PR Must Adapt or Die

We must evolve — or get replaced by digital specialists.

Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Instagram)

PR must adapt — or die.

The traditional public relations industry must act.

Today, we consume more social media than traditional news media. We get more news from our social media feeds than from news outlets directly.

The classic PR argument that publicity is more credible than advertising might still hold, but is the news media more engaging than peer-to-peer communication?

I doubt it.

As we choose our future as public relations professionals, we must realise that the internet and its algorithms are more powerful than a few (or many) newspapers.

And traditional print media will struggle to make a comeback:

The Electronic Age and Digital-First

Human culture is often described based on our access to production technologies (i.e. stone age, bronze age, iron age).

Still, according to Marshall McLuhan and the Toronto School of Communication Theory, a better analysis would be to view societal development based on the prominence of emerging communications technologies.

Marshall McLuhan - Cambridge University - Digital-First
Marshall McLuhan at Cambridge University, circa 1940.

Marshall McLuhan suggests dividing human civilisation into four epochs:

  • Oral tribe culture. Handwriting marks the beginning of the end of the oral tribe culture. The oral tribe culture persists but without its former prominence.
  • Manuscript culture. Printing marks the beginning of the end of the manuscript culture. The manuscript culture persists but without its former prominence.
  • Gutenberg galaxy. Electricity marks the beginning of the end of the Gutenberg galaxy. The Gutenberg galaxy persists but without its former prominence.
  • Electronic age. Today, we reside in the electronic age. Likely, we haven’t yet experienced this age’s decline yet.

The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962) is McLuhan’s mass media analysis, popularising the term global village.

As a PR professional and linguist, I subscribe to the concept of the electronic age. My line of work’s main point of analysis is that society is unlikely to revert to the Gutenberg galaxy.

The PR industry must adapt to digital-first. Why? Because the Typographic Man is not making a comeback.

Read also: Digital-First is the Way

Digital-first is no longer a matter of perspective — it’s a promise.

Many industry colleagues consider me a specialist in digital communication, but that’s not right; I’m just a public relations professional who knows as much about the internet as I do about journalism.

And we must take this new media logic to heart quickly.
All of us, not just a few specialists.

The Digital Transformation of PR

The biggest challenge in PR is ensuring that our profession keeps up with new communication technology and stays valuable and relevant as a business function.

“The authors argue that earlier paradigms are mostly inadequate in addressing the needs of a 21st Century in which communication technology is creating rapid globalization while it is dangerously exacerbating the tensions of multiculturalism. Through a critical discussion of prior assumptions and paradigms in public relations scholarship, the authors underline the need for public relations to revitalize and bring its body of knowledge into the 21st Century. The authors posit and discuss how the community-building theory originally espoused by Kruckeberg and Starck (1988) and modified in subsequent scholarship can provide a viable departure point toward developing new approaches to research about and practice of public relations that can take into account the dynamic environment wrought by changes in communication technology.”
Source: Public Relations Review

Here’s PR’s most significant challenge summarised by AI:

“The biggest challenge in modern public relations is the constantly changing media landscape. With the proliferation of social media, the rise of fake news, and the decline of traditional journalism, it can be difficult for organizations to control the spread of information and protect their reputations. Public relations professionals must now be strategic and proactive in their approach and must be able to adapt to new technologies and platforms to communicate with their publics effectively. Additionally, the abundance of online information can make it difficult for organizations to stand out and get their messages heard. As a result, public relations professionals must be creative and innovative to engage with their publics effectively.”
Source: ChatGPT

Read also: PR Must Adapt (Or Die)

Digital-first is something all public relations professionals must take into serious consideration.

If we allow the world to see us as old-school flacks, we’ll slowly fade into oblivion while digital specialists take over our work. 

Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.


    • Good point. I tried to emphasize it at first, but felt that it was difficult to do since where else would people interact with social media?

      Also, I guess that line must be increasingly difficult to draw as we become even more mobile, applications merge the digital world with the physical. I often times read my favorite blogs offline for instance.


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