The Theory of PR Evolution

Elle Williams | May 13th 2016

For those who can’t quite remember, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution (or Darwinism) states that all species of organisms evolve through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that eventually enhance the individual’s overall ability to survive, reproduce and compete. As technology has evolved over the decades, so have we. Here’s another interesting fact: Charles Darwin is in fact from my home town of Shrewsbury and we have even dedicated our shopping centre to him!

With the Theory of Evolution in mind, imagine if we lived in a world where there wasn’t a sniff of technology around. How do you think you would have coped thousands of years ago without technology? Do you think you could survive? If so, for how long? You only have recapture those Tom Hanks moments in Cast Away where he was stranded on a desert island and drove himself to the point of self-destruction with no means of communicating with people, hunting for whatever he could find to eat and then devise a way to cook the food. I often ask myself whether I could do it, and for a 2–3 days I probably could, but putting aside any mental and physical feelings, I would miss the online world too much (oh, and my friends and family).

Now that I’ve got you thinking about survival, there is a valid reason behind this topic and it involves how PR has evolved and changed over the last decade or so into one of the most crucial aspects of any marketing campaign: creating a strong presence for all things digital and communication-based.

Go back to when you were a kid and recall what life was like without the internet and mobile phones. The only way to communicate with someone was to either use the house phone or to physically walk to knock on someone’s door. So how did PR agencies survive without emails, the internet or advanced technology? With pen and paper, and the postman. But if we look at the last 10 years or so when technology was noticeably changing, there was a breakthrough in transition between offline, traditional PR and digital PR. Sadly, not everyone was quick enough to adapt and were left stranded island with Wilson from Cast Away. So what was PR like before the digital phenomena?

PRevo_PostmanPatFor a start, press releases were either handwritten or printed out and sent via postal mail – yes, in an envelope with a stamp, ready for Postman Pat to stop by at 5 p.m. to collect it. When press releases were sent via post, there was a fine art to folding the document to ensure that there were no creases in the content. There was even a point where photographs were sent out to journalists and a press story had to be created based around them. And remember, photographs were printed by machines too, so it became a costly and long-winded process. All press releases would have been followed by a telephone call to the editor, or followed up via a fax machine.

Sadly, traditional PR methods became static, uninteresting and irritating. The message wasn’t being sent out to the audience, it was unmeasurable and PR professionals had to coordinate with the editor’s media calendar, so it was always hit and miss if you would get any coverage or not. So you can imagine how daunting it once was to ring hundreds of editors for an article placement, and whether you caught them on a good day or not, which is something I learned. To make things more interesting, PR professionals had to send out floppy disks in media packs and if you did this, you were up there with the best of the best. We’re looking back 20 years ago here, I would have been 7 years old playing Outrun on my Sega Saturn! PRevo_floppy_disks

How did it all eventually evolve?

The online world took over in terms of online searching and sending out emails. Facebook came into our lives, Google reached new heights and enabled us to search for anything, people began writing blog posts, chatting on forums and websites became the most important part for any business.

Blog articles branched out from PR and became the new way to communicate with the targeted audience without being overly salesy, and they gave a story that consumers wanted to read and were able to relate to. It’s shareable content and spreads brand awareness and specific coverage whilst encouraging people to visit the website … and it gets us talking.

Social media has become such a huge part of our lives that if it were taken away, we’d all again feel like Tom Hanks on his island. With how the various social networks have developed, it is now playing a huge part in online content sharing and has inherited a role within digital PR.

We all know that Google loves high quality content. Online content reaches the targeted audience at the click of a button. It sends out engaging and interactive messages, attracts media attention, is shareable, can direct visitors to your website and convert them, can increase your ROI, and ticks all the SEO boxes. PR professionals and SEO specialists are uniting to ensure that all forms of digital communications are sent out, sharing the ultimate goal of attracting visitors to your website and converting them into life-long customers.

Digital PR is more varied and flexible, which means online content can be more creative. It doesn’t have to revolve around written pieces; it can include photographs, infographics, videos, webinars, interviews, online competitions, social media campaigns or any form of communication that gets the message across. Remember, we’re living in a world where we search for news on our smart phones rather than reading a newspaper.

PR is no longer a one-way communication relying heavily on just one platform, the traditional, offline press releases. It is has evolved into one of the most exciting, creative and measurable forms of digital communications in the world today, and I have no doubt that in 10 years’ time, maybe even sooner, we will be looking back at Digital PR as it is today wondering how we ever survived. And people will be asking what Cast Away is.