Originally described as a type of ‘planned persuasion through media relations and 3rd party endorsement’ (Morris and Goldsworthy, 2008). There is no doubt that in the past 20 years, PR has changed. If the industry wanted to survive changes within the media landscape, it had to change with them.
In 1995, journalist relations, organising distribution and phoning were key parts to a practitioner’s day-to-day life. Content you needed today was released tomorrow and while the internet was up and running, only a select few were taking the plunge into the unknown world of the web, this meant its uses were limited. Can you believe it?
With restricted means of communication, it was a harder and slower process to build and maintain relationships – which is arguably the most important aspect of PR. The stereotype of practitioners rubbing shoulders and sharing copious amounts of alcohol had become synonymous with the industry- no thanks to Sex and the City – but it wasn’t exactly the truth.
And we’ve come a long way since then. The digital age has turned PR upside down and meant that 90’s techniques such as hype or spin now leave a bitter taste in the mouths of audiences, and they’re spitting it back. As a result, companies have had to drastically change their approach. Academic Macnamara proposed using the following techniques for a 21st century audience (Macnamara, 2010).
Following fragmentation of traditional media and consumer behaviour changes, Earl and Waddington suggested that that organisations must change how they communicate (Earl and Waddington, 2012: p202). However, as there’s nothing to specify that PR must use exclusive channels such as media relations. Therefore, the development of Web 2.0 and social media have completely eliminated the top-down and one-way distribution of information that audiences were previously accept in a passive manner (Macnamara 2010).
While online social networks have become multi-million pound businesses in the last decade alone, the concept of social media isn’t new. Yesterday’s song, poetry and cave paintings are today’s Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Social networks have gained popularity as they provide platforms where the sharing of ideas is encouraged between two people and their associated communities, rather than narrow ability to share through broadcast media. It’s Standage that believes the rebirth of social media through the Internet represents a profound shift – and a return, to the way things used to be (Standage, 2013).
However, the ability to use social media to spread content requires companies to be ethical and professional. The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) have a simple list of Do’s and Don’ts that companies would be wise – but not obligated unfortunately – to follow.
With the power to release content ourselves on several platforms, we’ve become less reliant on media relations; However, I feel it’s crucial that companies still address the traditional media – Naughton suggests that while new media changes the ecosystem, they’re additive, not substitutive as previously thought (Naughton, 2012: p.9). The traditional media may not die out just yet.
Uncertain times are ahead for the PR industry, with the likes of Google unveiling themselves as ‘media’ companies, business emergence between advertising, PR and mass communications could lead to other companies doing the same. While the communications industry continues to evolve in front of us, we can only follow trends and speculate the future. The truth is we really don’t really know where it’s taking us.
Picture credit to my lecturer Richard Bailey, and the authors that feature within them.
Bailey R.B (2015) Digital Communication Management lecture series. Digital Communication Management Module. [online] Accessed from my lecture notes.
Earl, S and Waddington, S (2012) Brand Anarchy, Bloomsbury
Macnamara, J (2014) The 21st Century Media (R)evolution: Emergent Communication Practices (second edition), New York: Peter Lang
Morris, T. and Goldsworthy, S. (2008) PR: a persuasive industry? London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Naughton, J (2012) From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg: What you really need to know about the Internet, London: Quercus
Standage, T (2013) Writing on the Wall: Social Media – the first 2,000 years, London: Bloomsbury