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How has the PR Industry Evolved?

WE Communications Blog: Technology

3/14/2018
— Kristina Victor, Account Executive 

The rise of digital technology has played a major role in the PR industry’s evolution. 25 years ago, PR wasn't spearheaded by the digital offering we have today. Where once traditional PR focused on offline visibility, distributing press releases and news in a one-way communication funnel, today digital PR has brought brands online, allowing them to broadcast information in real-time and have an actual conversation with their audiences.

So what exactly has changed? These are three distinct trends I believe have changed the face of PR as we once knew it:

The Role of the PR Professional

As the industry continues to evolve, the role of the PR professional and the demands of clients have changed with it. PR Week stated in its 2015 Business Report that “integration, convergence, and the ramping up in importance of digital and social media” were the key overarching themes. PR agencies are now using the likes of paid, earned, owned, social and experiential, meaning real-time marketing is taking over and fueling a new skill set, revised capabilities, a new list of services, and ways of working with PR.

This means that PR is no longer just about working around journalistic deadlines, but taking into account blogs and influencers’ content that have a huge social reach across various network platforms. Social metrics have become more important because they can show us exactly how people interact with a brand or client’s content.  

The Rise of Influencers

While journalists and other publications continue to provide an important source of earned media within PR, the number of others who have a strong influence on social media has risen exponentially. The exploding growth of influencer marketing has changed how PRs distribute content. In a survey conducted by eMarketer in 2017, 84% of marketers said they would launch at least one influencer campaign within the next 12 months.

It’s clear that influencers – who may be bloggers, analysts, industry experts, or others trusted by potential buyers – are now considered as tools for brands to gain a good outreach on social media. For example, in 2016, French advertising agency BETC used this influencer strategy for alcoholism organisation Addict Aide to raise awareness of alcohol addiction among young people.

The campaign involved an influencer named Louise Delage, a 25-year old Parisian socialite who posted pictures of herself on various trips around the world and soon managed to raise her following to 16,700. BETC then revealed the truth behind the marketing campaign: that the profile was in fact a fake account used primarily to prove that whilst the majority of Louise’s followers online saw a pretty young girl, they in fact mistakenly ignored that in each picture she was holding an alcoholic beverage. Hours after the big reveal, Addict Aide’s website achieved five times more traffic than usual.

Marketers and PR professionals in 2018 now ask the question, ‘How can social media improve your PR strategy?’ It’s clear from the example above that social media has transformed not only what content PR professionals create but also how PRs use content to attract their audience. Insight into the networks that brands and audiences interact on, the topics that they’re interested in, and the trends they participate in is imperative. The expanding social landscape means that, unlike 25 years ago, marketers and PR professionals alike now depend more on content to create deeper relationships with their client and brands’ audience.  

PR, Social Media and Advertising are Becoming More Present Within Journalism

The rise of ‘Social Journalism’ has changed roles of journalists and marketing practitioners in recent years. The 2015 Business Wire media Survey, revealed that 39.5% said that they preferred if PR pros shared their stories on social channels.

The emergence of brand journalism and the social ‘messenger’ journalist have changed how PR and journalists distribute content to the public. Cision’s Philip Smith and Becky Lucas, GQ’s insight and strategy editor, looked at how social media trends are impacting journalism. Phillip Smith concluded that “from the 14% surveyed, journalists are most likely to read posts from people they follow socially and 96% would prefer to use social media to communicate with the public”. Becky Lucas confirmed that social media is not just changing the way PR professionals think. It is also changing the way journalists create and distribute content, “with greater focus placed on a story’s life after print”. This has changed drastically how newsrooms create and distribute their stories to the public. With journalists adding social media followings to a by-line after an interview.

It’s evident that over the last 25 years, PR has evolved in many different ways, across a variety of platforms. Communicators have learnt that whilst traditional aspects of PR are still used today – e.g. press releases, by-lines and whitepapers – a large percentage of PR is now driven by digital. So, we must now consider how, where and what consumers interact with via these networks, restructuring entirely how we as PR professionals reach our audiences.