The State of PR in 2020

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Having spent most of my career in the PR space, I am fascinated by the topic of how public relations is changing in today’s hyper-connected world.  More than ever before, public relations is, and should be, integrated into other functions within a marketing and sales department, as well as throughout the entire organization. PR hits HR, operations, marketing, sales, and other aspects of organizational culture. But, how does this all work?

First, it is important to understand PR and its roots. Public relations is an organized means of communicating with a target audience, or the public. The first press release was issued in 1908 to share news about a train crash in which 50 people died.  The role of PR practitioners grew during the two World Wars as it was necessary to share information with the public. The discipline of PR continued to grow, yet it was typically siloed from other marketing and strategic functions, relegated to be of use for campaigns.

Up until this century, PR pros could count on a fair and balanced press (maybe not always, but as a general rule). Today, the press is the populous and public opinion. That changes the game for everyone involved. Everything is integrated. And, the definition of public is wide. No wonder PR is listed as the most stressful career, right behind first responders!

Today’s PR is really influencer marketing.  It goes well beyond dissemination of information to the public. Rather, the practice of public relations is being called upon to help influence the public. While yesterday’s PR tactics really focused on publicity, today’s PR pros actually serve in an advisory role to craft and then deliver messages. For example, PR used to be about promoting a new product or sharing information related to a scandal. 

While purists have cringed for years when PR was lumped with marketing, it is time for us public relations pros to put down our shield and call it as it is. PR is a function of marketing. It involves communicating with your audience(s). And while, in yesteryear, organizations could often get away without any external communication with the world outside their walls, no such boundaries exist today. Every organization is communicating with key audiences, whether they choose to or not.  Social media, electronic communication and the average citizen having an equal voice to a journalist have created such a shift. 

Today’s PR professional must integrate other functions, skillsets and datapoints into their activities – everything from influencer marketing, corporate communication and SEO to artificial intelligence, data analytics and more.  Simply, today’s PR pros need to have a working understanding of all pieces of communication. While many have asked the question “is PR dead?” for the last few years, I argue it is more alive and needed than ever before.  However, it looks different. Modern PR isn’t simply about planned and deliberate communication, pumping out content to deliver a carefully crafted message. PR must now include content development, design, digital strategy and respond to real-time feedback on the key messages.  Ask yourself, how are you advocating for your key messages throughout all channels?

Another key distinction in today’s PR realm is the role of employees. PR campaigns were once managed by dedicated staff or consultants. In today’s day and age, all levels of the organization must be involved in delivering the message. The message becomes greater than the tactics, and the organization itself becomes a disseminator. Research validates that this is essential. For example, we are more likely to engage to a post from an employee about a new product at a company, than we are from the company post itself. Further, employees also feel more valued if they are part of the brand and the message.

Although AOE’s roots are as a traditional PR firm, our team of experts has evolved to meet the needs of the changing landscape. Our expertise in marketing ranges from digital to print, from SEO to content development, and appreciation for the operational aspects of PR is validated by our strategic planning, HR, organizational culture and other consulting services.  If you are struggling to figure out what the PR landscape looks like for your organization, send me a note and we’ll find time to discuss and share ideas.   As a final thought, it was once said that you can’t see the label from inside the jar. That’s the benefit of having an outside perspective. To this end, we can’t look at any marketing tool in a vacuum.




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