There are many industries that have faced dramatic digital disruption and yet still, the changes they are enduring remain only in their infancy.
While we are all, for instance, stunned at the growth of Uber and the disruption to the black cab and minicab industry, with driverless cars on the horizon, the disruption has not stopped yet.
The media, both in terms of the press and its accompanying publicity/communications industry, has also experienced well-documented change, and while newspaper publishers may be keeping their fingers crossed that a good website will solve their problems, it’s unlikely the change has matured to completion.
Which is why I was intrigued – but not at all surprised by the results of a survey – released recently by PR Week and YouGov, which outlines the communication industry’s own predictions for the next 15 years.
The aim was to provide a snapshot of where PR may be in 2030 and the conclusions include that many believe the term ‘PR agency’ will be confined to the history books, press releases will no longer exist and PRs will no longer spend entire days talking to journalists on the phone.
But it’s certainly not bad news for the industry. While the name could change, more than half of respondents believe that the PR industry will become more powerful and possibly more important than advertising in the next 15 years. And already, very visibly on our horizon, we have the very digital disruptor that could ensure this becomes a reality: ad blocking technology. If adverts can and do get blocked, there will be only one route to communicate and that will be via PR.
To me, the future of PR all goes back to the definition of ‘Public Relations’ – largely agreed to be a strategic communications process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organisations/people and the public.
The definition is not changing now and nor will it in the future. What we are seeing instead is dramatic shifts and openings in the way this is done. Not so long ago, sending out a press release to newspapers and television and talking to journalists was the only mechanism through which to reach the public.
It still remains as a route, and a very valid one indeed – largely because of the strength and clout of our newspaper brands, and their continuing ability to reach audiences whose lives aren’t consumed by their smartphones.
But modern media forms – from a content strategy on one’s own website to social media and video – now enables brands and individuals to communicate directly through all sorts of platforms, mediums and channels, with a (hopefully) adoring public. The middle man, that being the traditional media, while still helpful, is not longer the be all and end all. With my celebrity clients, getting them in the national papers is essential for their personal brand, for their positioning and perception amongst their industry peers. But through their own websites and social media, they can also bypass the traditional press and talk direct to fans.
The job of a PR firm remains the same, but the mechanisms have expanded and now include digital, social media and video. And in time, they will no doubt expand further into virtual reality and other new technologies.
So it is not surprising that the overall majority of those surveyed by PR Week (96 per cent) felt that by 2030, they would be expected to carry out a diverse range of functions, some of which still pertain to PR and ‘press office’ function as we know and love it today – and new functions which revolve around being content creators across all forms of media.
As Ed Williams, CEO of Edelman UK and Ireland, puts it: ‘What will always be the case and is always constant is the underlying core skills of public relations. That is the nature of advising and presenting a client’s interests in an authentic and credible way…….it requires the same skills as it did back in the 1950s, creativity, finding engaging hooks, knowing your audience, clarity on the desired outcomes. Yes, technology will change how we communicate, but what makes a great story is immutable.’
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