The communications industry has been under scrutiny lately with some interesting debate around the so-called death of journalism, marketing, and recently even Public Relations (PR) has felt the furnace of this cremation! But I affirm, with certainty, that PR is not dead… it is evolving!
Though PR practitioners of any lifetime will tell you that PR is often seen as the “cleaners of business shenanigans” or the “glam squad” to brand image, in practice, PR is a much more valuable part of business continuity – given its role in managing reputation(s), leading stakeholder engagement and guiding businesses through its communication journey. And this role does change – given that culture and socio-economic developments are among the leading contributors around this change.
The reality is that people are overwhelmed by the amount of information available to them. Thus, they have become much stricter critiques of the information they receive, and the way it is delivered to them. This became evident for marketers when people became resistant to obvious sales messaging, and hence we witnessed the rise of content marketing. So, the communications culture changed, in marketing, because of the digital landscape, which impacted consumer appetite. What we saw was people responding better to content that established expertise, promoted brand impact, and kept the business top of mind when it was time to buy what you sell. The same applies with PR, be it internal or external. Employees and consumers alike have a renewed appetite for authentic communication where social media scholars and enthusiasts will attest to the evident annoyance from consumers towards brands that are insufficiently engaged, or share ‘fluffy’ disingenuous messaging.
We cannot deny that there have been major disruptions to PR where many businesses who confused this critical pillar of business as a ‘luxury spend’ and shed their investment during tough times. Critiques often miss the cultural sensitives and the nuances between tone and emotional intelligence that PR practitioners uphold – because without this skill and understanding, it is something anyone can do right? No! And this has been seen far too often with brands who, for example, say something, meaning well, to an audience – often fuelled by a matter that is trending which can make the message tone deaf or even offensive.
The economics of communications
Going back to the economics, and as I mentioned in my previous article on journalism, traditional media has faced some challenging times when it comes to sustaining revenue generation. We see influencer marketing threatening advertising opportunities – as well as podcasters taking some shine from radio – and radio journalists being replaced by celebrities in the chase after audiences. This has a direct impact on PR. Though my focus in this article is PR, I refer to marketing and journalism because as disciplines in the communications fraternity, these industries are a network that have relied on each other to meet relevant objectives.
Put simply, though the roles are much broader than this – PR practitioners solicitate insights from business to build thought leadership that journalists need for news creation, and marketers need these insights for content marketing to drive sales.
Keeping up with the new era
I am a big advocate for change because evolution is inevitable. So, the adage is timeless; “move with the times or get left behind!” How the public engages with content, shares information and form opinions is changing faster than many professionals accustomed to yesteryear communications can grasp. The principles remain the same though – understanding how individuals inter-relate and communicate with one another can improve your ability to perform public relations. As PR experts, we need to embrace the change, understand the culture shifts, tone, tools, and preferred engagement platforms. Clients rely on us to understand the public landscape, and this is our duty to keep them abreast of this to ensure successful reputation management.
For as long as there are consumers, stakeholders, community, media, staff, and a public sphere (the business base), business needs PR. Be it mass communication, or interpersonal relations, business needs to maintain a professional and informed approach in their engagement to mitigate reputational risk. What this looks like may change – and can be confused for extinction. From the church square to the community hall, to the newspaper(s), to Twitter ‘streets’ – and now webinars and digital face time… PR is not dead, it is evolving!