SAVVY: Change or die: Public relations faces an uncertain future

March 4, 2018 @ 2:10PM

Recently I wrote about the future of advertising, followed by a piece on crisis management in the digital age. In this third instalment of what is sort of a trilogy on media-related industries disrupted by the digital revolution, I’ll touch on how public relations as a practice is evolving as consumer habits change.

This is a tough time for media-related companies. The media landscape has never been so fragmented because of the digital revolution. Whereas in the past you had only a handful of traditional media companies to deal with, now you have hundreds of bloggers and social media influencers who are in some cases as powerful as the mainstream media (or perhaps more so).

The result is that it’s now very hard to make an impact. Gone are the days when all you had to do was issue an effective press release for the mainstream media to pick up on and turn into a story. While a text-based press release may still be relevant for traditional media, it doesn’t work at all for social media. Who has ever heard of a text-based press release going viral?

The fragmentation of media due to the proliferation of online platforms means that the reputations of companies are now more vulnerable than ever before. A negative blog or social media posting can spread like wildfire as it goes viral. Companies and their PR units or appointed agencies have to be nimble and respond almost immediately.

In order to survive and thrive, PR agencies — like media companies and advertising agencies — have to evolve. The old ways don’t work anymore. So what can you do? Here are a few best practices to consider adopting.


Traditionally PR companies would monitor newspaper stories and make copies for their clients whenever there’s mention of them in the papers. That still needs to go on as long as there are still newspapers around. But it’s not enough. It’s now also necessary to do social media monitoring. This can’t possibly be done manually as is done with traditional media monitoring but rather, requires special software like Hootsuite to help you keep track of who is saying what about your company or brand.

Whether consumers are praising you or criticising you, you need to know. By the time you hear about something in traditional media, it’s too late because by then, it means it’s all over the Internet. So monitor online chatter using specialised software so that you can give a rapid-fire response to contain the fallout from negative postings before they get out of hand.


As mentioned earlier, there’s still some value in issuing press releases to traditional media. But if you want to reach the consumers directly, you need to reimagine the press release for social media.

Social media press releases are already being used by some quarters. The Canadian government, for example, has since early 2014 done away with traditional press releases and instead replaced it with social media press releases. What that means is basically press releases that are optimised for multimedia, hyperlinking and — crucially — social sharing. In other words, it’s a press release for the digital age.

Reinventing the press release could also mean ditching text and going for wholly multimedia press releases. This could be in the form of an audio or video clip. And why not? If they are well done, online media companies and netizens alike can share such clips and make them go viral.

If you want to take this even further, how about ditching the one-size-fits-all press release and instead, offer a range of customised press releases targeted at different demographics. The kind of press release that would work on an old grandfather would be very different from one aimed at millennials. The type of content, format and delivery platform would be completely different for different demographics. This is more complex and involves more work, yes, but it’s also more effective.


For the social media generation, bloggers and social media influencers are often seen as being more relevant — and even more credible — than traditional media. As such, it’s important for companies or their PR agencies to build relationships with such influencers.

Blogger outreach is something PR practitioners will have to become good at. But it’s not easy because some bloggers will not give you publicity unless you pay for it. So managing them is a little different from dealing with journalists and editors. With social influencers, it’s not so much about pitching a good story but about how to ensure your company gets its money’s worth in sponsoring postings by the influencer. It’s a very different ball game.


In order to do effective PR in the digital age, you need the right type of people to work for you. This means hiring different people with different areas of expertise. But how can you afford to hire the “best of breed” for every area you need to cover? The answer is you can’t.

It would be prohibitively expensive and in some cases the experts may not want to be tied down. Let’s say you need a good social media manager to help handle the company’s social media pages. The best ones are likely to be running their own outfits or they may be freelancers. You won’t be able to hire such people but you could engage them.

So, companies and PR agencies alike need to get away from the “hiring” mindset and accept that certain specialists are only available on a project basis. Managing different outsource parties is not the easiest thing to do. Of course it’s more complicated than supervising staff who work for you in your office. But the extra effort will be worth it because you will be able to tap on the very best talent out there.


If you want to do PR in the digital age, you have to use digital tools to help you do it well. There are some highly specialised digital tools out there specifically for PR purposes. For example, Propel is a customer relationship management application that, with the use of data, allows you to understand which pitches and campaigns are doing well. It offers transparency and accountability. TrendKite is a start-up that helps companies measure the impact of their PR campaign by providing a range of analytics. By using tools like these, PR units or agencies can get a better view of what works and what doesn’t.

The digital revolution has disrupted most industries and the PR industry is no exception. But PR companies don’t have to suffer because of it. In fact they can thrive in these turbulent times if they evolve and change with the times and embrace digital instead of resisting it.

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. reach him at

There’s still some value in issuing press releases to traditional media. But if you want to reach the consumers directly, you need to reimagine the press release for social media.