Last week I had the great honour of appearing in the PR Week Global Power Book 2015.
After 25 years in the PR and marcomms industry, I found myself humbled by the great company I was keeping in the list which included many old friends and colleagues. It also led to me to reflect on how much our industry has changed over those 25 years, and what we now need to be as practitioners versus when I began my career. It’s a whole lot more complex these days.
I began my career with Text100 as an account executive. The '90s in London were everything you’ve heard about in popular culture and more. It was fast, it was frenzied and it was very, very fun. Technology wasn’t seen as quite so exciting as it is today, but I loved being part of the start of brands like Microsoft. The other big difference was that PR in those days was a far more linear profession than the one we know today.
PR was PR. For me it was mainly tech media relations with a lot of time on the phone pitching stories, writing press releases, setting up events and building relationships in the industry. Over the next decade, I added telco, banking and FMCG sector experience and analyst relations, corporate and employee communications to my repertoire. Fundamentally though, my expertise was very focused. Even in my subsequent roles in-house and at other agencies before I came back to Text in Asia a decade later, PR was still a recognisable discipline that primarily concentrated on public and media relations.
It would be wrong to cheapen it by saying it was just press releases and journo lunches, but the fact is that PR used to be a much simpler beast. It was never a career choice for the faint hearted, and being able to keep calm as a crisis erupts was always part of our reality. Over the last five years, the change to our industry has been chaotic and exciting all at the same time. As consumers changed the way they bought and technology disrupted every industry (and continues to do so at an alarming pace), so did we.
We have literally seen our profession transform in front of our eyes. We’ve had to acquire new skills, understand whole new industries, create new metrics, learn new languages, and figure out exactly what "LOL" really stood for. (Yes, I had to be told it no longer stood for "Lots of Love"!!)
It’s a journey that for me will never end. Learning to unlearn old ways of doing things and learning new "stuff" is constant. Also learning to deal with so much more information in a much faster-paced world challenges us all. But, I’d never go back. Neither would I devalue or unlearn how to craft and pitch a story even a grumpy, London journalist would go for after a long lunch.
The industry is an awesome juggernaut today, and I think it’s the pace of change which has kept people like me in the industry for 25 years and attracts some of the best new talent. I’m not sure if it’s harder for the more "mature" professionals in the Global Power Book (I include myself) to get their heads around the integrated nature of modern communications. Or for the younger professionals starting out today who have to get the digital landscape, understand the social tools, figure out the evolving nature of advertising, identify the channels, segment the audience, strategise the content, market the search engines, handle the crisis, media train the CEO, craft the blogs, write the Tweets, Vine the event, Instagram the launch, do the coverage slide AND keep the client happy.
The next generation of comms professionals are integrated by their very nature. They’re always-on consumers, and they’re bringing about a wholesale change in our industry. Every time I visit a Text100 office around APAC I meet young Texters and learn something brilliantly fresh and deliciously surprising. Every time I think I’ve seen it all I’m stunned by the creative, switched on, compelling work that is being produced by our agency and our peers in the market. They are the ones driving change in this industry, and it is they who will lead our clients along the same journey.
There’s a lot of talk at the moment about the new, integrated nature of modern communications. I firmly believe that power to change PR into a truly integrated discipline lies with our young professionals. And for that reason, it should really be them in the Global Power Book.
Now, did someone say a long journo lunch?