ITL #354   Changing the rules: public relations in a sharing economy

2 months, 1 week ago


Businesses in the communications sector have been slow to apply lessons from the sharing economy. By Ilissa Miller.

There is no doubt that we are living in a sharing economy. From rideshares to  shared offices, the sharing economy is among us – but is the public relations world prepared?


According to Investopedia, “The sharing economy is an economic model defined as a peer-to-peer (P2P) based activity of acquiring, providing, or sharing access to goods and services that is often facilitated by a community-based on-line platform.” When we look at the public relations industry, we can consider platforms like Meltwater, Cision, and Trendkite as ‘shared’ resources — but not necessarily in the truest sense.


The concept of the sharing economy is important for our industry to understand and learn how to adapt what we do to this ethos. For years, I have seen other private professionals offering to share subscriptions to platforms to help spread out the cost. It makes absolute sense. If you’re an independent contractor, it costs you just as much to subscribe to media database and measurement platforms as the largest global PR firms. As a result, pooling resources — assuming that very little overlap in use will occur — is a smart and economical business move. However, it shouldn’t start and stop there.


Public relations differentiators

At the end of the day, it’s the relationships that public relations firms have that make them special, unique and powerful for companies to work with. What we also forget is that these relationships aren’t just contact information; they are the knowledge set that we have about people, publications, and analyst firms, along with their areas of expertise, market influence, and more. This makes these contacts our differentiators and strengths.


It’s equally important to recognize that every person will leverage contacts and subsequent information differently. It’s the nature of the individual. We, as individuals, utilize our unique  lessons, pieces of information, experiences, and more to assess how each of our contacts will benefit or react to information we provide to them. Once we realize that it’s not the information that is our differentiator, but how we use that information, we become more open to and able to recognize the benefits of shared resources in the industry.


Take a media database, for instance. Most of them are different, offering their own strengths and weaknesses across industries, geographic reach, level of information, relevancy of contact details, price, and more. As noted above, individual PR consultants regularly share subscriptions to these platforms as a way to manage the economics of accessing them. Each person who engages on these platforms knows that the differentiator is how they use the platforms and leverage the available insights to get the results they want for their clients. In a sharing economy, media databases are what can be considered a commodity.


Commodities are basic services that are interchangeable with other similar services that provide information to deliver other goods or services. With multiple media database platforms, the information they provide is clearly a commodity because it’s what you do with the information that differentiates you from others.  If we carefully assess other information we regularly use to provide our services, we can identify additional platforms of information that we can commoditize to be collectively shared and accessed, allowing everyone to differentiate effectively. 


Raising the bar on information access

I believe the public relations industry is slower to adapt to a sharing economy for many of the same reasons that law firms are hesitant to adapt. Legal Mosaic wrote about this in an article titled  ‘Perspective: Why Lawyers Should Think About the Sharing Economy’ back in February 2019.  According to the article, the sharing economy disruptors achieve a win-win because they “cut out incumbents’ costly infrastructure – and monolithic delivery mechanism – and replace it with a peer-to-peer marketplace.” Imagine giving your media database subscription to your clients so they have access to the tools and information you do to help them with their business?


I’m not saying that a media database is the platform through which to provide transparency to clients – but I am saying that each client should have a self-service model and capability so that they can see who you contact on their behalf, what you say, how they respond, and other insights that will help them achieve their business goals. It’s not that they want to use the information, they simply want to self-serve and review the information.  


Changing the rules

As we consider changing the rules from traditional public relations to a sharing economy version of public relations, the information you may provide to a client can be customized (their customized media list for example) and regularly updated with pitches and outreach initiatives. 


Consider sharing information about industry events and speaking opportunities so that they could be searched and acted upon directly (or with help through your firm). The financial model could also be altered as more visibility to the information you use to guide and deliver your unique services is shared. As a result, a subscription-based model to that information could be offered, and therefore some of the conflict of interest challenges could go away. 


Have you ever been told you can’t join Cision or PRWeb because your competitors are there? I doubt it. But I know for myself, I have had to turn down work because of clients who have similar businesses and thus create a conflict of interest.   


If you shift to a subscription-based, self-service model, your conflicts are minimized. Although, when you provide your true differentiating capabilities, mapping a plan on how information can be used to manage, implement, and measure work, it’s only then a conflict arises. That’s where your company can focus on the business it truly wants – not just needs.  




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The Author

Ilissa Miller

As founder and CEO of iMiller Public Relations (iMPR), Ilissa Miller brings nearly two decades of experience in sales, marketing and product development to her clients in an effort to help them differentiate their messages and achieve notoriety within an ever expanding and evolving industry. She is a recognized leader in the global telecom and technology space where her knowledge and insights provide strategic guidance that enhance performance.

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