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Protocol and what it means for the PR industry?

By Declan Waters, Founder and CEO


For those of us who have been in the industry long enough to remember the dot.com crash, we are used to market shifts and rollercoaster cycles in the technology business. Many of the most disruptive and fast-growing companies in the world consider themselves technology companies, regardless of their industries. Technology powers the modern world. We live online. Because of this, we tend to weather storms better than other industries. Despite this, Dark clouds are gathering again fueled by high interest rates, out of control inflation, and the war in Ukraine. The market is shifting, but why does this feel different?


It’s not just the sheer volume of layoffs, it’s the companies making the headlines. Bell weather brands such as Twitter, AWS, and Meta are all being forced to reduce the workforce. And then the storm hit the media world with the shocking news that Protocol, the upstart technology news site launched by Politico, is shutting down, laying off 60 staff members (everyone essentially) in the process. They will cease publishing immediately. Opinions vary on what happened, CNN reported that “Protocol never had much luck’’ following the pandemic and then the brutal economic headwinds. Some Protocol reporters have taken to Twitter, such as Biz Carson, to say they were on a ‘’rollercoaster journey as a start-up'’ with ‘’outstanding rebound and growth.’’ We are massive fans of Biz and her colleagues. Our clients similarly had huge respect for the standard of reporting and agree it’s a huge loss.


I was at a team dinner with some of the Waters Agency team last night and Protocol was a topic of discussion. Specifically, what does it mean for the PR industry? How can we help? How can our clients support the ecosystem?? We are all in this together and need to think more holistically about how to navigate these uncertain times. Investors are putting vendors under pressure to cut the bloat and costs. Sadly, marketing is invariably first in the firing line. This is lazy, old-school thinking and it needs to be challenged:


A few years ago, HBR wrote a thought-provoking piece on this saying,


‘’Although it’s wise to contain costs, failing to support brands or examine core customers’ changing needs can jeopardize performance over the long term. Companies that put customer needs under the microscope, take a scalpel rather than a cleaver to the marketing budget, and nimbly adjust strategies, tactics, and product offerings in response to shifting demand are more likely than others to flourish both during and after a recession.’’


As PR professionals, our craft is typically focused on producing earned media for our clients. That will continue, however given what we have seen with Protocol, it’s a wakeup call that more than ever we need to talk more about the value of advertising, sponsored placements with podcasts, webinars with media, trade show promotional packages, etc. and how they can complement other areas of the marketing mix.


Silicon Valley is not down and out just yet, but we need to think differently about strategic communications if we want the clouds to part and see blue skies sooner rather than later. A sense of urgency is required. At Waters, that conversation has already started and will be picking up speed.

 

About the author:


Declan is the founder and CEO of Waters Agency and has been running media campaigns for US and European companies for over 20 years. His experience in media relations comes from representing companies such VMware and Nutanix and working with the likes of Condoleezza "Condi" Rice, former Secretary of State and John Thompson, Chairman of the Board at Microsoft.


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