Public Relations – Past, Present and Future

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The last decade was the most challenging, yet promising one, in the evolution of Public Relations.

To survive and thrive, businesses need to communicate, engage and make a positive impact on the communities they serve. In corporate “speak” or business terms, that translates into Public Relations no longer being “spray and pray” but “research, think, advise, act.”

It should come as no surprise that, according to Carolyn Fairbairn, the Chief Executive of the Confederation of British Industry,

“there is currently a disconnect between what businesses do and what people believe.”

Perceptions are hard to change and gaining trust is even harder. The role of Public Relations today is no longer limited to content creation, visuals and soundbites.

It’s about ensuring that Boards and C-suites comprehend the importance of “proving” what they say, not just saying it.

As Sarah Wright of National Energy Action rightly said, “trust in the charitable sector is declining”. Can Public Relations help to tackle the situation? It can if charity bosses allow the good to be told by those who benefit the most from the aid they are being provided and if, first of all, no harm is done to those groups that charities are supposed to help.

‘Our job is to protect and shape the reputation of the company and, by extension, the individuals leading it. We are their loyal and trusted advisors. Ultimately, it’s our job to safeguard the organisation, its employees and brands’  and David Jones, Alphabet’s Communications Manager is absolutely right.

We are the “bodyguards” of any organisation and, as any good bodyguard will tell you, we cannot protect that which we cannot understand.

We cannot protect without scanning the immediate external and internal environments of our clients and, of course, we cannot protect our clients/employers if we don’t know what their plans are for tomorrow or next year – this way, we can prepare the best route they need to take from A-B, the one that we know will keep our clients/employers “safe”.

But, as Koray Camgoz – the PR Manager of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations – so well underlines:

 ‘a poor reputation within the media and wider society, along with a confusing range of job titles are amongst the many challenges PR faces in embracing professionalism. But perhaps the greatest challenge lies with practitioners themselves’.

Why does professionalism matter you may ask? Because the sooner we become a profession, the sooner our credibility and rightful position need less fighting for – for most PR clients, there is absolutely no difference between someone walking straight from the street into a potential client’s office and saying “I work in PR”, and those who abide by a PR Code of Conduct, strive to gain professional qualifications or degrees, belong to a membership body and are chartered.

Professionalism brings credibility, chartered status brings respectability, and continuous professional development brings accountability.

Laura Richards’ views (Co-founder of the #ExPRience Programme) are not far from mine:

‘Moreover, in the wake of global scandals, fake news and new (and sometimes controversial) technologies, the PR industry needs professionals who want to take on leadership roles in the businesses they work with. That those leaders will be prepared to walk away from unethical practices and unhealthy workplace cultures, means PR has a very exciting future.’

Andrew Smith, the Google Analytics guru and founder of Escherman, agrees with Laura’s views:

‘Ultimately, PR is intimately tied to what organisations both do and say. If nothing else, PR has to stake its claim being the custodian of the ethical and reputational implications of organisational action and communication in a world increasingly dependent on algorithms, automation and artificial intelligence.’

One of the most asked questions of our time is “how can we prove our value?”. Richard Bagnall, the Chairman of the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications (AMEC) is very clear on this:

‘The first thing we need to do is understand that measuring the content analysis or output metrics alone no longer suffices.’

They never did, not for Strategic Communications, Corporate Affairs or Crisis and Risk Management. Campaigns, while abundant in the daily outputs of a communicator’s career, are just a part of what we do.

Demonstrating the strategic value of PR and its standing as a management function will always start and end with organisational objectives.

If you want to know what Scott Guthrie (adviser to Campaign Deus) has to say about Influencer Marketing and its impact on Public Relations, why Ruth Fry (Head of Comms for Perth & Kinross Council) believes that community co-creation is a means of Public Relations, and how Paul Myrlea (Director of Communications for the University of Cambridge) argues that public relations must take an assertive role in tackling fake news and misinformation, then you may wish to get your own copy of “Platinum“.

It is hard to cover in a blog post all the contributors, and their contributions, to this amazing book edited by Stephen Waddington. My own chapter covers “Culture and its contribution to modern public relations” and can be found in the “Provocation” section of the book.

Platinum is more than a celebration of 70 years of history, change and best practice of CIPR – it is a book on the performance, perspective, potential, practice and provocation of Public Relations yesterday, today and tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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