PR in a Digital Age

The industry of Public Relations since its inception a little over a hundred years ago has remained largely unchanged. Agencies would help brands communicate their message direct to consumers, prepare press releases and disseminate stories among news outlets – very little changed for a long time. Then the Internet happened. Suddenly the way in which people communicate and relate to the world changed dramatically in just over a decade and a new lexicon of words even emerged that now fill our daily vocabulary; ‘social media’, ‘blogging’, ‘hashtag’!

The nature of PR has had to adapt or fall behind. A new range of services have been developed and added to existing tried and trusted practices. Now that brands can communicate directly with consumers as opposed to only through a third party, PR agencies have had to begin a fight to stay relevant. What we consider to be the media now goes far beyond the main news agencies. ‘Media’ is no longer a term reserved for reporters; it now includes bloggers, social media users, online video and so much more and the only gatekeepers today are a slow Internet connection, a dead battery on your mobile or perhaps censorship of sites by the government in some countries.

With every development in technology and even society there will be a cultural reluctance to change. PR agencies may take it personally that the Internet has come along and changed the rules. This shouldn’t be the case though, instead the Internet has opened up a whole new dimension to the role of the PR agency. As PR veteran Bob Leaf says, “what is helping the PR industry today is there is an increased realisation by governments, firms, NGOs, professions and individuals that the need for professional PR has grown in importance.” This is a direct result of the Internet.

The lines of communication used to go only one way, now it’s a two way conversation with brands and consumers interacting directly. This is especially true through social media where questions posted to brand Facebook pages have increased 85% over the last year. Our expectations of what we want from our brands and media have changed. News is now instantaneous and in real-time. However, many companies have not implemented this change to their public relations efforts. PR has become a 24/7 business and the biggest challenge facing the industry and clients will be how they adapt to meet these new demands.

The world of real-time public relations calls for an embrace of all things digital. This includes; blogging, social media, networking sites and online communities. As well as an understanding of SEO and the creativity to create marketable content for an online audience. As Lexi Mills writes, “there is evidence that PR driven SEO drives significant positive results for brands.” These new tools in the public relations toolkit aid the industry to stay more relevant than ever before. It is the job of the PR industry to stand up and demonstrate the kind of thought leadership in these new areas that they already create for their clients in other areas.

With everything that has changed in public relations there are some things that will always stay constant. Public relations is the business of managing relationships and ultimately public perception. This will not change, only the medium by which it is carried out. The Internet has forced us to become more social and public relations naturally fits in at the forefront of that. It is an exciting time for public relations as the ways in which we communicate continue to diversify it is time to get on board and embrace the opportunities the Internet has presented us with.

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