A couple of days ago, I was chatting with a very senior photojournalist from one of the wires and we got talking about how the Internet has changed journalism. He had fantastic war stories of a time where he was transmitting photographs from remote places to the central office, before it could be disseminated to publications across the world.
Hassles of failure in establishing a satellite connection, spotty telephone connections to dictate the story and more were pretty common! Today, despite the annoying tendency of Internet cuts here and there, our lives are much simpler.
This got me thinking about the changes in the PR industry. To be honest, when people were running around with hard copies of press releases, and using only landlines and fax machines, I was not in PR.
At that time, I was a rookie reporter, who barely dealt with PR professionals. In-fact, PR was something that was extremely hidden or obscure those days. Despite always having been around in the media world, I barely knew who the people on the other side of the coin were.
My first encounter with a PR person was at an event I was covering as an intern for The Asian Age. I had been freelancing for a while, and this was my first formal gig as an intern. It was a talk on Parkinson’s Disease, and there was a person who handed me a press release, got me a glass of juice and a comfortable chair the moment I walked in. I did not know that this person was a PR Rep. I studied journalism and there was barely a mention of the practice of Public Relations in my subjects. I was just a little embarrassed with all the attention.
Over the years, as a reporter, I met PR personnel at different levels and experience sets. I was probably the most comfortable dealing with them as an equities reporter for Reuters. There was a sense of professionalism, where I got the information I needed in a quick, cohesive manner. For most part at least. As in any people industry, there are always good and bad professionals.
In India, the PR situation was pretty different. We combined a mix of old-school and new age technologies for effective communications. Press Releases were commonly sent by mass email, and newswire disseminations.
Technology was perhaps a little slow to catch up. I remember emails with 5 MB attachments bouncing back because the journalist’s mailbox wouldn’t accept it. Their inbox limit was barely 5 MB.
We’ve come a long way from there, adopting various tools and techniques. As technology evolved, more brands have also begun to realise the importance of PR, which translated to a crowded market. The space in newspapers reduced, or just was not enough to fit in the news of all the brands.
So the days of mass press releases and pitches were slowly fading. Your story had to be strong, and relevant, making the expertise of PR Agencies more relevant.
Online media has changed the face of PR again, as has social media. We are evolving at the fastest pace in the last couple of decades. News is shaped by many factors, and PR professionals have to be on their toes all the time.
We now use tools like Mailchimp to send mails. We’ve new tools like Skribe – which addresses an essential need in the industry. Which makes me wonder there aren’t more tools shaped for the industry, perhaps it is so as it is among the most under-financed industry right now in India.
Yet, unlike its â€‹boisterous sibling – Advertising, the PR industry did not ever put down guidelines for the industry. We have no governing body like advertising does. At least, not one who can pull up offenders and take action.
PR Industry was also highly secretive. We guarded our media contacts with a fierce determination. We guarded our talent pool with a fiercer attitude. Though we were communication professionals, we rarely communicated with each other within our industry.
With the advent of various technology tools, and WhatsApp Groups like One Source and IPRF, this too has changed. One can hope that soon we will have formal bodies, or the PRCI will have more authority to address issues in the industry.
More communication has helped us pool resources and address some issues faced by the industry.
The future of PR depends much on the way media will grow and police itself. Initiating a story will take more than “I have a company who wants to talk.”
Content marketing will play a stronger role, as editorial space becomes more premium. This is a scenario we are seeing in other markets. Influencers are also gaining prominence, since PR’s definition is about brand building and establishment.
The key change, we believe, would be in the way PR professionals interact with the media. Relationships, which have been the base of the industry, will become key to quality stories. And quality stories will be driven by innovation, and the others will be shuffled into the paid space.
In conclusion, this has probably been the most exciting time to be in the PR industry, and the next few years are definitely going to be worth watching for.
About The Author:
Ms. Amulya Nagaraj is the Associate Director at Pepper. She has over a decade’s experience as a journalist, photographer and branding specialist.