The PR industry changes by the day, constantly evolving and embracing new disciplines. Zooming out a little from the day-to-day of the industry John Megaughin, director at Clearbox Communications, looks at how PR has changed since 2003, when he first set foot in the industry.

I suppose I’m somewhat of a dyed-in-the-wool PR person. In 2002, I went to Uni in Leeds (Met, not ‘The Uni’) to start a degree in PR. Instantly curious about the range of possibilities the industry could offer, I set about getting a work placement and soon after, joined the team at the Professional Darts Corporation as a press office assistant in 2003. Comfortably one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.

And so my PR career began.

That was 20 years ago. The industry has changed a bit since then. Here are some of the biggest differences…and some things that have never and probably will never change…

Hanging on the telephone

In 2003, press offices and PR agencies were busy, noisy places. As were newsrooms. Think trading room floor scene from The Wolf of Wall Street, minus the drugs and nudity. Chaos. Pitching stories, answering the phone to the media, yelling across the office to your mates. Today? It’s a little more…reserved. Almost everything is done by email, Slack, Chime, Teams, Zoom…but is that any better? For me, it’s not. I cherish the days of calling news desks to pitch stories, which is why we still do that here at Clearbox. I think PR is about relationships and being useful to the media. It’s harder to do that over email, don’t you think?

Strike a pose

One trend I am glad to say is dead, in this agency anyway, is getting coverage for coverage’s sake. “The CEO wants his face in the paper” used to be a good enough reason to pitch a story in some places, but not anymore. In 2003, PR was much more of a numbers game. In 2023, it’s more about purpose, reason, reaction, and impact. It’s as much about why we do campaigns as which campaigns we do. Vanity campaigns are, thankfully, on the way out now. And about time too.

We used to be social, now we’re on social

In a similar fashion to ringing journalists, we used to socialise with them too. The Noughties was a great time to be in PR from an entertaining perspective. Gig tickets, long lunches, late nights out – PR people would regularly socialise with friends in the media. Today, because of time pressures and a tendency to do things via a screen, meetups are more scarce. What was once a four-hour lunch/4 am finish in Soho with a journalist has now become liking each other’s posts on social media. Is that a good thing? You decide.

“It’s not one for the paper, but we’ll put it on the website.”

When the websites of major national papers were in their infancy, getting coverage online was a trade-off for your story not going in the paper. Back then, websites were like a series of headlines to draw you in, while also featuring a collection of stories that weren’t good enough for the print edition of whatever title you were targeting. Have those roles reversed today? Some might say so, yes.

Career opportunities…the ones that never knock

PR has been an elitist career for a long time. I think in 2023, that’s starting to change. In the last 20 years, unless you had a forward-thinking boss, your main route into the industry was via a degree in something (not necessarily PR). Thankfully, this is starting to change. 20 years ago, some of the most creative people I knew didn’t have a degree. That hasn’t changed. What has changed, however, is that in 2023, people who couldn’t or didn’t go to university can now get jobs in our industry. And the industry is better for it.

Video killed the radio star

It didn’t really. ‘Mainstream’ media was our bread and butter in 2003, and the introduction of the 24/7 news agenda, followed by social channels, means news streams are much more diluted now. A lot of people in this industry will tell you that newspapers are dead. Nobody listens to the radio anymore. TV news isn’t what it was. For me, this isn’t true. There’s plenty of research to back that up to. Let me know if you want. It’s undeniable that the reach of mainstream media has declined in the last 20 years, but I think it still carries a lot of weight when it comes to making or swaying opinions. Didn’t I read somewhere that the fastest growing account on TikTok of late is the BBC News channel? If you’re planning a campaign then ignore print, radio, and TV at your peril.

Don’t go changing

I’ve talked about some things that have changed – but what about the things that will never change about this industry? A brief list for your amusement:

Timesheets. If you like doing them, seek help.

Office music. It was terrible in 2003. It’s even worse now.

Final_v2_FINAL_FINAL2_FINALFINAL. I don’t even need to explain.

The follow-up call. Media friends, you hate getting them as much as we fear doing them.

So, there you have it. 2003 was a great year in the world of PR. It was a great year in the world. The football was good too. Arsenal was top of the league in April 2003. A year later, they won the league with the greatest style of football you’ll ever see.

Hold on a second. They’re also top of the league in April 2023 (albeit just, I wrote this article 8 points clear ago lolz)

It couldn’t happen again.

To connect with John Megaughin, click here: linkedin.com/in/johnmegaughin


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