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How PR Has Shifted in the Last 20 Years

The field of public relations (PR) has undergone a significant transformation over the past decade, constantly adapting to the ever-changing media landscape and the emergence and subsequent domination of digital communication. With the proliferation of social media platforms, less emphasis placed on traditional print publications and the growing demand for authentic and transparent brand communication, PR professionals have embraced new strategies and tools to support clients and effectively engage with their target audiences.  

Keep reading to explore how PR has evolved over the last decade, and to learn about the key areas that have shaped crucial shifts in the industry landscape. 

How PR shifted

The role of PR
Public relations was primarily focused on managing the reputation and image of organizations through media relations and press releases. The goal was to develop relationships with journalists, understand each publication’s readership, identify ideal story angles and secure media coverage to generate positive publicity for clients. This approach allowed brands to control the narrative and ensure that the organization’s messages were effectively communicated to the public. However, in recent years the role of PR has expanded and new mediums have changed how companies can communicate with their audiences. A specialty that was once focused only on traditional media coverage and one-way communication, now allows for more direct dialogue with customers and an ability to reach them where they spend their time. 

For optimal success, PR teams directly interact with media outlets such as newspapers, radio and television to share information in hopes of landing a story. Press releases and media pitches are crafted to capture the attention of journalists and secure coverage but they are also created with search in mind. PR campaigns traditionally only measured by the amount and quality of media coverage obtained can now include more impactful metrics including traffic to website, clicks to sign ups and more. 

Digital mediaEnter digital
The emergence of digital media and social networking platforms caused a monumental shift in the way information is shared and consumed. This has increased the importance of companies aligning their social media and PR strategies. The rise of social media has allowed audiences to become active participants in conversations, connect directly with brands and public personalities and permits organizations to have two-way conversations with their target audiences. The insights gleaned from auditing a company’s social media channels can help PR teams improve messaging as well as create a second avenue to deliver earned media coverage. Embracing social media, becoming content marketing experts and leveraging data-driven insights to confirm that engagement is connecting with consumers directly and authentically are key to ensuring your PR strategy is sound. 

Today, PR professionals go beyond the traditional means of securing media coverage – which included faxing press releases and media kits and scheduling desk-side interviews with key journalists – to focusing on optimizing content for digital placements and building and maintaining relationships with target audiences. To do this, firms focus on fostering transparency, authenticity and meaningful engagement, which can be a shift from the PR of the past that only promoted a highly cultivated and perfectly presented narrative. Rather than solely relying on traditional media outlets, PR practitioners leverage digital platforms, owned media channels, influencers and content marketing to reach and resonate with their target demographics. 

The modern role of PR encompasses a broader range of responsibilities, including crisis management, community building, brand storytelling and thought leadership. PR professionals are now strategic advisors, guiding organizations in their communication efforts and helping them navigate the complexities of the digital age. 

The rise of social mediasocial media & public relations
One of the most influential factors in the transformation of PR over the last decade is the widespread adoption and use of social media. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn and now Threads have forever changed the way brands communicate with audiences. Therefore, PR pros can no longer see these as siloed operations and instead should look at how they can work hand-in-hand. Social media has provided public relations professionals with a direct line of communication to engage, listen and respond to consumers in real-time. PR campaigns today should integrate multiple channels, including and often revolving around a social media strategy, to help brands build relationships, generate buzz and disseminate information quickly and efficiently. 

In order to deliver the best outcomes, PR pros are doing more than writing press releases, they have completely dedicated themselves to target market research, and that can be seen particularly when developing a social media strategy. It starts with identifying a target audience, determining which platforms are the best for that consumer and then creating marketing goals and content from there. A lot of what might have been considered traditional advertising has seeped into the PR sector.  

Creating a brand voice, messaging points, producing and selecting images, crafting campaign copy, tracking performance and more have been subsumed by PR in many client relationships. Social media has caused the line between PR and advertising/marketing to blur.  

how PR shifted audience targetingShift from traditional to digital media
The last decade has brought about a significant decline in traditional media outlets, such as newspapers and magazines, as digital media continues to dominate. PR professionals have had to adapt their strategies to leverage digital platforms and influencers to reach their target audiences. There are no more media coffees or lunches to build relationships and construct a story. Press releases are no longer faxed to stations or newsrooms. Instead PR professionals use a mix of telephone pitching, emails, engaging with journalists on social platforms and monitoring news to be prepared to react quickly as the media cycle moves rapidly.   

