Why public relations has to change

Are public relations practitioners any more connected to today’s 21 year olds than the media newsrooms that, according to John Naughton’s speech at the Society of Editors conference, haven’t adapted to this new world? 

Newspaper sales prove the change in media usage – sales of The Sun (still the UK’s most widely read paper) dropped in October to 3.1m – the lowest circulation since January 1974.  Marketing tactics such as free DVDs clearly aren’t the answer.

Anyone born since 1985 (21 year olds) is a “digital native” (us oldies are mere digital immigrants).  Marc Prensky’s defined these terms in 2001 when he called on education to recognise this radical change.   He recognised that students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach, citing the fundamental “singularity” of the “arrival and rapid dissemination of digital technology.”

The good news for public relations, media and education is that this generation wants to connect with others more than ever – but they live in a different world. 

At the same time, we face a need to understand the needs of an increasing demographic of older audiences – the silver surfer or goty (getting older, thinking younger) generation will also defy traditional stereotyping.

Indeed, public relations needs to develop approaches to accommodate the complexity of modern communications – as recognised by Antony Mayfield.  PR needs to go beyond the traditional systems theory approach of Grunig and Hunt and adapt to the new world in recognising the need for the profession, and the organisations with which it works, to develop complexity strategies.

If you are reading blogs or feeds, you are already committed to change – but we cannot do this alone.  Reach out to your colleagues in PR and your employers who may be in digital denial – a term created by Forrester in 2003.  Challenge them to engage in this new world – be brave and take risks – this is pioneering work. 

Published by

Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.