How PR has shifted over three decades

by / September 16, 2015

Since 1977, I’ve seen the PR industry radically change.

I’ve witnessed peaks and valleys, but the five key changes that stand out to me over the last three decades are:
The speed of news: Information circulation is 10 times faster or more than what it was when I started in the business. We depend on email and phone communication and don’t have time to rely on mail or FedEx, which has brought both good and bad to the field.

We are a “now now now” culture, and are expected to react as such. We used to have a 24 hour news cycle, now it’s up to the minute. News cycles can shift hourly. The PR industry is 24/7, and emails are expected to be answered in real time. These types of demanding hours and requests result in multitasking professionals driven to understand, develop and fit into the news landscape. Attention spans, especially those of managers, are decreased to those of a gnat.

Journalists used to have time to sit and fact check their stories with multiple sources. Now, with online outlets working at accelerated speeds, accountability and ability to back up research is compromised due to strict deadlines, even with the internet at their fingertips.

The media landscape: You would be hard pressed to find too many people under 30 years old who read the print edition of a newspaper every morning. No matter how many other forms of news I’m able to digest, sitting and holding a newspaper is still one of the most important forms of news delivery.

Real reporting and many reputations have been built within that medium. That’s where I got my start, and most of the decision-makers still rely on print as their primary source of news, followed very closely by Web and social media channels. Many of our clients still prefer print over online, and most will always consider it a bigger “win” to land that print placement. No matter our preference of how we consume the news, we have to be open-minded and include all forms in our practice of PR.

The art of communication: The upper hand is with those who can combine new communication techniques with the human touch of yesterday.

Looking to email as the first form of communication is like eating a candy bar when you really need a full meal. Effective communication is, first and foremost, about establishing a human connection. Email makes that really hard. Face-to-face interaction is best, followed by a telephone call, then email and other electronic media.

I started my PR career out of a telephone booth in Westminster, Calif. Now, I own two cell phones, two iPads and one computer; I’m able to handle five times the work, but am working five times as hard. Increased accessibility means we’re now expected to be available at all hours, so there’s more opportunity to have less time of our own.

Personal vs. private time: We’re better and smarter than we were 30 years ago, but being more effective has come at the expense of our private and family time. Taking a call on vacation used to be a punishable offense. Now, no matter where you are, it’s mostly expected you can be reached. Working on vacation is par for the course. If you’re going to get into PR, the best thing you can have is an understanding family and spouse. Today we’re working at the speed of life, times two.

Stepping out of the office for a business lunch is largely a thing of the past. No one has time to sit down and get to know the person across the table. If you can’t implement a quick 45-second pitch over the phone, you can’t win. I encourage my staff to take a minute, step away from the computer and breathe, eat and come back to the office refreshed.

Executives want to make the most of their time out of the office, but it’s a challenge to find the time. Technology has made face-to-face trips across the country a lesser-known commodity. Video conferencing comes at the cost of meeting fewer people and seeing less of the world. In exchange, executives have more time at home and can maximize results from their home base.

Staying put: Societal trends tell us employees’ longevity is now between 2-3 years versus 10-15 years, like it used to be. Workers have an “every man for themselves” mentality but it comes at the expense of trust with the current employer.

Firms used to live and breathe through key rainmakers at their agency. Over the years, I’ve learned that our firm thrives when clients are represented by an ensemble cast. Everyone must have the building blocks and fundamental skills for the business, but also be given enough freedom to shine on their own. This hybrid of what used to be, and what is now, is much more inclusive.

I sincerely hope it never comes to the commoditization of PR. We are redefining things that happen and building reputations with different outlets and opinions. In the past, it used to be that in PR “time is money,” now for guys like me, who have been in the business for years, money is time. I am excited to see this generation grow into their own as I watch a beautiful sunset from my backyard, as I am on my cell phone.

via Joseph Molina at PR Daily

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