News • 28/05/20

Is PR dead?

Women at a party display full champagne glasses.
Women at a party display full champagne glasses.

We’ve just joined the PRCA, the professional body representing the PR sector. And it’s got us thinking – is PR even a thing anymore?

We’ve just joined the PRCA, the professional body representing the PR sector. So, this post is slightly awks. Sorry Francis.

Joining has actually been a great experience so far. If anyone is currently considering it, we’d recommend. A warm welcome and lots of useful tools and support. But it’s also got us thinking. Is PR even a thing anymore?

Unsurprisingly, the PRCA thinks it is:

Public Relations, or ‘PR’, is all about the way organisations communicate with the public, promote themselves, and build a positive reputation and public image. PR professionals try to influence the media to represent their organisation positively and communicate key messages.

When you ask the IPA, the professional body for the ad industry, to define their sector the answer is less forthcoming. I expect they assume we should all just know. Typical.

What’s in a name?

The reason I’m pondering this question here isn’t just to boost our search results for terms like PR, public relations, strategic communications, advertising, creative, brand, and social media. Honest.

I’m asking because the PR teams I’ve worked with and in over the last few years don’t seem to ‘just’ do PR anymore. In fact, they don’t seem particularly clear on what they do. The best PR teams are part research and insight, part strategy, part business consultants, part creative, part digital, part media relations…

More akin to marketing agencies than anything else. Meanwhile marketing is having an existential crisis of its own at the moment with discussion of how marketing has been ‘downgraded’ to ‘just communications’. Bumped out of the boardroom and briefed to come up with bolt-on jazz-hands campaigns rather than solve business issues from the inside out.

Variety is the spice of life

I think part of the reason this stuff is on our minds is because we’re slowly going insane thanks to lockdown. But also because our own backgrounds are so mixed – we trained as marketers and then worked in marketing, comms, mar-comms, and PR teams.

An intern (hi Ramla) once asked me what the different between the disciplines was. I’ve asked this question myself and been given exactly the same answer by professionals from each respective specialism – that they set the strategy and the others support by delivering it.

And if it’s confusing for us, just imagine being on the outside looking in. Just imagine being our parents wondering how on earth we make a living.

Blurred lines

Perhaps things used to be simpler, but these days the lines between different comms disciplines and channels are seriously blurred.

This isn’t news, they’ve been blurring for ages, but in the last few years this seems to have sped up. And yet I’m not sure the sector has caught up. Whether you’re working agency-side, in-house, or for a membership body splitting things by discipline is starting to feel a bit archaic and working less effectively than ever.

Ultimately, we’re communicators – using insight-led strategies to reach key audiences and drive action. Once you understand your audience you can’t then just fall back on the ‘thing’ you do to reach them, if that ‘thing’ isn’t the one that will work best.

Maybe it’s time we were less hung up on putting things neatly into boxes. It’s time to accept we need to draw on a broad skillset to deliver campaigns that get results. And to do this we need to commit to lifelong learning so there’s a constant evolution.

And anyway, when you say you work in PR you know what people are thinking, there’s just no way round it.

Whereas when you say you work in ‘communications’ there’s the added benefit of someone thinking you might be able to fix their broadband…