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PRCA Reggie Watts Prize Entry: Sophie McGinness, Racepoint Global

The annual Reginald Watts Prize for Insight saw PR and communications practitioners aged 25 and under enter essays of up to 1,000 words, responding to the following brief: ‘How is today the best or worst of times for public relations and communications?’ Below is one of the shortlisted essays:

Regardless of which side of the fence you sit, as an in-house, agency or freelance PR, we can all agree that times are changing for public relations. Over the course of the last decade, social media has become the place of breaking news, social media addicts have become influencers, and influencers are becoming the next generation of journalists. The media market has come to be so saturated with choice and niche perspectives that it’s harder than ever to find the representatives who can best spread our clients’ messages. Overall, however, I think today is the best time for PR.

Once upon a time, we were restricted to our personal knowledge of the world and its media. We collected business cards and make our own luck in meeting influential people at events. We could, of course, network and research to increase our reach to media and stakeholders, however, these tactics don’t compliment the time frames in which we work. News can only be news for a limited period of time, and in many PR industries, your news isn’t even all that interesting in its golden hour. The internet and globalisation have changed this and brought a new range of expertise and people to the PR industry. While nostalgia is always accompanied by an effortless charm, we cannot deny that our new tools have given a new lease of life to what PR is capable of.

One thing, which we have today, that will only improve tomorrow is: technology, particularly technology that can prove and illustrate the worth of our work. For the first time, we can not only gather data on how many people read coverage or watched a new video or shared a new blog; we can see who these people are, and even who they are sharing it with. We can look at how content is consumed. For instance, what is the optimal video length for Instagram? 4 – 8 seconds, and how did we come to know that? With data and analytics. Previously, hundreds of thousands of pounds could be wasted on photography and video campaigns that were too long (or too short) for the target audience. The power of analytics is allowing public relations to continue to grow as a consultancy industry and enable it to make recommendations to clients based not only on what has worked in the past, but also predict what will work in the future.

Digitalisation, technology and the internet have not only brought us clever reporting tools, but they have also brought us new people and talent as well. Long hailed as an industry of over privileged, white sorority girls, a perfect cocktail of connectivity and globalisation has brought new waves of talent to the industry. Millennials and Gen Zs from different backgrounds and levels of education have grown up with instant access to the brands we represent from their mobile devices. These newcomers are in some ways experts in how PR needs to evolve in order to keep up with new audiences and trends. These people know what they want to consume and most importantly, how they want to consume it.

Advertising and PR no longer dictates to consumers, PR and Advertising answer to consumers. We don’t tell people what’s best for them, or what the fastest way is, we ask them what they think and how they feel. We can use new tools to conduct accurate case studies to discover how products and services are being used, what customer think is missing, and what they would like to see more of. This aspect has added an arm of expertise to PR consultancy services, as PRs, can now advise not only how a product is promoted, but what that product or service should do. We can not only see which demographics are relevant to our clients, but we can also see what other products and services they interact with; and cross examine this information with what our client provides. We can uncover new purposes and new reasons for our clients’ products and services.  

While we can use data to analyse the clients we are representing, we can also use this data when looking at the people we want to represent them. We can discover what they like, what they don’t like, and how they want to be approached. We can personalise their relationships with our clients. Long gone are the days of standard press releases and identical emails. We can bring an experience to our pitching efforts with multimedia. We can incorporate film and photography to catch the eye of those we want to speak to. There are endless possibilities which means that PR agencies can all create an impactful stamp for their outreach style. This combined with the sheer speed of social media enables us to ensure that we don’t miss opportunities anymore. We can respond immediately through multiple channels and people. We can tweet our media and stakeholders, we can tag them on Instagram, we can send them videos of our clients’ creations in motion and we can look far and wide for the perfect contacts.

While there are more of us, and therefore more competition, this is still an exciting time for our industry. We can lay down the facts to show the value of our work. We can interact with more experts than ever before in related industries. For example, we can reach out to freelancers whom we never would have known about, specialist events production companies that wouldn’t have been in our network, and we are meeting people, that until now weren’t under the PR radar. We have a chance to make serious changes. For the first time, we have the tools to do it quickly. Communicators of today will be the superheroes of tomorrow. We will continue to raise awareness, send messages, and overcome policies that limit people. We can’t stop climate change, but we can make people stop climate change.