The Merriam-Webster dictionary says a commodity is a good or service whose wide availability typically leads to smaller profit margins and diminishes the importance of factors (as brand name) other than price.
I wonder, is this happening to PR ? If it is (even a tiny little bit) can we blame the internet?
Let me unpack this a bit.
First, PR firms are making lots of money these days, which might lead one to assume commodification was not on. There’s more to it, though. Profits are indeed higher, but why? Is it absolute demand or higher margins on services rendered? I’d wager on the former. PR has claimed expertise in social media since the beginning and this has been a bonanza for firms’ top line revenue (meaning there is more absolute demand for services). I suppose, on this question, the answer about commodification isn’t entirely clear for now.
Second, PR and social media management are deeply human occupations with the attendent qualitative differences in human abilities. They aren’t oil or copper. By this logic, in reality, there is no threat of commodification.
So, why ask the question about commodification in the first place? Because, on the open market, perception matters more than reality.
Here’s the rub: the proliferation of “experts” and people spouting trite advice on the internet makes supply feel abundant and makes distinguishing between suppliers of PR more difficult. This is especially true for the busy business owner/manager who outsources PR help to agents.
The nature of the internet compounds the problem of distinguishing between suppliers. The web gives a strong edge to people who can produce compelling content. However, the ability to produce compelling content DOES NOT MEAN that one can EXECUTE a good PR campaign or manage an online community effectively. These are much more complex and substantial processes. This is why the internet is a wonderful place for charlatans. As a marketing medium it places immense value on style over subtance.
To sum up what I’ve said so far:
- In the era of social media, there is high demand for our services.
- In reality there are SERIOUS qualitative differences between service providers.
- However, the internet and proliferation of “experts,” threaten to give the perception that expertise about our craft is in abundant supply.
If this perception persists or grows, are PR pros liable to be less financially secure? Will we be required to take on more work for less money in order to preserve our current financial status?
I, for one, am a just a tad worried. You?