Public relations is an ever-evolving field. In the past, innovations such as radio and television revolutionized the entire industry, opening up many new communications channels through which PR professionals could reach their audiences. In more recent times, the rise of technologies including social media, content marketing and artificial intelligence produced a similarly transformative effect. Today’s PR pros have many more tools at their fingertips than their predecessors, and they can pursue more sophisticated multi-pronged strategies.
The evolution of PR has big implications for students as well. Individuals considering additional education in the field, such as earning a Master’s in Strategic Public Relations (SPR) from the George Washington University (GW), want to ensure their programs i will cover the latest practices and prepare them for short- and long-term success. What trends in particular should they look for when selecting a program? While there are many forces reshaping modern PR, here are a few that stand out:
The convergence of PR with marketing, especially content marketing
PR and marketing have traditionally been distinct fields. While marketing usually focuses on convincing target audiences to buy something, PR tactics and strategies are more oriented toward advocacy and building mutually beneficial relationships. The differences are apparent in the respective curricula of their programs, with marketing often incorporating quantitative subjects such as statistics while PR touches upon topics like forming public opinion.
However, the fields have become intertwined through their shared focus on:
- Search engine optimization of content across the web
- Social network promotion, which requires skill in both earned and paid media
- Influencer marketing, i.e., the use of high-profile individuals or public figures in what basically amounts to paid placement or advertising
- Content marketing, the comprehensive process of producing written, audio and/or video content for select audiences
The decline in organic reach on platforms like Facebook has fueled the current interest in content marketing in particular. Since PR and marketing firms need reliable alternative ways to reach audiences, many have channeled their energies into creating high-quality assets for channels they do control such as owned media, and have moved away from the old blanketed approach to producing an enormous quantity of content and sharing all of it.
If the popular PESO (paid, earned, shared, owned) model is a blueprint for how to balance the different communications channels, then content marketing is the way PR teams carry out a balanced PESO-oriented PR strategy. Through content marketing, they engage their audiences and sustain their attention with anything from a white paper or ebook to an email or social media post. The contacts established through content marketing are also useful for sales teams, indicating how it bridges the divide between PR and marketing.
Artificial intelligence and algorithms
Organic reach has suddenly dropped off for organizations advertising on Facebook because of changes in underlying algorithms, which are sets of computer code for executing predefined programs. Algorithms are useful in many domains, including PR, since they underpin everything from search engine results rankings to artificial intelligence (AI).
Eventually, PR professionals might turn to AI to assist with a variety of common activities, such as:
- Social media monitoring
- Audio and video transcription
- Meeting scheduling
- Drafting of simple press releases or stories
Replaced by Robot, a website for estimating what share of each profession could be automated, predicted 18 percent — or almost one in five — PR account executives might eventually be eliminated by AI-based programs. However, it projected only 1.5 percent of PR directors would have the same fate.
The difference in outlook between the two professions underscores the importance of cultivating a wide range of skills, including the capabilities in communications, public policy, advocacy and corporate responsibility that are integral to the SPR track at GW. Earning a Master’s in SPR is a great way to branch out beyond basic PR knowledge and ensure you can harness the power of new technologies in the field for the development of well-honed PR tactics and strategies.
Renewed focus on ethics and building trust
Ethics — concerning who to work with, what causes to support and how to represent them — has always been one of the key functions of PR, but it has taken on new urgency in recent years as the media environment has fragmented. The perceived rise of “fake news” across the internet in particular has spurred many outlets to strengthen their commitments to accuracy and quality in how they deliver information to their audiences.
The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed 59 percent of people surveyed in 28 countries were unsure about the trustworthiness of what they saw in the media, while seven in 10 were concerned about how fake news is used. Notably, half of respondents included social media platforms in their definition of “the media,” and 25 percent thought search engines qualified, too.
For PR professionals, these findings should prompt renewed attention to everyday operations, with an eye toward ethical conduct promoting honesty, fairness and independence. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) maintains a widely followed code of ethics that emphasizes such principles and many others. The PRSA also offers an ethical decision-making guide, along with a matrix of ethical dilemmas, both of which provide useful frameworks for approaching a wide variety of situations. Ethical acumen will be essential as PR firms try to connect with skeptical audiences wary of being fed misinformation.
How to keep pace with new developments in PR
As PR continues to evolve, professionals will need a reliable network and set of skills to flourish. Earning a Master’s in SPR from GW provides both, setting graduates up to compete for desirable positions and develop their careers. You can learn more about the unique opportunities at GW on the program overview page, where you can also request our free program brochure by answering a few simple questions.