A plea for digital-first PR

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This is an article by Jim Hawker

If I was a graduate setting out on a career path now or indeed if I was at school looking at university PR courses then I would certainly be taking my time over the decisions I made. Considerably longer than the time I took to make my own decision anyway!

I wrote an article for ‘Behind The Spin’ in 2014 about how to survive in a digital PR world and if anything the industry has gone through more disruption than I would have imagined.

Yet many agencies and even PR courses have been very slow to respond to the changing times.

People now need to take ownership of their own careers like never before. Do not rely on careers offices or even agencies themselves to help you make the decisions. The reality is that the knowledge they have is limited at best and you need to get your head into the detail, understand what is happening and make informed choices.

If you are choosing a university then make sure they have a fantastic understanding of what is going out there in the real world. That the courses you attend ask current PR professionals to come and talk to the students and that they are covering topics that are not outdated. A textbook or module written last year about social media is already out of date. Fact.

Similarly, if you are looking at potential agencies to join then you need to get through the crap on their websites which masks a thousand truths. An agency that says that they are ‘digital’ or ‘integrated’ should not be taken at face value.

These are terms that take a moment to write but are utterly meaningless. Again, do your own homework. Look at work they are doing, check out some of the people that work there and figure out for yourself if they live up to the billing.

The recent closure of the print version of the Independent isn’t a warning shot. That was fired years ago, yet it seems to have caught a lot of people by surprise. Print circulations have been falling for years and all the research shows that you guys don’t even buy print media any more. The problem is that you are about to enter an industry whose own digital knowledge is patchy at best.

The people that will succeed in PR over the next twenty years will be those that are hungry to learn and open to new ways of working. Unfortunately there will be a big clash of ideology. Businesses, like oil tankers, are slow to respond to changes around them. It will be the smaller and more nimble companies that have the better chance of succeeding.

The big group-owned agencies want to pigeonhole PR in its traditional sense because it makes financial sense for them to do so. They have sister agencies that cover ‘digital’ and PR must remain in its media relations or reputation silo. The bad news about that is that the budgets are flat lining – at best.

You guys are meant to be the ‘digital natives’ so bring that way of thinking into the business world and help us all extend the scope of the work we are doing and embracing the digital opportunity that we have in front of us.