PR Must Adapt or Die

We must evolve — or get replaced by digital specialists.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

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.”
— Valentini, C., Kruckeberg, D., & Starck, K.1Valentini, C., Kruckeberg, D., & Starck, K. (2012). Public rela­tions and com­munity: A per­sist­ent cov­en­ant. Public Relations Review, 38, 873 – 879.

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 organ­isa­tions 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. 

Learn more: 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. 

1 Valentini, C., Kruckeberg, D., & Starck, K. (2012). Public rela­tions and com­munity: A per­sist­ent cov­en­ant. Public Relations Review, 38, 873 – 879.
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.

The Cover Photo


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