News, gatherings and technology all contributed to a massive shift in Public Relations

Staff Writer

In a year where we saw the worst person in public relations operate at the highest level of government, continually watched businesses perform poorly at PR and somehow outdid a banner year for gaffs, it’s understandable to think the takeaway of this piece is “for the worse.”

That’s not necessarily true, if only because this is about change not corrosion. Public Relations isn’t dying – it’s an industry that shambles like the undead, ever-living, undying, always there. It may lose money, it may gain money, but it will never entirely fade away. P.T. Barnum’s ghost haunts us all.

However, 2017 has certainly brought in a few things that have changed our public relations industry. For better? For worse? That’s for you to decide.

The Return of the Press Conference (and 100 other Conferences)

2017 kicked off with a “why?” this year, with CES splayed across an awkward “official” date of Thursday January 5th, ending Saturday January 8th. This meant that reporters were flying in on New Years Eve for events starting as early as January 1st or 2nd – and many arriving those days to set up. This left anyone arriving for the actual show with a depleted and/or depressed audience and a show that felt emptier (and more bitter) than ever. This kicked off a year where we now see the full extend of an overbooked schedule of events – in technology alone we faced multiple ReCode conferences, TheNextWeb, TechCrunch Disrupts, Inc, Venturebeat and FastCompany events, Oculus, Facebook, Google, Apple, heck, even Domo have their own events.

This has made pitching a veritable minefield – releases became no longer a case of timing around Apple’s next phone or Dreamforce but seemingly arbitrary tech company announcements that became, somehow, the return of press conferences. The frustration of running head-first into a day when every reporter was out to meet a startup in a warehouse, or was spending 3 days at their outlet’s new conference that had just been pushed on them – well, it made pitching fun, that’s for sure. Is there a sarcasm button on Inc? I’ll ask.

The Crowdfunding Crush

After a veritable gold-rush in 2016, crowdfunding became a danger-zone for many agencies. We’d had warnings in 2015 that something was awry, only to be followed by Kickstarter themselves hiring a freelancer to discuss Zano, their greatest failure, in January 2016. The Rebus Group had raised £800,000 on Crowdcube for a claims management company that went totally bankrupt. Pebble, the smart watch that became a darling of the press, and the similarly popular Ouya games console, despite making it to the real world, both collapsed. Crowdfunding became ostensibly connected to failure, turning reporters who were once hopeful for exciting products into understandable cynics. What had become a cornerstone of our industry slowed to a crawl – due diligence both from the press and as an agency grew.

Journalism Became Even More Volatile – As Did The Pivot To Video

In good news, at the very end of 2016, journalism got a new well-funded outlet called The Outline. In worse news, large media powerhouses like VICE and TIME. VICE also became a new example of a bizarre pivot to video – the suggestion that the future of journalism is in video, not the written word, as Mic’s layoffs proved.

This has meant that the lives of reporters has become harder – they’re worked harder, they’ve less job security – and thus the work of the PR professional has to become both smarter and more empathetic. In essence, if you pitch a reporter who is doing 8 different people’s work, perhaps it’s not the best idea to pitch them totally useless garbage. On top of that, and believe me, I don’t want to write this any more than you want to read it, but don’t immediately respond with “what’s your next job?” as I’ve seen multiple PR people tweet (and had several ask reporters over text a day after they got laid off). Empathy and understanding is the new norm, unless you want to be terrible at this job.