Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Fall of Advertising & PR, And Rise of Social Media

Cliched!

As much as it was when people used to say The Fall of Advertising & The Rise of PR. I remember, when I was doing my MBA, the advertising lecturer had mentioned that the advertising industry in India was worth INR 8000 Cr, that was 1999. Today, after the emergence of PR as another communication tool and predictions of its imminent death, the ad industry is supposed to be worth INR 40000 Cr! Did somebody say fall?

Does that mean PR has failed? No, in fact in the last 10 years (that is the time that I have been in the industry) PR has grown and matured. It is now acknowledged as an important and strategic communication tool. It hasn't killed advertising, though. Both co-exist. Initially, advertising was like the big brother of PR. In the early days, companies who advertised thought editorial coverage was their birth right. Difficult days! But the PR industry has grown from strength to strength. So has the understanding about PR amongst the client community.

Then, can we, with the emergence of social media, though still very nascent, make an aggressive hypothesis - The fall of Advertising & PR and The rise of Social Media?


Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without OrganizationsConsider this. Clay Shirky in his book Here Comes Everybody has illustrated the emergence of technology and its detrimental effect on the existing industries and practices. The most relevant to this topic is the story of lithographers. Lithographer were in huge demand till the invention of printing press. The lithographers' role was erased, in a manner of speaking, the same way as the ink dissolves in water. In the short time that I had spent in the advertising industry, I have many times run to the newspapers with the 'positives' (looked more like negatives). Today, it's digitized. Disruptive technologies have had telling affect on industries.  

Search for it and you will find numerous reports on the decline in the popularity of newspaper. Of course, the link is more specific to US. In India and developing countries, it might be better. To quote Shirky's work, it is because Web 2.0 has made anyone with access to Internet a publisher. With the power to publish, the world has become, what I am tempted to call, Journalists' Paradise or should I say hell. Just like lithographers, it is often quoted that the breed of journalist (who hold exclusive right to publish) will die. Sounds logical. With democratization of journalism, it doesn't sound incredulous. On a side note, a trained calligraphist who is changing the way technology industry works is Steve Jobs!

What about other media? TV and Radio?

Before we move on let's consider some fundamentals:

  1. Human beings will continue to seek information
  2. Human beings will continue to seek entertainment
Now, what is communication about?

  1. Sender
  2. Receiver
  3. Medium
Elementary, wasn't it? But useful to consider what will be the future of the communication tools like advertising and PR, because they are about medium. Internet is also nothing but a medium, pretty much like TV, Print and Radio. Social Media, growing at a rapid pace, presents a new opportunity rather than problem. Today, both traditional advertising & PR and specialist individuals and agencies are cannibalizing this medium with their services. 

The problem is rather for media organizations. 

Future of media is likely to change dramatically. If YouTube is the way we will watch videos then how will the advertising model work. Look at IPL on YouTube for that matter. Internet telecast of events might offer advertisers the power to 'actually' customize their ads. Unlike the regular TV where one ad fits all, will TV through Internet offer the same flexibility as it does on PC. Also, if the TV software is made available on 'cloud' where a viewer can watch programs as and when he wants to, how will advertising work? How will the content be consumed? 

As for print is concerned, things are pretty much clear. Things have already changed. The problem that the print industry will face is the explosion of self styled journalists. But think about it, as consumers of entertainment and information we are very simple beings. Further, we also are emotional creatures becoming loyal and sentimental. Most often our choices narrow down to couple of options. The dust is likely to settle, there will be consolidation. 

What would be interesting to watch going forward is the future of social media consultancies? Would they become a special breed and a full fledged industry? Or will PR and Advertising industry master the new medium?
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