In My Opinion: David Sawyer: In PR, the world’s a-changing

JUST now is an interesting time to launch a PR company.

Times have changed in the world of public relations. Social media is reinventing the profession and it’s no longer enough to just offer traditional media relations and associated services.

The main driver for this change has been the internet and the underpinning technological advancements which have led to superfast broadband speeds for all. In 2014, the average Western European spends more time on their smartphone or tablet than watching TV.

Having worked for a global PR agency for the past 12 or so years, and with 17 years’ experience as a PR consultant, and now setting up my own business roughly halfway through my career, today seems as good a time as any to reflect on the changes that has taken place in the way we consume news since I was born. Particularly since 1997, when I began my career in public relations.

Back on Saturday November 4 1972, print was king. Every paper had an industrial and labour correspondent, and disputes between workers and bosses dominated the news agenda. I grew up in a household with a keen interest in current affairs. BBC Radio 4 was always on (in every room) and my parents read The Guardian/Observer, religiously, every day.

But that wasn’t all that unusual; everyone ‘took a paper’. I remember thinking it very odd that one of my mate’s parents only bought the Radio and TV Times.

It seems like a bygone era, now. While still very important, print media circulations are plummeting. As the last UK General Election demonstrated, there’s still room for TV and radio, but it is social and online media which are changing everything.

This is down mainly to consumer habits. Take me, for example. I love newspapers, love broadcast media, can’t get enough of it. I listen to Today in the morning and grab Channel Four News on +1.

I get my print news from the Metro (when I use public transport) and specialist magazines such as Management Today and Runner’s World. The news I would have, in the past, got from a daily paper, I now get from the BBC News app on my tablet or smartphone, or keep a Google News window open in my browser.

I still take a paper but not every week, and only on a Saturday (The Guardian): more often than not, it lasts me all week.

And, especially over the past year, Facebook has become my personalised ‘news feed’. Anything happening in the world of Liverpool Football Club, marathoning or social media changes, I see it on Facebook first before I read/hear it through traditional media.

Why? Like many people with jobs and a young family, I’m busy. There literally are not enough hours in the day. I haven’t got time or the head space to read a paper from front to back or sit down at a set time every evening to watch the news. Most of it I’ve already received as a newsflash through the BBC News app on my Google Nexus 5, anyway.

So, if the way people receive news is changing, so must the PR profession. Traditional media is still very important, it’s still any decent PR’s ‘bread and butter’, but a PR who doesn’t know his/her way around the ever-changing new digital landscape is not going to get very far.

To finish off, here are some examples of how things have changed in the PR industry over the past 17 years:

* When I started in PR, we used to post out press releases. When we heard some organisations were emailing out press releases, we wondered whether it would ever catch on.

* We also faxed out releases, until 2004.

* In 1997, the circulation of the Daily Record was around 700,000 (which some of us thought a ‘poor show’). As reported on allmediascotland, here, it’s now 215,000.

* Social media didn’t exist at the start of 1997. Six Degrees was launched that year, sold at the height of the ‘dotcom boom’ and ceased in 2001.

* At the end of last year – according to this report, here – Facebook had 1.23 billion users worldwide, 556 million of whom accessed their Facebook every day through their smartphone or tablet. A staggering 24 million Brits logged on to Facebook every day. As a PR tool for communicating your organisational messages to your key audiences, Facebook is phenomenal.

* Twitter has 241 million monthly active users, while Google+ has – according to this report on – one billion-plus users. If your business is online, it has to be on Google+, if only for the SEO benefits.

* LinkedIn has – says Mashable – 300 million active users, including me.

* Facebook, Twitter, Google+ did not exist in 1997.

So, the world’s a-changing. It’s less insular, more global, more interconnected.

One final thought: for many clients, getting their story in a key newspaper is still what they think about first when they need to ‘get some PR’ for something. But it’s important to realise that, while still very important, there are other, often ‘better’, ways now of reaching their target audiences.

A good PR can help clients do this, in these changed times.

David Sawyer is director of Zude PR, a Glasgow public relations firm. He was most recently head of the Glasgow office of Weber Shandwick.