PR companies have certainly changed over the last decade, redefining themselves to meet the challenges and opportunities that digital communications and social media have brought. As media consumption and interaction has moved to instant news on smartphones, tablets and laptops, the role of traditional print and TV has fragmented. Companies are now able to engage directly with their audiences more easily and we’re advising our clients on maximising opportunities in this brave new world.
Ten years ago the FTSE100 endured a miserable year ending at 3940, Cherie Blair became entangled in a bizarre story concerning her lifestyle adviser and a convict, and the media circus surrounding the Crown’s case against Princess Diana’s butler was unfolding. At least the Golden Jubilee was celebrated in style by the country. The public’s awareness and knowledge of events was largely at the behest of the media.
Wind forward and everyone is still grumbling about the economy, although the Tories are now the brunt of people’s dissatisfaction, and the FTSE100 is hovering around 5,850. The Queen celebrated her Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics was an incredible success. The difference today is that news now breaks on Twitter, with pictures shared in an instant, blogs allow people a global platform to engage, educate or simply vent their spleen and our dependency on news reporting has been diminished while Facebook allows personal stories to be shared across the globe.
The repositioning of PR companies has been running concurrently to these changes. Andrew Edgecliffe Johnson’s recent Financial Times article: ‘PR and new boundaries are being redrawn’ talked about the changing relationship between PRs and journalists. Driven by media models which have failed to adjust to the changing world and are struggling to be economically viable, there is a reduced number of journalists whose ability to research, probe and investigate news stories is blunted by lack of resource.
Of course this is good news for PRs and combined with the impact of social media, it has strengthened the role of PR within corporations. What’s interesting is that the corporate issues haven’t really changed, rather the speed with which stories are disseminated and the channels for communication multiplied, empowering companies to communicate directly with audiences as well as via third party channels but also posing dramatic challenges to reputation.
Whether dealing with a crisis, a standard corporate story or product launch, ten years ago it was much easier to get everything planned and rolled out. If the story leaked you had time in which to prepare statements as print deadlines were often hours away. Stories would unfold but over days and weeks, rather than in an instant as they do now. So it’s no surprise that companies are paying a lot closer attention to their overall corporate positioning, preventative reputation strategies and getting communication working effectively across the multi-channels that exist in the 21st century.
At Four Broadgate the work we undertake has changed over the decade from media relations to more corporate reputation management and broad communications support. Far more of our activity is working with organisations to create and manage corporate messages that influence, content that cuts through the noise – and campaigns that are disseminated across these multiple channels. The focus is on enhancing reputations and being more forensic about which communication channels suits differing audiences and messages. It’s an exciting time to be in PR, an industry that’s always mattered, but now is getting increasing recognition and value for its business critical role.