Online press releases, blogs and content creation have become essential tools for PR teams to convey a brand’s message and capture the attention of online audiences. Digital media has also created a boom in media outlets from which PR teams can choose. While newspapers, magazines and TV news had a somewhat limited selection due to the resources needed to support these types of outlets, online and digital media provide a plethora of options. PR teams can identify online resources and websites that specifically target the same audience as the client. This means there is a greater range of choice, but also more work and time investment needed to identify and connect with potential digital outlets. 

Increased focus on content marketing
Content marketing has emerged as a powerful tool for PR professionals to engage and educate target audiences and guide them through the customer journey. Rather than solely relying on traditional press releases, PR firms can now create compelling and shareable content in various formats such as byline articles, blogs, videos, infographics, podcasts and more. These can all be shared on owned media channels, as well as be used to garner interest for other media coverage. By producing valuable and relevant content, PR teams can promote the thought leadership and innovation of the client, improve brand visibility and foster a loyal community around their brand. 

Crisis management in the digital age
Prior to the digital landscape, when a crisis happened, companies had to wait for the news cycle for coverage. This allowed PR teams time to craft a response that put the company in the best light possible. With the rise of social media, the potential for crises to spread rapidly has increased exponentially. PR professionals now face the challenge of managing crises in real-time, as negative news or customer complaints can quickly go viral.  

Crisis communication plans have become a must-have for organizations, and another specialty in the PR industry. These often include monitoring social media, addressing issues promptly and providing transparent and authentic responses. PR teams must be prepared, agile and proactive, leveraging digital tools to monitor, respond and manage reputational risks effectively. 

audience targeting

Personalization and targeted communication

In the past, PR professionals often relied on mass communication to reach a wide audience. However, with the growing use of digital tools, personalized and targeted communication has become the norm. Today, 80% of consumers are more likely to purchase from a company that tailors the marketing experience, and 72% indicated that they would only engage with personalized content. Not only that, but 66% expect brands to understand their needs and expectations, meaning that personalization is assumed. PR practitioners now use data and analytics to segment audiences, enabling them to tailor messages and content to specific demographics. By understanding the needs and interests of their target audiences, PR professionals can deliver more meaningful and impactful communications. 

Influencer marketing and brand ambassadors
Influencer marketing has gained tremendous traction and has been able to support company’s PR strategies over the last decade. Brands are partnering with influential individuals on social media platforms to reach target demographics. From big celebrity endorsements to nano- and micro-influencers, this area of PR has been welcomed by brands and arranging and negotiating these relationships has become a specialty in the PR field. Influencers act as brand ambassadors, sharing experiences and promoting products or services to followers. PR professionals now carefully select and collaborate with influencers who align with the client’s brand values and can effectively communicate the brand message to a targeted audience. 

Data and analyticsData-driven results
Back in the day, when a press release got sent out or a story was picked up, PR teams would often point to the readership or viewership of the media outlet as the only measure of coverage secured. Now, the availability of data and analytics has revolutionized PR practices. PR professionals can now measure the impact and effectiveness of campaigns with greater accuracy, giving clients specific numbers on reach, return on investment (ROI), cost per lead (CPL) and more. By leveraging data, PR teams also gain insights into audience behavior, sentiment analysis and the success of different communication channels. These readily available figures allow PR professionals to make data-driven decisions, refine strategies and messaging and optimize efforts to continually achieve better results. 

What a difference 20 years makes
The last few decades has brought about a profound transformation in the field of PR. While the past focused on controlling the narrative and managing media relations, the modern era of PR emphasizes direct engagement, authenticity and transparency. From the rise of social media and the decline of traditional media to the increased focus on content marketing and influencer collaborations, PR professionals have had to adapt to an ever-evolving landscape. By embracing digital tools, leveraging data-driven insights and prioritizing authentic and transparent communication, PR practitioners are better equipped to engage with target audiences and build lasting relationships with consumers on behalf of clients.  

The experts at Beyond Fifteen are ready to help your brand. We are well-versed in both digital and traditional PR strategies, giving us the insights and resources needed to get your company the best coverage. Connect with us to learn more! 

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