PR is Evolving, Evolve With It

In the past, the PR field was overshadowed by advertising.  Advertisers could sell any product utilizing images and messages that were oftentimes considered compromising.  Since then, people have begun to question the messages of advertisers.  It is viewed by many today as a gimmick, and the public can see through these campaigns.  This defeats the purpose of advertising.  Public Relations stepped into the role advertisers used to posses.

Companies, brands and individuals relied on PR people to build reputations that would last rather than to sell a product; consulting that would build trust, rather than the trickery consumers came to expect from advertisers.  With this new demand, the PR industry had to adapt  to fill this role.  The role of PR practitioners is ever changing.

In researching this topic for my own knowledge, I came across a very helpful article in a blog called PR Squared.  This article, “Five Thoughts on the Future of Public Relations”, made some valuable predictions about the direction the industry is headed in.  It is a post from 2008, so some of these chagnes may already be underway.  The article warns that the future is bringing about change so drastic that agencies and practitioners who are unprepared to face it will not survive.  For this reason, I share with you what I learned.

  1. “Agencies must become comfortable with the personal branding of individual employees” In the past, account coordinators and executives within in agency have done behind the scenes work for the agency at which they are employed.  With social media becoming a huge part of PR, it is valuable for the agency (as well as the personnel) to have their own personal brand.  They can use their personal networks to promote client events and spread breaking news in addition to client and agency social media accounts.  Smart agencies will overcome the fear of losing talented employees and help them maximize their personal brands by, for example, using an in-house web developer to build personal websites or having a programming event where everyone can learn social media strategies.
  2. “Agencies must do a far better job of training staff.” Every interaction with  the community that comes from an employee within an agency represents that agency.  This includes press releases and pitches.  Properly training staff can maintain agencies’ credibility by ensuring that they only release community outreach that meets the standards of the agency.  In the increasingly competitive industry, every mistake is scrutinized.
  3. “Agencies must explain to clients – with crystal claritythat mistakes will happen.” One of the first things I learned in a class that focused on crisis communication was to always be honest.  Even if you do not have the information, it is best to say “I don’t know”, than it is to lie and act as if you have all the answers.  You are building a relationship with a client, and although it may seem like bad business to admit that mistakes are strong possibilities, it must be done to maintain trust.  The use of the internet leaves every move in a PR plan open to public scrutiny, so even the right moves can be wronged by the community unpredictably.  The agencies are at a better advantage to plan for these mistakes in advance, rather than denying the potential of them occurring.
  4. “Agencies must help clients move from reactive to proactive to interactive.” Rapid reaction has been replaced by the proactive outreach that many agencies implement as a better alternative; building rapport in order to gain supporters rather than calming the storm and trying to build community relationships after a crisis.  While this change was a very sensible one, the future will require involving all stakeholders.  Public relations will be treated as the business of the entire organization rather than solely of the publicists.
  5. “Agencies must reconsider their core value.” Agencies are covering a larger umbrella, today (and even more so in the future) to include community relations as well as media relations.  With these two specialties inevitably combining, it is going to be necessary for agencies to establish specialization.  The author of this article, Todd Defren, suggests claiming a vertical market.  In other words, establishing a specialty in certain types of clients (fashion pr, health care pr, etc.).

We cannot stop the industry from changing, but as students of Public Relations, it is very important to keep current.  Following  industry blogs, joining professional organizations and reading the articles posted will give you insight as to the position of the industry at the time you plan on entering it.  Being prepared will not only better your chances of becoming a successful PR person, but you can impress a potential employer by sharing what you know!

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