Nov 13, 2022

Recap: "Will Social Media Kill PR" Panel

Susan Etlinger, Jeremiah Owyang, Kara Swisher, Sam Whitmore


Last night, I went to a panel discussion hosted by the Horn Group and Girls In Tech. There was a star line-up of panelists: Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester Research and Web Strategist Blog, Kara Swisher of WSJ and All Things D, Susan Etlinger, VP of Horn Group and Sam Whitmore of Media Survey as moderator. 


The topic provided attractive with over 200 people packed in the Horn Group offices on Howard St. Considering the economic news swirling around me, the event reminded me a bit of the heady days – yes, I really am that old Virginia! Twitter tag #prblog.


Sam took a quick poll of the audience before commencing with the Q&A. It seemed the audience was 60% PR folks, 20-25% Horn Group clients and other people interested in the topic from marketing/social media backgrounds.



PR is not dead. It’s being reborn” – Sabrina Horn

To summarize some key quotes from the evening (may not be verbatim quotes but gives you a gist of the meaning):



“Join community to reach audience regardless of your client. Has the relationship with person I want. It’s the influencer model”

“Opportunity for PR is to listen. People will tell you what they’re interested in”

“Extend the value of PR – currently don’t have the key skills to do that”

“Big opportunity to use these tools to grow beyond corporate communications”

“Use the tools to repair the PR reputation”


Kara Swisher – I’ve read her blog and hearing her in person was definitely more amusing!

“PR people are so easy to get upset. Stop being reactive to the bloggers who are doing this to be trafic whores”

“War with PR is not important. There are more important things to fight over like Proposition 8”

“Focus on people with amazing relationship with people”

“Give me news and trends that your company represents. Trends with interesting products. Needs real news. Interesting figures and thought leaders. Cool interesting products that people are using. Weird stories will also get me too.”

“Nothing new – it’s about how good is the product. Don’t PR crap products”



“PR is about creating replicable processes, but replicable process can get you in trouble.”


Audience Comments

“Relationship economy. Release is so narrow”

[PR’s] obligation is to not put out shit out there. If it has value, then yes. Otherwise, no.” Charlie Cooper, CNET

“How to leverage important bloggers to help with news” – Razorfish

“How does PR practitioner leverage these tools to help business”

“Performance based payment and measurement like a media buy – will an agency risk this?”

Deja Vu – Didn’t we see this 10 years ago?

For a panel discussion that promised to be titillating, I found that it was bogged down by semantics of PR’s role in the social media landscape versus how the industry, as a whole, can better address this as a core competency. These were the same discussions that occurred 10 years ago with the rise of the Internet, which ironically was referenced when Sabrina pulled out a big, black binder about the impact of the Internet on PR.


 To paraphrase one audience member, what we’re referring to – Twitter, blogs, wikis, etc. – are just communications tools. In 5-10 years, these may be commonplace ways to communicate with your audience. While the panel was informational for those new to PR or currently struggling with PR’s value within the larger marketing and social media landscape, I think the panel didn’t truly delve into the question of the evening – Will Social Media Kill PR.

My Perspective?

I was sitting in the balcony where most of the social media folks were sitting. When Sam turned to us and asked if our issues were being addressed, frankly they weren’t and I said so (yes, that was me voicing the need to get beyond PR and talk about how this fits into the larger marketing arena). Unfortunately the discussion turned back to the basics of PR 101 meeting social media.


In the end, I agree with Jeremiah. PR has a window of opportunity to leverage social media to build higher business value with customers and companies beyond a corporate communications capability. When the discussion evolves from which outlet can you get me in to one of what audiences do you want to influence, then PR will have a seat at the table.


But hasn’t this always been the crux of the problem for PR from the beginning? Does social media really change that conversation? I don’t think so. What do you think?



– Jeremiah’s post about four biz opportunities for PR agencies

Kara Swisher’s post about the panel

– Sam Whitmore’s summary

– Charles Cooper’s take – PR is Killing PR, not Social Media.

– While Lewis Green wasn’t at the panel, he brings up a good point about the value of social media in PR.

– Horn Group’s summary about their Is Social Media Killing PR panel.

– Jennifer Leggio’s post at ZDNet. I think she summarized it perfectly: ” too much focus on dialing for dollars and not enough focus on making PR stretch to support real business initiatives.”



  • The basic definition of PR is lost in everything we do. PR is the engineering of public opinion, pure and simple. If all we are doing is regurgitating what our clients are saying, we’re engineering nothing, just piling it higher and deeper.
    Social media is a great tool, but in the end it is only a tool. As our media partners go away as corporate entities, we are becoming the gate keepers of real information and we need to start taking that role very seriously.

  • @drew, Lewis and Kyle – definitely true. I went to the Social Media Club event and plan to write up my summary tonite – you’ll be happy to hear that people are doing it and demonstrating results =)

  • What Lewis said ?

    But honestly, this conversation has been happening for a LONG time and folks need to get past it and actually start implementing new communications techniques into their overall marketing, measuring its success and improving execution. This isn’t about PR or social media…this is about people needing to stop talking and start doing.


  • What Drew said.

  • I wasn’t there and yet I was. I think we (marketing, PR, social media types) spend way too much time on this topic.

    No one cares about this but us. It’s a self-serving conversation. I have never had a client ask/tell me to use a certain discipline of marketing to solve their problem. They don’t care. All that matters is that we accomplish what they hired us to do.

    So if a traditional ad agency is smart enough to use social media tools to achieve a client’s objectives…good for the client.

    If a PR firm is savvy enough to add social media to their tool box and exceed a client’s expectations…good for the client.

    If a social media expert can twitter a client to success…good for the client.

    In the end, it’s our job (regardless of what “type” of company we work for or what we call ourselves) to help the client get the job done. Because that’s what’s good for the client.

    Social media is just the most recent in a long line of new tools (printing press, radio, TV, the internet, etc.) that smart communications professionals use.

    We need to get over ourselves and use the right tool for the right reason in the right way.

    That’s what we get paid to do.


  • Also added a blog post of my own, for what it’s worth…

  • […] (a marketing stakeholder) said we were taking on baby step topics and missed focusing on how PR should meet the need of marketing -and the business. She’s […]

  • Thanks for commenting Sam – you had your hands full trying to manage all the interests in the room!

  • Hi Cece…

    There were lots of agendas swirling last night. My favorite among them: how can PR, as an institution, preserve its primacy (and pricing power) in a world where publicity and media relations are less valuable and WOM, audience development and crowdsourcing are ascendant?

    Thanks for this blog post!


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Cece Salomon-LeeCece Salomon-Lee is director of product marketing for Lanyon Solutions, Inc. and author of PR Meets Marketing, which explores the intersection of public relations, marketing, and social media.

This blog contains Cece's personal opinions and are not representative of her company's.

Learn more about Cece.

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