Below is my entry for this year's PRCA Reginald Watts Prize for Insight. Unfortunately, I wasn't shortlisted, but I would like to share my essay with you.
Already looking forward to next year's topic!
The public relations (PR) and communications industry is constantly evolving, as is the media landscape, today with a bigger focus on digital platforms and social media as communications strategies.
The role of PR as management discipline has been firmly established within the industry for over a century, especially by the CIPR and PRCA’s definitions based on the Bernays’ “management function, which tabulates public attitudes, defines the policies, procedures, and interests of an organisation…” . However, earning the public understanding and acceptance has become more difficult.
Millennials and Generation Z have grown up with digital technology and social media, making their use of it more natural and them more comfortable with the application of emerging technologies. As advancements are made in the artificial intelligence (AI), PR needs to adapt. Technology is already impacting the PR work in many ways and in the near future, some actions such as monitoring for coverage, writing press releases or social media content might become fully automated. For example, Brandwatch finds patterns in social media posts and quickly determines the sentiment, whereas Google Analytics helps us measure the outcomes. And young professionals are more likely to be early adopters of the new digital services, so the PR industry will be disrupted exponentially.
PR is no longer just “sending articles or press releases to newspapers to win favour for a client” . Relationships are still at the core, but the industry has changed from straightforward communication to multi-way conversation. Social media allows organisations to communicate directly to their target audience, a shift in communications that has added another part to the practice. It gives a bigger opportunity for owned media, content that companies are in control of, rather than leaving the task of sharing key messages in the hands of journalists.
Hence, today’s professionals must think more broadly. Firstly, they must have multi-disciplinary skillset as they are now digital communications experts. The PRCA Digital Report 2017 states that 56% of in-house respondents expect their PR agencies to deliver social influencer outreach and 51% expect online reputation management as part of the offered services . Professionals have to be able to mix traditional PR with social media and even advertising. Secondly, more strategic thinking should be required on how these elements solve specific business issues – not just the communications ones. Practitioners must have a greater understanding of business, leadership and digital platforms. The delicate combination of PR with these interactive web tools and social media is the way a company gets its brand messages out in the world now. As a matter of fact, the report reveals that 73% of in-house respondents use social media to increase brand awareness .
In the past, journalists have controlled the story and brand image perceived by the public. PR practitioners have had to build relationships with them to provide content and shape the narrative. While that hasn’t changed much, companies have much more power now over sharing their messages due to blogs and social media. And thanks to those platforms, digital storytelling is more influential than ever, and the PR industry should use that to its advantage. The art of storytelling involves using messages that inspire conversation and engagement among the target audience. It’s one of the most effective ways to communicate and ultimately stimulate the audience’s attitudes and direct them towards your key messages.
Social media has also allowed PR practitioners access to reporters and influencers. There are now more platforms to get your message in front of a targeted writer, beyond the standard email pitch. You can now follow journalists, use relevant hashtags or just send a direct message on Twitter. Essentially, this means that the traditional earned media is no longer the primary way to reach the audience. One tweet can get the brand’s story in front of thousands of customers. As a result, many publications have shifted to a digital-only format. More and more people seek out their daily news from their mobile phones or tablets. Therefore, there is the emergence of whole new sectors of online outlets and blogs. Some bloggers and online influencers have more followers on social media than some top tier publications. The influencers’ importance in the PR and Marketing industry continues to grow, and practitioners cannot avoid that forever. They should take this opportunity and develop relationships with a whole new world of online influencers to help share the right story with the right audience. Because sometimes a single post with a company’s name is way more effective than a feature article on a newspaper .
The rise of digital has introduced brand new outlets, channels and potential strategies for PR professionals to pursue. PR is not about blasting noise and information but creating engaging stories and giving them life through new digital tools. It is about finding innovative ways to connect the client with its target audience. And that’s the magic of digital communications: the combination of great storytelling and multiple channels executed together. PR practitioners need to think much more broadly about communications.
In an age of revolution in digital communications, Public Relations is (should be) a strategic management discipline that builds a positive reputation and public image via engaging storytelling on multiple traditional and digital channels. It establishes a beneficial relationship between an organisation, its publics, the media and online influencers.
 Breakenridge, D. (2009). PR 2.0. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: FT Press.
 PRCA Digital Report 2017
 Kahn, E. (2018). How to work with influencers in 2018. [online] Prweek.com. Available at: https://www.prweek.com/article/1453015/work-influencers-2018
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