The biggest changes to PR in recent years

POSTED

27th February 2024

AUTHOR

Leigh-Ann Hewer

Reading time

3 minutes

The PR and media landscape is always changing, but the past few years have truly seen change like no other. From technology to culture to politics, there are endless factors that mean that the media landscape of today is almost unrecognisable from even just four or five years ago. Often, clients (prospective and otherwise) don’t quite understand these drastic changes. Their expectations can come from an understanding of the media that might not truly reflect reality today. And so I wanted to take the time to unpack some of the biggest shifts I’ve seen in the industry in recent years.

The elephant in the room

OK, so Covid has a lot to answer for when it comes to these huge changes, of course. I don’t think there are many industries that came out of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns quite the same as they went into them. Or people for that matter.

One of the biggest changes I’ve seen in the media landscape since 2020 came as a result of the pressure of the pandemic. Or rather, perhaps was accelerated by the pandemic.

Many publications had to shut down or shrink. Publications that once had a number of staff writers, now have small teams and/or work with freelance writers. Not to mention the pressure on journalists to write ‘click-worthy’ articles, and in ample quantities, is stronger than ever before.

Increasingly publications are having to diversify their income. There are pros and cons to this, of course. For one, more and more publications are running awards and round tables and other events which can be fantastic. This however also sometimes means a heavier focus on advertorial or paying for links which has certainly meant that a shift has been needed in the PR industry.

X marks the spot

I still can’t bring myself to say X instead of Twitter. At best, I’ve resorted to X/Twitter in written format. In 2022 Elon Musk bought Twitter, as I’m sure you’re all too aware. There were swift changes from then, paywalls being a biggy. Open DMs became premium features, and the algorithm was something different entirely. As a consequence, I’ve seen a lot of journalists leave Twitter. Or, at best, use it less.

#JournoRequest is still a great thing to keep an eye on, but it’s become much harder to form relationships with journalists over Twitter since Musk’s changes have come into effect. I’ve found that LinkedIn is becoming more popular for many journalists. And don’t even get me started on the whole Threads adventure. I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, but I certainly don’t know anyone who stuck on it longer than a few months.

I feel like the devoted users of Twitter are still working to find the new right platform for them. I’m certainly still working out how best to interact with the platform moving forward. It will be interesting to see how that pans out over the next few years. I’m curious in particular to see how PRs can use other platforms like LinkedIn and Instagram to connect with journalists and deliver them the content and comments they need.

…You’re still on mute

You’d think we’d all be over that by now, but nope. I still end up speaking while muted on every Zoom/Teams meeting I join, and I’ve sort of reached a level of acceptance that it will always be the case.

Thanks to how quickly online meetings became the norm during Covid, the Zoom meeting very much seems here to stay. I’m having more meetings than ever and they’re almost always online. Online is the default now, in-person being the exception. And again, I think there are pros and cons to this.

Pros: saved travel expenses, accessibility, speed, ease.

Cons: so, so many meetings!

Believe it or not, I actually love a meeting. I like to be able to chat things through. It’s often much easier than going back and forth for hours over email. However, I do think we’re all guilty of having meetings that frankly could have just been a single email.

Not to mention, we’re not meeting up over coffee and cake anymore. And while that’s tragic because I simply love coffee and cake, it’s also meant more of a barrier when it comes to those journalist and client relationships I was talking about before.

I love hybrid working and I will defend it till the cows come home. I love that we can work from anywhere and that I’m not expected to drop everything for a whole day for the sake of an hour meeting in London anymore. But I do miss the face-to-face a bit. I miss being able to have a journalist’s (relatively) undivided attention for a little bit. (Selfish I know!) And of course, that’s not their fault. They’re under so much pressure. They often don’t have time to sit down with lots of different PRs and chat informally. And that’s a real shame, I think.

Make this go viral already

The term viral is being thrown around a lot these days, don’t you think? And as a consequence, there seems to be a bit of a misunderstanding about what viral really means and how exactly you get there. There are ample agencies out there which will tell you the ‘formula’ for going viral…and absolutely there is one. A few even. But the best content on social media (especially platforms like TikTok) absolutely cannot scream forced.

Social media content needs to feel authentic and organic. It’s clear to see that the best PR  and influencer campaigns have an air of relatability and approachability to them. The more corporate you make the content, the less likely it’s going to appeal to the people you’re trying to reach.

It’s also worth thinking about if ‘going viral’ is actually what you need. It can be fantastic and provide a real boost, yes. But does virality equal long-term business success? Absolutely not.

Representation matters

It’s been so great to see more diversity in the media. I think there’s been a real shift. And while there’s still a long way to go, I’m really pleased with the direction things are heading. More and more I’m seeing panels of diverse individuals; men and women from all sorts of backgrounds. People of various sexualities, ethnicities and gender identities. And when I don’t see that, I’m seeing those panels called out more often. I think that’s been a really positive change and I hope it continues.

Oh those headlines

It’s a personal gripe of mine that headlines are becoming more and more clickbait. But I get it. Completely! They work and in today’s world, they’re necessary for journalists to reach wider audiences and make a fair wage for their hard work.

This being said, we’re having to help clients understand that the amount of control they have over the headline is limited. They might not agree with how the headline was handled, or prefer a different choice of phrasing, but as PRs we have to explain that unless there is factually incorrect information in an article or the headline, a journalist is under no obligation to make changes that you request of them.

PR isn’t about controlling every element of the piece. If you want ultimate control, then perhaps consider advertising. When it comes to PR, you have to put a bit of trust in the process.

 

So, there you have it. Just some of the changes that I’ve seen impact the industry in the past few years in a big way. Ultimately, change is inevitable. It can be exciting, even. The key is ensuring we as PRs know how to pivot with these changes and ensuring we’re securing great coverage no matter the situation.

What changes have you seen in your industry recently? What hopes do you have for the landscape in future?