The future of PR

I attended the PRCA conference on Friday. There were a number of key themes which I thought worthwhile summarising and I also took a few quick interviews on video of some senior agency players at the event. Stephen Doherty from Barclays and Ian Wright from Diageo gave an interesting in house perspective. In essence the message was that reputation of the business has never been more important. Within that context, the importance of public relations is high on most CEO agendas. The need for organisations to embed reputation management within their organisations is now seen as vital. Reputation is not the sole responsibility of the comms department. All executives have a role to play in keeping up the reputation of the business, says Doherty. Diageo’s, Ian Wright believes: "Reputation is always local". Wright also said that: "the idea that brands have a global reputation is wrong, reputations are made locally." Doherty’s mantra of “by your deeds you will be known" seemed to sum up the importance for firms to be reputation lead in their strategy and culture. The future direction of PR The public relations sector has become quite self-critical in recent times. Most of the time this internal criticism is a good thing and I believe it has been partly responsible for the evolution of skills and output within in-house teams and agencies. However, this critical analysis of PR's performance must be taken in some context. Public relations is a broad church – on the one hand you have communications directors from Barclays attempting to manage their reputation. On another hand, you have financial PR people attempting to communicate with the city and shareholders about a company's performance.  Then you have consumer PR people who are trying to sell burgers or cans of Coke. And of course you have B2B communications professionals trying to sell high-value products and populate new business pipelines. In addition, public relations is a market in transition and a market in transition will have disruption. PR agencies and in-house teams are evolving at different rates depending on their objectives, where they started, which sector they operate in and the quality of the leadership. Within this context PR should be careful not to be too self-critical. I believe public relations has moved forward enormously over the last five years and skills within agencies and in-house departments have also changed massively. At our PR storytelling conference on Thursday I listened to an example of the Met Office. They are populating their website with relevant engaging content, they produce numerous apps, and they build and engage with relevant communities across YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. I also listened to CapGemini who talk about how they have created an internal expert blogger strategy which over time has created industry expert opinion which is published on the CapGemini blog, distributed through social media channels and is having the effect of populating their new business pipeline. This has resulted in tens of millions of pounds in new business for CapGemini. I also listened to the head of PR at O2 explaining how they were using humour as a way of communicating with customers through social media. These are just a few examples of the sort of work that is happening now within public relations. It is within this context that I stress the progress that PR is making. I don't pretend we've arrived at some sort of promised land but PR is changing and it is changing fast. I'd suggest the change over the last 5 years has been pretty spectacular, bearing in mind difficult economic times that we've lived through. Weber Shandwick's, Colin Byrne, closed the conference with a bit of a call to arms for the sector. He predicted that the agency of the future will:

  • Be truly digital-centric
  • Be a studio
  • Marry science and art
  • Combine purpose with communications

Below is a short video with some thoughts from Francis Ingham, CEO of the PRCA, Tony Langham , CEO of Lansons Communications, Marjorie Calder, a Director at The Big Partnership and Brendan Craigie, CEO of Hotwire.