Is traditional PR dying? Some thoughts on the future

I recently read an article in PR week that had the headline “Why Traditional PR is dying*.” Apart from filling me with fear and a little anger, it got me thinking about the changes we’ve experienced within the industry after another tumultuous year and what the future holds for PR practitioners.  

How has PR changed?  

I guess that depends on the kind of PR you’re practising. There was certainly a break in press events, trips and lunches during the pandemic, but these seem to be back with a bang since the restrictions lifted in the summer.  In many industries traditional PR is certainly alive and kicking.  

What’s true is that the number of journalists continues to decrease, and their time is increasingly limited so the art of hooking them in with a story or an angle remains, and that’s the skill that forms the bedrock of the job. What’s the story? and how do we make sure it reaches the target audience? Again, traditional PR skills required.  

However, with so many new channels available to PRs, and the media universe so fragmented, perhaps the question shouldn’t be how has PR changed, but what is PR today? It’s not been just traditional media relations for a long time. It’s influencer relations, it’s reputation management, it’s brand positioning and messaging, it’s link acquisition, it’s crisis and issues planning. The list goes on. 

How will PR deliver for brands and businesses in the future?  

I believe it’s all about knowing your audience and integrating with the other marketing disciplines and services.  

There’s no point delivering coverage for the sake of coverage. PR results, however hard they are to measure, need to drive a business outcome for the client. Delivering a reach of millions only matters if those millions react in the way you want them to. It doesn’t always mean driving sales, although let’s face it, that’s often the objective at the end of the brief. It might be changing opinion, or driving a business’s core message, or averting a communications crisis. Regardless, if you’ve reached the wrong audience, it doesn’t really matter. Working alongside strategists and planners to truly understand an ever-changing audience and how to reach them will be key for PRs in the future.  

And there’s no point delivering PR results in a silo. If the advertising campaign talks about the brand in one way and PR drives messages in another, the consumer will just be confused. PR thinking should complement the campaign and to do this there needs to be a communications platform which is baked into the creative from the start. In this way PR can act as the fuel that makes a good campaign great.  

One thing is for sure, after 21 years, PR is so much more than it used to be, and I believe the responsibility of PRs will continue to grow. PR has always been and continues to be one of the most cost effective and flexible services a brand can draw on – and that’s unlikely to change any time soon.  

Traditional PR is not dead. Long live PR! 

*This article appeared in PR week on February 8th 2021. 

About the author:

Rebecca Jones is the communications director at CreativeRace. She has 21 years of experience in communications; specialising in PR, social media and influencer relations, having worked on local and global campaigns for a wide range of brands from head and shoulders and Pantene to John West and Fiat 500.