ITL #360 Public relations 4.0: challenges and opportunities for a new PR stage

2 months, 3 weeks ago


In today’s fast-moving world, PR faces a quartet of major challenges: measurement, ethics, appropriate use of all available channels and education. By Patrik Schober.

Whether we consider manufacturing, the Web or PR, we see something modern and progressive in the numerical designation 4.0. However, the phrase public relations 4.0 includes not only the attributes of advanced PR of the 21st century and its growing strategic importance for business, but also the challenges faced by this discipline, such as measuring the results of communication, professional ethics and the ongoing education of PR professionals.

The modern transformation of PR is also linked to current technological trends – among other things, digitization, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, robotization or automation – which either directly influence the performance of the PR profession as such or increasingly become the subject of activities being created.


From Egypt to modern times

If we are now witnessing the evolution of PR into its 4.0 version, let's look at the roots of this discipline and then reveal its current nature. If we remain true to the generational name, we can already explore “PR 1.0” in the context of ancient cultures dominated by one-way communication flowing from a ruling individual or group to subjects, to ordinary people.


The Egyptian Pharaohs built up the image of divine beings among people through their adjutants who spread stories about their fantastic achievements, skills and qualities. In another place, shamans and chiefs of Native American tribes transmitted their wisdom and life experience through stories told around the fires.


Storytelling persists over the millennia but modern technology is the fire around which we are now figuratively sitting and communicating. The change is also taking place on the part of the contracting authorities, and the number of communication channels and their possibilities is increasing. A key role is played by PR managers and communication professionals whose task is to tell a sufficiently good story that will attract attention and fulfill its goal – to connect with  the target group and lead them to act.


The original PR is followed by "PR 2.0", which refers to two-way communication that is related to the development of Web 1.0 and the initial online connection. This eventually evolved into communication on social networks, blogs or discussion groups, where the target group gets a space to express and PR experts stimulate its feedback. In a short period of time, the “2.0” version was transformed into the more advanced “PR 3.0”, when communication professionals became more aware of the possibilities of traditional and new media and started using them for so-called integrated campaigns that combine different channels and types of communication.


Opportunities and pitfalls of PR 4.0

The term Public Relations 4.0 was the subtitle of the PR Summit conference organized by the Czech Association of Public Relations (APRA) in September 2019. The concept of PR 4.0, as perceived by the organizers of the conference represents the image of current PR and at the same time encourages industry professionals to adapt to its dynamic development, which is associated with the four challenges modern PR is facing: measurement, ethics, appropriate use of all available channels and education.


The first challenge that PR specialists face is dealing with the amount of data they receive from each communication channel. In order to continually improve communication campaigns, it is necessary to decode and use the extracted data correctly, e.g. with using artificial intelligence technology, though there is a hitch. Although the application of this technology in communication fields may expand in the near future, the human contribution of a well-founded PR professional cannot be replaced. Josef Šlerka, director of the Endowment Fund of Independent Journalism  criticizes artificial intelligence for never learning what sentiment is and for not customizing the mood of the text to the reader's needs.


Another challenge for PR professionals is communication with journalists, respectively with creators of media content that virtually can be anyone, thanks to modern technologies and online community platforms. PR specialists face the question of how to establish and grasp cooperation with influencers or bloggers, for example.


Another decisive point in modern PR is the observance of professional ethics, whether it is the issue of fake news or the way of communication by individual spokespersons, PR agencies or PR managers. The level of education is also related to the perception of ethics. The biggest challenge is to educate the whole market, not only the communication workers, but also the top management of companies. The evaluation of PR work and at the same time the drive for its continuation is not only a list of performed activities but also a comprehensible presentation of their specific impacts on the functioning of the client's company, which deepens mutual understanding and partnership cooperation.


PR investments will increase

The importance of PR across businesses and states is growing, which is illustrated by the Global Communications Report, which predicts that investment in PR will increase by 33% over the next five years. If we look at local businesses, APRA's annual survey among its members suggests that 65% of CEOs take corporate reputation seriously, and roughly a similar number of them perceives brand building and communication as important to long-term business. Up to 70% of them are willing to invest sufficient funds in PR.


As the strategic importance of PR grows, both investment growth and further development of this communication profession can be expected in the future, which will go hand in hand with greater demand for PR training or updating ethical standards.


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The Author

Patrik Schober

Patrik Schober graduated from international relations and social communication and completed internships at Holmes College in Sydney and the University of California Irvine. He began his career at publishing house Computer Press. He established and is the Managing Partner of PRAM Consulting PR agency since 2002. Between 2017 and 2018 he was Chairman of the Board of Worldcom PR Group. In addition, he is Chairman of the Executive Board of the Association of Public Relations in Czech Republic.

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