PR professionals – what can we expect in 2015?  This morning’s PRSA Capital Region event, “Communicators on Communications,” gave us some answers.

A panel of four expert public relations professionals discussed the major news stories of 2014, and what we can expect in the New Year. The speakers included:

  • Jonathan Pierce, founder and president of Pierce Communications
  • Paul Larrabee, executive VP and managing director of Corning Place Communications
  • Liz Grimes, public relations director at Overit
  • Jake Dumesnil, managing partner at Gramercy Communications

How these experts landed in the field of PR? What was their big story of 2014? What trends could be the demise of the industry. Although each speaker had a different background and area of expertise, there were some common themes they could all agree on. Find our complete recap below (with my thoughts as well).

Q: How did you enter the field of PR?

As someone who has always been interested in PR, from my internships throughout college and my career, I always love hearing how other people landed in their roles. Most PR people I speak with fell-in accidentally, and the case was no different with this panel.

  • By applying for hundreds of jobs after he completed his MBA at Ohio State, Jonathan Pierce was sending letters and resumes to any marketing jobs he could find. Among the agencies he reached out to was a PR firm. The CEO of the organization reached out to Jonathan to ask why he would apply, and after realizing it was a happy accident, invited him for an interview. Now, Jonathan is the founder of one of the well-known PR agencies in the Capital Region.
  • When he started his job at the Rensselaer County Regional Chamber of Commerce in the marketing department, Jake Dumesnil was interested in messaging, branding and marketing. However, as he was assigned more tasks, including writing press releases, Jake realized how intertwined marketing and PR actually were. He then joined the local PRSA chapter to hone his skills, and has since witnessed an ever-growing link between PR and all marketing channels.

Q: What was the big story of 2014?

As Jonathan mentioned during the panel discussion, whatever story is most relevant to your client is going to be the biggest story of the year for you. This couldn’t be truer. As agency PR professionals, we’re always taking on the messaging and branding of each client, and this can change at the drop of a hat depending on which account we’re working on. So although Hoffman’s Playland was closing here at home, Common Core was a nationwide issue, and Ebola was worldwide news in 2014, this panel was working on more niche stories pertaining to their clients.

  • With a client in the cybersecurity space, Liz Grimes’ year was laced with high-profile data breaches at companies like Target, Home Depot and eBay. By leveraging this news, she was able to connect with reporters at top-tier outlets and insert the client into those conversations. Although they couldn’t speak on the specifics of each breach, they were able to discuss what could have happened and how other organizations can protect themselves.
  • Throughout the last year, Paul Larrabee and his team worked extensively to save the City of Albany’s Ladder 1 Fire Station. The city’s mayor had proposed shutting down the fire truck in an effort to save $1.2 million, but this cut would have risked the lives of other firefighters and the safety of Albany residents. Paul’s team worked with the firefighter’s union to develop a strategic message to gain the community’s support and save the station. Ultimately, the outreach campaign was successful by offering alternate solutions to saving the city money.

Q: What PR trends will have an adverse effect on the industry?

Implementing new trends in marketing strategies are always an objective decision, but the panel this morning consistently agreed that there are some changes in the PR field that may negatively impact our roles within the marketing mix. Some include shrinking newsrooms, journalists’ use of social media and pay-for-play agencies.

  • As traditional media continues to decline, there are less reporters and more work. This leads to sacrificing the quality of stories coming from newsrooms, as pointed out by Paul. It’s difficult to chase the news of the day, while at the same time planning unique and interesting feature stories, with a smaller team of writers.
  • Jake also discussed that as the job market for journalists is changing, respected reporters are leaving their posts. This means time spent by publicists building a relationship with that person has to begin again with their replacement. Ultimately, articles begin to lack a complexity and depth because the writers don’t have the same background they would if they had remained in the same beat and outlet.
  • The expectations of reporters have also shifted in recent years, relying more heavily on social media. While this marketing strategy is a necessity for brands, Jonathan has witnessed news media making decisions on what’s a worthy story based on how many likes the post will earn on Facebook. Unfortunately, this means certain journalists are passing on excellent stories because they don’t think it will lead to enough social media attention. Liz shared an anecdote about a reporter telling her that a client was interesting and perfect for their readers, but that his editors wouldn’t approve the story because they could never see the client’s name in a headline.
  • A growing concern throughout the PR industry is pay-for-play agencies. These groups promise their clients coverage in particular outlets, and charge them based on each placement. This isn’t a method that Liz would recommend, and the panel seemed to agree. Instead, building relationships with a wide-variety of journalists will lead to higher quality stories. This takes time, however, and across the panel, the experts agreed that the fundamental strategy to PR success is relationships with press.

Throughout the hour-long discussion, common themes the PR professionals discussed were relationships and quality of stories. PR is about delivering an accurate message, and telling an interesting story. As 2015 brings fresh news items and different trends, this essential message will remain throughout.

What are some of the trends you’ve noticed – good or bad – within the PR industry?