October 28, 2011
A good friend of mine teaches a public relations class at Clayton State University. We were talking the other day about how dramatically the PR industry has evolved over the past 20 years or so and debated about what’s in store for the future of the industry. She asked if I would serve as a guest speaker to complement one of her lectures, and suggested that this rapid PR evolution could be a great topic of discussion for the class.
My friend was right about the ways in which the industry has changed. I remembered back to when I first started in PR. As a coordinator, I would print out client press releases on letterhead, then staple, fold and stuff them into envelopes for mailing. The editors would see the release a few days later, and then I waited two to three months until the print editions came out to see if I earned any “hits.” A year later, that process was sped up slightly when the PR department bought its own fax machine – allowing us to fax out releases to publishers hip enough to own the advanced hardware themselves.
Beyond the technology advances, it has become clear that the traditional reporting structure of distributing news, then waiting for editors to rule on its fate has certainly changed. The art of self-publishing has given any joker (Exhibit A) with a keyboard the opportunity to circumvent what was once a crucial filter – the media’s skeptical eye. It seems opinions now replace facts, and success is achieved not by those with the best product/service/personnel, but by those who achieve the highest Search Engine Optimization.
This is not to say that my or other’s view of the industry should be jilted. But it’s important to acknowledge that the craft has changed, and so too, do the tactics with which we employ to promote our products, our services and ourselves. Just in terms of media outreach alone, we’ve already seen the practice transition from mail to phone to fax to email to tweets. What comes next is anyone’s guess.
For the purposes of teaching her class, I don’t know where the PR field is headed any more than the next guy. The best advice I can give to tomorrow’s incoming crop of professionals is that they need to be adaptive to the changing needs of their stakeholders. PR can be boiled down to this: select the right blend of tools and tactics and employ them as efficiently as possible. Unfortunately, that blend can be different for each individual client, market and business climate. I guess it’s a good thing I have two weeks to come up with more actionable advice than that!
Do you have any advice for the future generation of PR professionals? I’d love to hear it and will be sure to share it with them when I head down there.