Change is Coming: PR Practice & the Next Decade
I’ve been studying or working in the public relations (PR) industry for 10 years now and while this pales into insignificance against my more established counterparts, it makes the changes I’ve witnessed to the practice of PR no-less remarkable.
During this period the pace and level of change has been significant and much of it has come about due to the emergence of social media and the growth of smartphone adoption, both fuelled by the mass availability of broadband internet. This change has transformed the media landscape, creating both opportunities and challenges, forcing PRs to operate at the speed of now.
While there have been some exciting changes during this time, it’s my belief that the best is yet to come – and the biggest challenge facing the PR industry over the next 10 years will be managing change. Much more change.
I’m not alone in thinking this and a cursory glance of any enlightened PR leader’s blog, company website or trade interview will show they too are predicting a pattern of change – as the traditional practice of PR, characterised by spin is slowly replaced by something more meaningful.
Recent examples of people who broached the topic include Robert Phillips of Jericho Chambers who gave a talk entitled ‘Trust and the Fall of Public Relations’, predicting the final decade of public relations as we know it. From my time at Edelman I know that Phillips is a leading proponent of ‘Public Engagement’ – or for those unfamiliar with the term, the new way I believe that PR must be practiced.
Similarly, Ketchum’s European CEO David Gallagher says ‘PR can change the world for good through economic growth, social change and personal fulfilment’, while his Ketchum colleague and CIPR President Stephen Waddington expanded on this theme when speaking in terms of PR ‘reaching for a higher purpose.’ This isn’t the industry carving out a new image for itself. It is quite the opposite and heralds an exciting reset for PR as we know it.
For me, Phillips expertly articulated the need for change in his lecture when he said ‘to many, PR has become the ugly spawn of the consumer society; has encouraged wants over needs and jeopardised our planet; has celebrated ‘spin’ over honesty; and has sought to manage the message to the people rather than let the people speak for themselves.’
The PR industry, if it is to thrive and earn its seat at the top table must move towards something that is more valuable than its common, present day, tier-two application. This will involve yet more change and continual improvement in many areas from analytics to professionalism, and much more besides, which i’ll be touching upon in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, I’m pleased to see that opinion is gradually turning against the PR industry being defined by tactical ‘hits’ of publicity, which generate buzz, in favour of it being recognised as something truly transformational, something that focuses on trust being earned, not column inches being written.