How has PR changed over time?
By Selina Gill
Throughout the last 26 years, Ash has helped its clients achieve their business objectives by delivering effective, creative PR and communications campaigns. Within this time, the nature of PR itself has evolved into the industry it is today.
In this Q&A we will be speaking to three members of the Ash team to understand their views on how PR has changed over time:
Lynda Heath: managing director of Ash Communications has been working in the PR industry for the past 30 years.
Olivia Sandu: experienced communications professional with a passion for growing ideas and brands.
James Walerych: is a University of Northampton journalism graduate who has been working in PR for just under a decade.
Q1: Why did you want to go into PR?
LH: I was inspired by my cousin who went to work in a PR consultancy. I could see how my strong communications skills, creativity and a passion for writing would combine effectively to assist companies and brands in reaching out to and engaging with their target audiences for the good of the business.
OS: I was convinced that this is the industry which would allow me to make full use of my skills while also giving me the opportunity to be part of something bigger - to be around brands and communities that strive to make a difference. PR gives everyone a voice and the feeling of building something from scratch is so rewarding.
JW: I did not want to get into PR to begin with as I studied journalism as my degree. However, that all changed the summer I graduated. I took on a PR internship and realised from day one that the skillset I learnt during my course aligned with the requirements for PR, plus it gave me a different perspective.
Q2: In your opinion, what’s the biggest thing that has changed within the PR industry from when you first started your career?
LH: Media is much more fragmented and commercialised. Digital technology has spawned a massive explosion of content creators and publishers. The sphere of PR has expanded beyond pitching stories to journalists, to content creation across multiple channels, publishing, influencer marketing, event management and much more. Creativity combined with good writing skills, plus flexibility, organisational skills and a willingness to want to learn and evolve constantly are all pre-requisites for consultants working at Ash.
OS: Since I joined this industry back in 2012, the number of companies understanding the need for PR services has definitely increased. With this, pitching stories has become more challenging, as the competition for the journalists’ time and interest has grown as well. This gives your creativity a great boost as you constantly need to think about new ways of approaching stories.
The significant shift, however, is how digital has carved its way into the picture, making stories instantaneous, and providing us with additional tools to monitor the results for our clients.
JW: The rise of influencers across multiple social media channels and the fact that this type of PR has become a larger part of what brands are looking for.
Q3: Has social media improved PR or put more pressure on the industry – please explain why.
LH: I view social media as another channel. Newsworthy, relevant, targeted and engaging content will always resonate with the media and target stakeholders.
OS: Social media, in itself, is another way to address audiences, diversifying the PR channels and offering a useful alternative to contacting journalists via email or calls. With the rise of influencers, it has solidified opportunities for brands to present their products and services to strong communities. PR professionals shouldn’t view this as a threat but to have the flexibility to adjust by specialising in offering these influencer services to clients and incorporating them into their portfolio. An integrated campaign which takes into account this channel can only benefit from the real-time feedback and exposure the power of social media has to offer.
JW: It has improved the industry because it enables brands to communicate their message to a large engaged audience they might not have reached through traditional channels. However, it has put more pressure on the industry because it is in the moment and if there is an issue, it can be picked-up and spread quickly, which leads to reactive PR /crisis comms having to be activated.
Q4a: What’s the one thing that exists now in PR that didn’t exist when you started your career?
LH: Computers and modems.
OS: The possibility of learning as much as you can about your audience. We are now one click away from understanding what a day in the life of almost any type of audience looks like, with the help of multiple social networks.
JW: The variety of analytics tools available to measure the reach, engagement, impressions etc for social media accounts across multiple platforms.
Q4b: Follow up question: how easy has it been to adapt to this?
LH: Very easy. It was very awkward and inefficient having to share one computer between several consultants when you have to write news releases, features, presentations, speeches, general copy etc. It was also very slow sending messages and communications via teleprinters and faxes.
OS: If you’re a user yourself, the transition is easier as you just need to enjoy browsing the platforms for your personal benefit, while still having a critical eye to be able to spot trends, patterns of social behaviour and opportunities to engage. When it comes to social media apps that address a different age group or interest, for example, the research doesn’t necessarily come naturally but it’s part and parcel of the “adjustability” game we all need to learn to play.
JW: It has been quite simple to adapt to it, but it has led to a large amount of time devoted to researching and reading about the platforms as well as tapping up contacts to get their thoughts.
Q5: What’s the one thing that existed when you started your PR career that doesn’t exist now
LH: Transparencies. We had to stick a positive transparent photograph onto a paper caption to be viewed by journalists using a slide projector. Our media database was also presented in a voluminous book that made a massive thud when it hit the table.
OS: I recall a precise moment from the beginning of my career when I had to send a press release via fax. This image in the new digital era seems almost unfathomable.
JW: Being able to read news online for free but since the way people consume media has changed to be more digitally focused, it has led media groups to bring all the content behind a paywall as they see it as another revenue stream.
Q6: Do you think PR is more complex or much simpler now?
LH: I think it is more dynamic. PR is very varied and inspiring as a career. As a consultancy, it allows you to operate at many levels and acquire skills in several disciplines such as media relations, social media, influencer marketing, event management, publishing, sponsorship, issues and crisis management. You need to be creative, challenging of your clients and doggedly determined. It is a very rewarding industry.
OS: As new technologies and trends arise, PR is one of the first complex industries which needs to keep up with the times and incorporate the advances into the way it communicates with publics, as speaking the same language is still one of the must-haves of this profession.
JW: Simple, because of the amount of information you can access through media databases, analytics platforms, google and social media as well as the number of avenues to achieve coverage opportunities that are available. The simplicity is mixed with a bit of complexity due to the fact that as a PR consultant you have to juggle multiple hats that include being an advisor, logistics and event manager, copy writer and editor to name but a few.
Q7: What has remained the same in PR since you started your career?
LH: The passion for companies and brands to communicate their message to their relevant audiences so that they generate goodwill and strong relationships leading to a positive business outcome.
OS: The power of great ideas and stories that capture attention and emotion. They always illustrate a message in a much better way, engaging with the audience and helping brands stand the test of time.
JW: The fact journalists want everything yesterday.
To conclude, it’s interesting to see what has inspired all our Ash members who were interviewed to enter the PR industry in the first place.
What is most intriguing is the difference in answers from Lynda to Olivia and James. The thought of using transparencies to send images to journalists or using a fax machine to send a press release seems unthinkable in today’s social media, digitally enhanced world. In addition to this, what appears more incomprehensible is the fact that 25 years ago a journalist’s or publication’s contact information was found in a physical book instead of an online database, as used by most PR firms today. Reading these answers has definitely enabled an appreciation for the simplicity and lack of complications social media has provided to the PR industry.
This Q&A has also highlighted the necessary role social media now plays in our media relations campaigns on behalf of clients and brands. Social media has supplied the industry with another outlet to allow for greater engagement, and to allow for the new phenomenon of influencers, who contribute to this increase in social activity.
Which answer did you find most interesting in this piece?