The Ever-Evolving World of PR
Published on December 2, 2021, at 6:34 p.m.
by Mallory Westry.
The concept of change is not unfamiliar to professionals in the public relations industry. In fact, with new trends constantly arising, PR professionals are skilled at anticipating and adapting to change.
In recent years, a wide array of topics have emerged within the PR industry, such as the growth of digital media and the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, PR professionals have modified their communication strategies and tactics to remain connected to their target audiences.
Below is a list of new developments in the PR industry, paired with PR professionals’ solutions to adapt to them.
Introducing digital media
While not an entirely new concept, the evolution of digital media has played a significant role in how PR professionals distribute their messaging.
Lisa Morris, assistant registrar for The University of Alabama’s College of Communication and Information Sciences, secured her first job in the PR industry in 1987, where she served as an Indiana House of Representatives public information officer.
Reflecting on her past experience, Morris said, “For me, the biggest change is the introduction of digital media, and all of the electronic modes of communication that we have now, that weren’t even a thing when I was practicing in the field.”
“We kept a mailing list of all the local media outlets. Any time that we had to write a news release on behalf of one of our representatives, we’d all go meet in the conference room and have an assembly line of folding news releases and stuffing envelopes to be sent in the mail,” Morris described. “We also created press kits, which were slick, glossy folders that were full of information, and we handed those out at news conferences,” she continued.
Today, the convenience of digital media allows PR professionals to deliver these same materials at the click of a button.
Holly Lollar, president of the The Lollar Group, provided insight into the evolution of digital media and the regression of print media. “When I started 20 years ago, there was the Birmingham Post-Herald that ran in the morning and, in the afternoon, there was The Birmingham News, so you really had a lot of opportunities to get stories in both papers,” she explained.
“What I really feel like has changed in PR, is that there are a lot less reporters, and they’re having to turn around more stories, but from a digital standpoint,” Lollar remarked.
As a solution, Lollar emphasized the importance of “paying attention to the reporters that you work with — like how things are changing in the newsroom and what they’re looking for.”
Within the past two years, PR professionals have been learning how to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. For many, their first step was research.
Christi Burnum, director of brand social media at Capital One, noted, “When COVID hit, and things started to become virtual, the first thing we did was research consumer behavior, what types of events were attracting audiences, and how they were engaging across the platforms.”
“We also did an analysis of how brands that were doing it well were showing up on platforms, to sort of learn lessons from people who were doing it right,” she added.
Lollar explained that her team at the The Lollar Group works on a variety of events, and when pitching an event to the media, they’re often presented with questions regarding COVID restrictions, COVID planning, hand-sanitizing stations and crowd control.
“Before we’d just say, ‘Here’s who coming to the concert’ or ‘You can buy tickets here,’ but now there’s a whole other element added to these events,” said Lollar.
“I think a lot of [clients] right now are saying, ‘We’re doing this event, but there are lot of things that we have to take into account and work on’ — which is really wise on their part. When we schedule interviews, our clients have been extremely transparent and factual about the information that they provide the public,” she acknowledged.
During a podcast-style interview, one of The Lollar Group’s clients, Rock the South, spoke about its event on AL.com.
“It was one of the best interviews that we’ve ever had a client do. He started out by saying, ‘I’m an event promoter; I’m not a health expert. This is what I can tell you.’ I think it’s really important as PR professionals, and when advising your clients, that you kind of set the precedent for ethics in PR. You’re ethical, you want your clients to be ethical, and you just have to state the facts of your event or situation,” Lollar expressed.
Social media and influencers
A third change that PR professionals have recently adapted to is social media’s platforms and influencers’ rise in prominence. Because so many individuals check their social media applications daily, it is essential for PR professionals to utilize these platforms to spread messages to their audiences.
“In the social media space, companies want to ensure that their corporate communications and PR teams are involved in shaping how their company shows up on social media,” said Burnum.
She also stated that she was previously recruited by Ketchum to start the company’s first paid digital practice.
“At the time, social media was becoming a tool of public relations and the digital space. Paid social media can direct people to content that can answer questions during a crisis or at least provide some control over the narrative,” noted Burnum.
Regarding how to navigate social media platforms, one aspect that PR professionals may want to pay careful attention to is their influencers.
“Advice that we give to nonprofits and other clients is that they really need to factor working with influencers into their budgets,” stated Lollar.
“So much of what we do is collaborating with influencers to cover events or work on different opportunities that we have for clients,” she affirmed. “Right now, as we’re creating our Christmas list for clients, we’re also including influencers that we’ve worked with over the year.”
Staying up to date
As outlined above, the PR industry is ever-changing and new developments can arise without much notice. Luckily, there are tools that PR professionals can utilize to remain knowledgeable on the latest trends.
When asked about tactics for staying up to date in the industry, Lollar noted that she often turns to the organization PRSA as a resource.
“I try to listen to at least one PRSA seminar a week. I might be in a meeting or working on a client deadline, but I can go back and listen to the podcast or read an article about changes in the PR industry — and I think that’s a really important and great way to stay up to date on trends,” she explained.
Although PR professionals have no clear indication of what future trends will arise within the PR industry, they are likely to find a way to adapt to them.