Is PR facing extinction? Maybe, if it doesn't evolve drastically and soon

Once, no other comms discipline could influence the news agenda like PR. But today the industry faces serious challenges.

PR won’t thrive on its own in an integrated world, warns Debbie Klein
PR won’t thrive on its own in an integrated world, warns Debbie Klein

The blurred lines between disciplines mean that in 2016, PR must drastically evolve its agency model.

In an era of convergence, it’s time for the PR industry to grab the bull by the horns.

The way people consume media is unrecognisable from five years ago and, as a result, the traditional PR model of press releases and media stunts sold to newspapers is being encroached upon by other forms of communication, in particular all things digital.

Ofcom figures reveal that one in four of us spend more time online than we do asleep, and we check our phones more than 200 times a day.

It’s no surprise, then, that online advertising spend has increased to $60 billion in just 20 years. 

Today, we get our news from online platforms like Twitter and stream political debates on Facebook Live. 

According to the Reuters Institute at the University of Oxford, 51 per cent of people say they use social media as a source of news once a week, while more than a quarter of 18 to 24-year-olds use social media as their main source of news. 

Facebook and Snapchat alone account for 18 billion video views daily, as social media influencers have become the brand ambassadors of choice.

What does this tell us? 

There is no ‘traditional media’. That type of PR won’t thrive on its own in an integrated world. (It’s not alone. Even the TV industry is seeing ad spend moving to ‘easily measured’ digital). 

Advertising agencies are also expanding their remit to include social media strategy and community management, leading clients to question the roles and responsibilities of their digital agencies.

Recognising the boundless opportunities of digital and feeling the pressure to reform, many PR companies are looking for partners with a view to staking their claim over the online space. 

Whilst M&A will fill a skills gap, it’s not PR's ‘silver bullet’ or a quick fix. Embedding digital knowledge and upskilling all teams is the answer, rather than building another silo. 

PR professionals are already working more closely with dedicated social and digital, marketing, advertising and sales teams. 

The traditional, standalone PR agency model is yesterday’s news. 

The new model should be focused on collaboration, teamwork and, ultimately, delivering engaging content and holistic campaigns for clients. 

Clients love it when many disciplines collaborate to achieve the alchemy we are paid for. 

They don’t care who came up with an idea. They just want an idea that delivers results. 

The challenge for us is to show those clients that those results are changing. 

Agencies can do that by bringing together specialist companies or bespoke teams, for the magic happens in those blurred lines. 

Public relations still has a unique role to play. 

But if traditional PRs want to survive the digital revolution and even come out on top, they need to adapt quickly to make sure their business model stays ahead of the curve. 

Debbie Klein is the chief executive of Engine Europe and Asia Pacific

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