New Game Rules Trigger a Rebirth10 years, 11 months ago
PR is reinventing itself from "dull, weak, and depressed" to "colorful, strong and exciting". By Ronn Torossian.
Every time I come across the declaration of "the death of PR" I am amused, reminding myself of the "if-I-had-a-dollar-for-each-time..." joke. Indeed, the economic downturn that hit global markets and worldwide cross-industry economies affected us tremendously. The clients were not as engaged in new ventures, new businesses was a rare scene to be found and the world was mostly uncertain about what to do next.
Nevertheless, it is through such economic challenges that the adapting prevail and new game rules emerge for those who wish to play. This is the way PR experienced a re-birth in the past three years, becoming even stronger than it used to be and now dominating major transformations in media and communications management.
I recall the dogmatic UK giant Chime Communications head, Lord Tim Bell announcing (again) that PR has come to an end. He claimed the outlook for PR in years to come seems "dull, weak, and depressed". It was due to an economic downturn and immense losses that made him feel this way halfway through 2003. Joining his despair were major "industry experts" who noticed a decline in PR activity for businesses, analysts who maintained that advertising conglomerates are the only ones who can sustain the strong winds, and finally those who put together a growing crisis in journalism and media and their plummeting profits.
In fact, when you blend all of these forces together, they were not too far from what had really happened and what reinvented PR as I see it today.
The hard questions on value and practice of public relations and related practices such as public affairs made this industry look into its own beliefs and examine their validity. After all, when economic times turn bad it is the communication-related positions in the organization that part with it first. The inner search led PR to its greatest era: a pioneer and leader of the new and social media, its technologies and the ownership of its communication channels.
The U.S media and communications market felt the earth move under its feet with the rise of social media combined with new mobile devices which offer connectivity anytime, anywhere. It affected the journalism field first, moved to advertising, and by the time it reached PR the landscape was much clearer and open for practitioners to quickly adapt to. Three years later, it is now crystal clear that no effective communications can afford to ignore social media, SEO, content management, speed and quality. There are more people now accessing more information, faster while every company, celebrity, brand and product are under more public scrutiny than ever.
The trends today place PR on the top of the communications pyramid. The dominance of social media is an undisputable PR agency role. I have not a single client today that doesn’t expect, and be provided with, a strategic PR plan that consists of goals in the area of social media branding and positioning. SEO has turned into an integral part of the online branding process, through the understanding of the importance of online presence. Content management and blogging allows brands to communicate to their target audiences freely addressing "side topics" that aren’t conveyed in the mainstream media.
These trends have made an enormous impact in the U.S market today. The profitability and growth models have been modified accordingly. Growth in PR is now attributed to the decline in advertising spending as well. Corporations and large businesses have realized the limits of advertising in offering a two-way communication channel with their publics, in an age of constant social virtual interaction. An ad can only generate so much action in social media. A well-crafted message, on the other hand, is the key in today’s 140-character pace of things.
During the past two consecutive years PR has experienced stable growth: 4% in 2008 and 3% in 2009. PR in America is estimated to hit $4.4 billion by 2014. A higher demand in PR services by corporations is the leading force in these trends.
PR has successfully rebranded itself, bringing a mature approach to strategic planning and management; be it reputation management, brand, media or crisis management. It provides a devoted attitude to research-based practices, allows for accurate evaluation and success measurement tools, and represents the use of social and online media for marketing and positioning goals.
I am very much encouraged by recent PR firm acquisitions by multinational public relations conglomerates. This excitement and investment stems from the continued PR growth opportunities that exist. We are blessed to be in the center of a flourishing industry and one that only gains more momentum every day. PR today as an industry goes hand in hand with global trends in mobile and advanced technologies, leading any observer to the conclusion that the PR outlook is colorful, strong, and exciting.
Ronn Torossian is president and CEO of 5WPR, one of the 20 largest independent PR agencies in the U.S. Named to the “40 under 40” list of PR Week & Advertising Age, Torossian was a semi-finalist for the Ernst & Young 2010 Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and may be followed on twitter @rtorossian5wprmail the author
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