Evolving PR Practice: How Times Have Changed

Evolving PR Practice: How Times Have Changed

This year Leeds Beckett University celebrated its 25th year of offering a Public Relations degree course. 25 years ago, not a lot of people knew what PR was, and those who thought they did often had it wrong, much to the dismay of PR practitioners who back then probably weren’t even calling themselves PR practitioners.

Incidentally, in 1992 when Leeds Beckett launched its PR degree, the BBC also launched a TV show called ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ in which one of the main characters who owns a PR company spends her days drinking champagne from breakfast until well, breakfast, having very long lunch meetings, spending a fortune on must have fashions and doing not a lot else other than uttering the words ‘sweetie darling’ every now and then.  

This wasn’t the most helpful PR reference point for the general public, and as an industry we’ve been working hard ever since to demonstrate the true value Public Relations can bring to businesses, dispelling the myths of champagne swilling fashionistas who bring little value.  Today, this image couldn’t be further from the truth as PR, and many other disciplines have evolved and in return so have people’s perceptions.

As an alumni of Leeds Beckett who graduated 15 years ago, I thought now would be a good time to reflect on three of the biggest changes to PR practice I’ve witnessed throughout my career:

·         We worked for free! If you wanted to learn the trade, you worked for free. I spent at least six weeks every year working for free for agencies and in-house organisations to build up my portfolio. I learned some amazing things but also had to make the coffee and do all the donkey work that no one else wanted to do. Now, I’m pleased to say those days are well and truly over, interns get paid and get to learn valuable skills on the job. At Muckle we also invest in formal training and mentoring to develop the skill sets of our interns and many of them stay with us and rise through the ranks.
·         We sent out press releases in the post. Post you say, what’s that then? Well people under 25 can’t quite believe we had to do this, but it is true. To send news and images to journalists, we carefully printed out press releases (yes on real paper) and accompanying photographs (on glossy paper), with labels for captions (on label paper), that were carefully constructed in an assembly line which was often a full team effort ran with military precision. Now a simple click of a button and releases safely reach our media contacts with minimal effort, and we can tweet, IM and Skype our contacts for instant feedback.
·         Social Media wasn’t a thing: I know it’s hard to believe, but Facebook wasn’t around when I started my career, let alone anything else. We didn’t have to worry about 24 hours news feeds, the public setting the news agenda or heaven forbid exposing a client or company for a bad service or product to anyone other than a friend or two in conversation. Engaging in a virtual world was a thing of the future. Roll on a decade or so and now PR and social media are intrinsically intertwined, social is one of most effective channels for reaching and engaging audiences (which by the way we can segment by geography, sex, profession and interests!)

The above names just a few and there are lot more where that came from. What have been the biggest changes you have seen throughout your career? Comment on our Facebook page or send us a tweet. Sujarda Herring is Head of Client Service at Muckle.