Fast forward to the future: real relationships will always maintain PR as a channel for influence

by Rachel Roberts |

As part of marking 50 years of the Public Relations & Communications Association (PRCA), leaders in the PR industry have been asked to consider what’s next for our industry and the demands of PR practice.  In response I’ve considered how technology has driven change since the start of my career and how it will continue to influence evolution again in the future.

Fake news, AI, sponsored content, pay-to-play, bots – the technology influencing PR practice today would have been unimaginable 50 years ago.  If I could predict the new factors, technology and media channel opportunities that will be influencing PR strategy and tactics in only another five years’ time that would be impressive – and probably pretty lucrative.

Working in the reactive, trend-led and fast-moving digital landscape, PR practitioners have always had the agility to seize new opportunities, tap into innovation and be ahead of the curve as new ways of working and communicating have emerged.  I’m passionate about continuing to embrace innovation and can see the opportunity technology offers to be more informed, slicker, smarter and more effective.

In the race to consider new opportunities for the PR discipline, it’s essential to not lose sight of what makes PR a valuable and powerful channel to influence an audience.  For me, it’s about helping to broker real relationships between the brands and organisations we represent and the audiences and communities we’re trying to reach.  Whether online, face to face working with stakeholders, at grassroot community level or through global media channels, continuing to forge real relationships built on understanding, engagement and direct communication creates a valuable long term legacy for the brands and businesses we represent.

I’m concerned that some players in the industry increasingly rely on the easier pay-to-play solutions – whether its paying influencers or buying an audience to get attention.  That works to make a splash and for instant gratification, but it doesn’t create a legacy for the brand.  It feels like we’re sleepwalking into PR practitioners becoming media buyers, which prompts the question, why wouldn’t a client just go direct to a media buyer specialist in the first place?  Could we be endangering the future of PR practice by forgetting the principles of what our industry has been built on?

Building real relationships and content takes time, but long term the brand benefits from greater ROI through the legacy of content messaging and by creating brand champions that truly are ambassadors for the brand.

PR practice has changed a lot in 50 years and across my own 20 years in practice I’ve always embraced technology and moved with the times.  Over the years I’ve upgraded my cardboard contacts box to Filofax, a Roladex, a Palm device, the Blackberry and now iPhone, because for me building contacts, connections and real relationships has always been the catalyst for powerful PR practice.  Whatever the next 50 years has in store for the PR profession, continuing to connect brands and organisations to influencers who will authentically provide third party endorsement and lasting brand legacy will ensure PR stays a valuable element of the marketing and communications mix.