  4. Doug, congratulations on this move. SHIFT is definitely going to miss you.

    I agree with you about the huge value of meeting people as meat people, in the flesh. I gotta do more of it. If I did NY resolutions that would be one of them.

    HNY and best of luck,

  5. Nicely done. Going to just cut and paste into my 2010 post and claim it as my own. Because, isn’t that how social media works, with fair use? I’ll link to you on the bottom as someone who is smart, though.

    Congratulations on the new 2010 plan, and go kick some tweed Boston butt.

  6. Dough – as always a class (and smart-as-hell) act! You are one of the great thought leaders that have helped me and, as it is very clear, many others in the industry.

    I can’t wait to see what your next move is. We all expect nothing short of something that will be truly fantastic!

    All the best for 2010!


  7. Wow, what a humbling response to this post. I am proud to count you all among my friends, new and old. For the non-Twitter commenters here:

    Bryan- Yes, I am very optimistic. A lot of new exciting stuff is going to happen in 2010.

    Aaron- you have been one of the leaders in the social media community, and I have come to expect nothing less than your support and encouragement.

    Kyle- I can’t wait to see what’s next either! (Did Austin TX get up early today? Y’all were all over this post)

    Adam- you and I have been through a lot of PR wars- it just keeps getting more interesting. Thank you.

    Carissa- it’s great to see you back in my life, though a shame it took social media to do it.

    Leslie- thanks for being an influence, and a force in the New England social media community

    Tim- Exactly– we should all get out more. Meat-meeting will be the buzzword for 2010 (well maybe we can think of a better one)

    Warren- You have a great New Year as well!

    Jeremy- still away. I won’t prosecute. Petty larceny.

    Colin- you were one of the most fun clients I have ever had (shh don’t tell Aaron). Can you influence an influencer? Keep bringing on the good stuff- more Friday funnies and more video please!

  8. Hope the next step in your career is as great as the work you’ve done in the past. I’m a Doug Haslam fan and I look forward to seeing what ever you do next, I know it will be great!

    I was thinking Doug. What if many agencies are still using traditional cold calls and they still work? For example, you notice a company gets some more funding, doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that they will probably need some PR help. Might sound like the wrong approach considering social media, but what if it still works? Isn’t the question about PR agencies involvement in social media, what is still working for them?

  9. Enjoyed the post. I think anyone who is in the business and straddling the PR/social media worlds thinks about the very same questions you raise here. The smart ones don’t have answers or claim to see the future, but they are aware that they are part of an evolution in the communications industry.

    I look forward to following your evolving thoughts and career path this year. Maybe your journey will bring you to Toronto one of these days?

    Best of luck to you in 2010.

  10. Kasey, Zena and Todd– thanks!

    John- you flatter me. AS for your question about cold calls, it seems there is indeed a place- but rather than a list of companies to call (say, going off Venturewire dispatches, why not prequalify certain ones before calling to increase chances? That’ how I cut down my media lists when calling on news over the last few years. More prep, fewer calls, higher results.

    David- so the dumb ones are the ones who actually have the answers? Sign me up! ;) Thanks for the thoughts– and Toronto is on my bucket list (just not in January). You;ll be among the first to know when I do make it up there.

  11. Doug,
    Sorry I’m just catching up on this news now, but I wish you all the best in your new endeavors! I hope you’ll let me know what your plans are, and you should feel free to contact me if I can help you in any way.

  12. Doug, how about “meating” as the top buzzword for 2010? Apologies to all of the vegetarians out there, but we’re talking about live meatings, not dead ones.

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