What Wikipedia Can’t Tell You About Old-School Public Relations — Part Three


We recently sat down with The Agency’s own Arleigh Vasconcellos and her journalist friend Shelley Arnusch, writer and associate editor at Avenue Magazine, for a chat about how public relations and journalism have evolved over the course of their careers. In our final installment of the interview, Arleigh and Shelley discuss the future of the communications industry.

Read part one of the interview and part two.

How would you define “traditional” vs “modern” PR? How can current pros keep up?

A: Traditional PR was research-based and slower-paced. It wasn’t that you weren’t busy, you just had more time. You could email a journalist two weeks out with an embargoed pitch, giving both of you the time to really craft and hone the story. You had more time to ensure that key contacts were getting what they needed, and you had the opportunity to sit down with the CEO to go over the details and key points. Not that this was creating spin or anything, it just allowed more time for careful consideration. Today when we see opportunities arise in a clients’ wheelhouse, we generally need a very fast turnaround from them if we want to comment or be included. It’s a lot more immediate. One of the challenges with that is that clients are busy, so they either want you to handle it, or they push it down their list of priorities.

The perception of PR is also changing. PRs used to be behind the scenes — they were never on camera or quoted in the newspaper, there was always a spokesperson doing it. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of credibility associated with PRs because people didn’t understand what we did. While many people still don’t understand PR, I think that’s definitely changing. The role of public relations and communications within a company is really starting to move to the forefront.

Arleigh, what do you see as the future of PR?

A: Fundamentally the job and its description is the same, but the role is evolving. Today’s PRs need to be creative and big picture thinkers, but also detail-oriented and meticulous — a split personality. I also say that it is the mediums and technology that is going to continue to evolve and change. Where PRs are going to progress is in how well they can adapt to that shift. Measurement is another big one, especially now with social media. You have clicks and reach, but ultimately when I’m working with executives all they care about is how much did it cost, and what is the return? It’s become a balance to measure the engagement with the dollars invested vs. return.

Shelley, what do you see as the future of journalism?

S: If I could answer this question, I would have a lucrative speaking gig on the go. But really, I don’t think anyone knows right now. Things are conglomerating and going increasingly digital. I think that there’s always going to be a space for niche, local publications, but larger publications are now able to be hyper-local thanks to the web. Even if they’re based somewhere like the UK, they can still include stories out of Canada. On the flip side, a publication that is truly hyperlocal, like Avenue, will continue to be popular because people want to read something that resonates with them — things they can buy, see, and do in their city. The more local and relevant you can be, helps.

Do you have any insights on how the PR and journalism industries have changed? Let us know in the comments below or on twitter at @PRTheAgency!