The Independent, Monday, 1 February 2010
Senior public relations figures tell Neil Boom that their business is about so much more than briefing reporters
It’s tough for print media. Chronic declines in circulations and a loss of advertising income means titles are closing and jobs are being lost. The one thing that hasn’t dried up for print journalists is the stream of calls from public relations teams, trying to get publicity for a client’s product.
In the minds of some reporters the growth of the PR industry over the past couple of decades has been a factor in weakening the power of the press. Can under-pressure hacks, already filling in for redundant colleagues, cope with the barrage of calls and emails from ever-more PR executives flogging stories?
“To see the growth of the PR industry as a problem of ‘too many PRs chasing too few journalists’ is to see PR’s future simply in terms of traditional media relations,” says Colin Byrne, CEO of the global PR giants Weber Shandwick. “Our decision to relaunch Weber Shandwick as the ‘INLINE communications agency’ was based on several factors – the decline of traditional advertising, the growth of influence of digital and social media, and the fact that consumers and citizens are increasingly not consuming media either offline or online, but both.”
And exactly who is a journalist these days? “Who is more important – a journalist from The Sun or Radio 4, or a mum blogger?” asks Robert Phillips, the UK CEO of Edelman, the world’s largest independent PR agency. “One significant newspaper article can be supplanted by a powerful blog, which in turn can be usurped by a sudden rush of tweets. Just ask [Daily Mail columnist] Jan Moir. The PR industry itself needs to reflect not just on the changing media landscape (and the fact that social media is now mainstream media and that all media is increasingly being socialised anyway), but also on the fact that the very nature of ‘influence’ and ‘audience’ has changed fundamentally.”