September 05, 2003

Bye Bye Big PR

Big PR is not quite dead, but it is dying an agonizing death that's getting difficult to watch. At least for anyone who's suffered through the cubes and brainstorms of large agency life for any time at all. Those of us who remember when what we did really did matter. Just a little. Never a lot. But still, some.

The reason for Big-PR's demise is quite simple: They can't afford to operate without charging inflated rates. That's a pickle. Because those of us out on the market now--the higher-priced talent separated (voluntarily or involuntarily) from Big PR over the last two years--can offer better services at half the price or less.

Where once Big PR boasted about best practices and a global network of communications professionals, they don't have that anymore. Instead, we are the ones creating nimble networks among one another, which are growing larger and more valuable. We are nimble enough (most of us working out of our homes) and lean enough to charge much less and deliver much more. A network of one-off specialists, experts in their areas, linked through the power of the Web and personal contacts.

Voice to voice, we are changing the face of PR and marketing. You heard it here first.

I'm not sure where BigPR thought most of us would go--the army separated veterans. Because many are owned by fat-cow parent companies, my hunch is that their layers of blubber have made it impossible for them to look that far down the organizational food chain. But a whole bunch of us are out here. And we're starting to eat well. And we're working with the clients we used to work with there.

Clients who are old friends. Clients who are happy to pay our rates and get the same work they got for a hell of a lot less.

Yes, it's really happening.

Even the largest of companies are growing tired of BigPR staffing projects with fresh-out-of-college, inexperienced, lower-level people (that is the only category of PR flacks large agencies can afford to keep only partially billable, you see), yet charging as if they were staffing the project with brain surgeons--or attorneys.

It's common for BigPR to bill out an assistant account executive--which is the administrative assistant of PRville--at $120 to $140 an hour. VP's are billing out at nearly $200 an hour, and SVPs commonly around $250 or more per hour.

You tell me.... Why would anyone pay it in a tight economy when they can get smart, senior level people out on their own for around $100 an hour. And thanks to the Web, the same clients who are paying inflated rates to BigPR can tap into an entire network of loosely joined ex-agency talent that shares leads, news, and really cool gossip I wouldn't even tell you about here. We're self organizing, and it ought to scare the pants off of them.

But it doesn't.

Because they can't afford to see that the emperor is walking around butt naked.