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Are we in a golden age of public relations?

Is this a golden time for PR? The answer, according to some PR chiefs, is that it definitely is. Others argue that it could, and should, be. Here they explain why PR is rising to the top and the work that the industry still needs to put in to help PR get even more recognition and, most importantly, larger budgets.

Why now is a golden age

Because PR has matured believes Gavin Lewis, creative director at PR agency Hope and Glory who says brands are showing more faith in PR because of the maturity of the people who are leading the industry. “In the past it was an industry full of big kids behaving like big kids. That's changed. The industry leaders have become leaders. The creatives have grown up and can tell a story actually linked to a brand’s story. We have, in a nutshell reached, maturity. 

“This doesn't mean the work has got boring. It means the ideas that should have been supported are now getting an airing. It means that storytelling is recognised as the most powerful tool in a marketers’ armoury and those that have always been best placed to deliver it – the PROs – are getting the opportunity to deliver it.”  

Because of our unique skillset says Richard Cook, director of agency Champion Communications: “B2B PR’s current golden age began halfway through 2018. GDPR was a big factor. Spraying out messages to a database suddenly became risky and made brands question whether the one or two per cent lead generation was really adding anything to the bottom line.

“Secondly, this may be the year that account-based marketing (ABM) really took hold in the UK. A good ABM programme requires great sales people who need a brand to give them a bit of a head start. Another factor is the increasing diversity of business decision-making units. Earned media provides an effective and efficient way to reach decision makers based on their interest and need rather than on their willingness to open an email and fill in a form. Engaging audiences and telling stories has never been more important, and PR is the best tool in a B2B marketer’s toolkit to do this.”  

How the industry can shine brighter  

PR must continue to innovate, says Allison Spray, director of data and insights at PR firm Hill+Knowlton Strategies: “New technologies and channels have fragmented the communications landscape. Disruption has become the norm across all sectors, and businesses are feeling acutely the power of the public.

“Amongst all this change, the role communications professionals play has never been more important. But to help brands recognise the full power of PR, the industry must continue to evolve with the world of today. We are skilled at creating ideas that will travel. But to truly engage we have to stay always in beta; always looking to embrace change to better equip ourselves and our clients for the challenges we’ll face now, and in the future.

“What does that look like? Teams who live and breathe digital, who can decode reams of data and who can help us understand the science behind why we behave the way we do; alongside sector specialists who deeply understand their clients’ industries, competitors and products.

“Only through continued innovation can we realise the full potential of PR. That’s what makes it such a thrilling time to work in the industry. I can’t wait to see what we’ll build next.”

 We need to be more confident says Jacquie Boyd-Coleman, managing director for London and the south-east of agency Beattie Communications: “The fall of the printed press could have been bad news for PR, but instead it spurred us to look for different ways to get messages across.

“The breadth of what we do has widened – it’s no longer all about earned media and media relations. Instead our ideas also drive influencer marketing, provide content for websites and fuel social media campaigns.

“It’s the sheer inventiveness of PR professionals that led to this diversification, as well as our ability to spot an opportunity that a client could benefit from. We’re agile and when it comes to bang for the buck, we win hands down.

“Our creative ideas and messaging can be at the core of a small-scale project on a tight budget or a fully integrated campaign across print and digital, and all points in-between. There’s so much we can deliver for clients. And we consistently deliver.

“PR has the ability to drive the agenda and lead the way forward – we just need a little more confidence to make it happen. Then it will truly be the golden age for PR.”

There is a talent shortage and fees should be higher says Richard Houghton, management consultant: “Is this the golden age of PR? Absolutely, as was the 80s, the 90s and 00s. In fact, every decade I’ve worked in PR consultancy has been the ‘golden age’. We are an optimistic bunch and we shape and tell stories for a living so it’s no surprise that we want to believe that we are working in a special time.

“As to the question are we getting the recognition that we deserve? Yep. PR’s reputation has come a long way in the last three decades.

“But what we are not getting is the talent we need or the fees that we deserve for the results that we deliver. Neither of these issues are new. They have not sprung up in the last 24 months, we’ve been wrestling with them for decades. And the solutions aren’t new either.

“Put simply, we need to demonstrate the value we deliver to our clients’ business and then charge accordingly. This drives profits and provides funds for top talent. A virtuous circle.

“Not easy to do but at the heart of it is evaluation that demonstrates the impact of our strategic thinking, creativity and delivery. Onwards and upwards.”

We must focus on storytelling says Colin Cather, creative director at PR agency Bottle: “Ah, the long-awaited PR’s golden age, seems to have been foreshadowed since the actual Renaissance. Here’s a few brushstrokes to today’s canvas...

“Digital is a wonderful medium for reach and engagement with audiences (the public, right? That’s what PR has relations with, right?). We just can’t become distracted from the real value of storytelling by the obsession with short-term micro-measures. We mustn’t become the daubers of optimisation. We need to be the Warhols, not Warhol’s Factory.

“Data is for insights, and sometimes to validate, so we should stay deliciously drunk, hanging on the lamppost, getting both support and illumination while we search for our keys to a creative idea.

“Attention spans are not as short as some would say. And even when they are – in some channels – then we build big stories in little episodes. Every (brand) myth can be a gif as well as an epic poem.

“Buying engagement – and faffing with SEO-type tactics – was never our bag; earning the love of audiences is our thing. But it’ll be the storytellers in creative and adland who will really benefit if they keep pivoting. The most recent enduring stories – like Fearless Girl – have originated from them.

“There is a golden age, but PR has to be enlightened to shine.”

For those old enough to remember, the 1990s was once considered a golden age of PR, with generous budgets for wining, dining and general entertaining. Now may not be the time for partying to excess, but there are many reasons why PROs should be celebrating the results they are getting for their clients. The next step is making sure that the budgets for PR truly reflect its potential to deliver results.

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