This month I am marking 20 years in running my PR agency. The world has changed phenomenally over this time and my thoughts have turned to just how much the PR role has successfully evolved too.
I started out in business the same year as Google was launched in 1996 and I felt liberated working from a home office with fledgling Email and internet accounts.
Tim Berners-Lee had of course invented the World Wide Web some years earlier in 1989 but websites were still few and far between in 1996. Amazon had launched the year before and BBC Online launched in 1997 when Apple.com also went live with its first site.
Project PR, as my agency was called at the time (re-launching as Genesis PR in 2010) had its own website and this and my fax (and even a franking machine) were part of my set up in 1996. I was a regular at Ipswich Staples (to photo copy my press releases), photos were printed (with photo caption labels fixed to the back) and I spent a fortune in hard backed envelopes and on stamps. We regularly had a production line of envelope stuffing to get press releases out the door and the urgent ones went by fax.
The Telegraph had become the first UK national newspaper to have a website in 1994 but others, especially local and regional press, were much slower to adopt.
PR strategies, before the digital revolution took hold, were mainly focused on developing reputations for clients with their target audiences through media relations and by building relationships through face to face and other techniques. Reputations were made through exposure in the press and through radio and TV air-time for company spokespeople who were trained in their key message delivery.
A company’s brand reputation back then was two-dimensional. It was aligned to its visual appearance on printed stationery, marketing materials, the annual report, advertising and corporate brochure.
Today, of course, brand reputation is multi-dimensional to reflect the multi-media age and the speed of communications has revolutionised how we create and manage PR.
As websites grew in number and sophistication, and the digital and social media revolution gained pace, a whole new dimension to PR and brand reputation also evolved and PR consultants, with their expertise in communications strategy and deep understanding of the media, have kept ahead of the game.
Platforms like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram, alongside blogs, bloggers, online chats and media site posts, have made every consumer a media commentator. Old techniques of ‘controlling the message’ are history and PR agencies like Genesis have kept ahead in terms of advising clients on building awareness, influencing and engaging audiences in today’s new media world.
Strategy, plans and reputation management need to encompass the breadth and depth of media today, with content created for a myriad of platforms and messages targeted and delivered across multi-media channels in print, digital, social, video, infographics and more.
PR survives and thrives because it is best placed to advise at the highest level. We bring communications expertise of understanding business goals, audiences and messages and combine this with a deep knowledge of media techniques and how to create and deliver the right PR strategies. Measurement has evolved and is outcome based to demonstrate return on investment.
In the new PESO language (Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned) of today, we create the right ‘earned’ media (because we know what makes great news), generate the ‘owned’ content (the clients’ own platforms and newsletters), engage audiences through ‘shared’ (social and digital) and integrate ‘paid’ for where required (for example, digital or press advertising).
And our professional bodies are there to support and lead. Genesis is members of both the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (which earned Chartered Status for our profession in 2005) and the Public Relations Consultants Association, which have developed the relevant training and CPD programmes and continue to be the voice of the profession to take PR forward.
Here’s to the next 20 years, but first a few key dates to note …
1996 – Google launched.
1997 – BBC Online launches.
1994 – blogger.com one of the earliest blog publishing platforms, goes live
2001 – Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia, is launched
2003 – LinkedIn launched by Reid Hoffman as the social networking site for business professionals
2004 – Facebook launched, now with over 1.2 billion users.
2005 – YouTube launched.
2006 – Twitter launched.
2010 – Instagram launched.
2010 – The Times and Sunday Times started charging for online access.
2012 – Twitter purchased video-looping platform, Vine.
2012 – Facebook bought Instagram.
2015 – Twitter bought live streaming app Periscope.
2015 – Facebook launches Live Video.
2016 – May, Twitter notifies it’s making updates in the coming months -usernames, photos etc. will no longer be counted within the 140 characters.
2016 – March, Instagram begins rolling out longer video.
2016 – 13 June, Microsoft announces it will buy LinkedIn for $26.2bn.