Ten years in PR: Fran’s reflections

Fran Weeks, Thursday January 14, 2016

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This year marks ten years working in PR for me, which I can’t quite believe. Although PR by its nature is a role which demands that you keep up with trends, cultural changes and technology – it does feel like there’s a huge difference between PR now and ten years ago. This can be said for many other roles and industries today too, it sounds cliché but smartphones, email and social media really have changed things for almost everyone in the last ten years. Perhaps I’m so keen to reflect on this because I’m part of that last generation to remember a time before the internet.

Ten years into my career seems like an important time to reflect on some of the changes PR has seen. I find it can help put things in perspective and help with future planning too. So I thought I’d use my first Digital Blonde blog post for this purpose.

What’s changed?

Here goes, since I started out in the world of PR ten years ago, these are some of the most memorable changes that stand out to me…

We’ve gone full circle with the post. We used to send press releases via the post (can you believe that?), then we switched to emailing them. Now the media receive so many emails on a daily basis that a creative mailing in the post is often a really great way to make a connection.

There’s a new meaning to ‘always on’. PR professionals are always listening to the news and constantly on the alert for topical headlines and hooks that could work for the brand(s) they look after. This has always been the case; it’s why so many of us listen to the Today Programme. Now the time we have to react and bring a creative response to life is so much shorter. We must act immediately if there’s to be a chance of being part of the story while it’s still making headlines.

Facebook. It’s a huge daily time thief, addiction, news platform and much more for so many people. Yet back in the UK in 2006 it hadn’t quite become what it is today and we certainly weren’t planning campaigns around Facebook. We’d didn’t have the same kind on instant access to data telling us how engaging and popular a campaign idea was, we relied on other measures. You could almost fill an entire blog post with the ways in which Facebook has affected PR, likewise for other social networks too but Facebook really was the beginning of something very different.

Print vs online. For a long time after the invention of the internet, online coverage was still seen as somewhat inferior to print. It was good to have, but many brands still preferred the thrill of seeing their name in a national newspaper or relevant industry publication. Now, online coverage is great for SEO, it’s instantly shareable and it’s far easier to measure how many people have actually seen the coverage. Online coverage can be so valuable to a brand that it seems it’s finally overtaken the ego-boost that is print newspaper coverage.

Different kinds of blogs and bloggers. The term blogging was technically invented in the 90s but it’s only in the last few years we saw these people become powerful and sought after influencers by brands. Blogger outreach became a new area of media relations. Now they’re treated just like other media, respected for the content they create, how long they’ve been established and the relevance of their audience to your brand. Then came the realisation that it wasn’t just bloggers who should blog, company websites’ developed blogs and it became part of the PR role to maintain this and seek out content for it.

Integration and working together. PR professional are no longer just selling in a campaign idea to company directors, they need to articulate how it will involve staff at all levels. The integration of many departments, agencies and skill sets is crucial today for success. We all know how quickly a social media issue can escalate. If all teams understand and are able to communicate quickly and effectively with each other, this of course reduces the chances of a PR crisis. Likewise by taking a holistic approach to media relations, with digital and social teams working in partnership with PR professionals, you can really maximise PR opportunities.

Virtual meetings that really work. With one of the DB team living up in Yorkshire, virtual meetings are something we’ve really embraced and regularly use. It works so well that sometimes, when I think back to a past meeting where someone attended via Skype, I could swear we were all there in person! Conference calls, video conferencing and Skype have all been around for a while but now it really feels as if the technology’s ready and so are we. It’s no longer a novelty to be video chatting with someone and it’s (usually) a smooth, natural process.

The important things haven’t changed

2006 doesn’t sound like all that long ago but when you think of a time before the first iPhone, before Instagram, Pinterest or Whatsapp, before we could send texts longer than 120 characters, it does start to seem like a different time.

However, I feel that the concepts at the very heart of PR, like understanding your audience, attention to detail, organisation, alertness, creativity and originality haven’t changed so much. Arguably these skills are now more necessary to PR success than ever before. With so many brands competing for attention online, you need strong creative ideas and a genuine understanding of how to reach and connect with your audience.


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