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The Evolution of PR

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18 July 2023

The Evolution of PR

Public Relations, or PR, is a vital component of the success of any brand in 2023.

PR is a tool to convey a business’s desired message to the general public and positively influence their perception of said brand. We see this occur most frequently within celebrity culture which is currently going through a crisis as the general public becomes increasingly more aware of PR tactics such as staged paparazzi-style photoshoots, mismatched celebrity endorsement deals and even fake relationships. These once-reliable methods now appear extremely inauthentic and are therefore ineffective.

The key to utilising PR to benefit your brand is to remain true to your brand’s values, ethics and identity as well as to be transparent about PR relationships with other businesses, influencers or brands. But, PR as we know it today has majorly transformed since its initial conception at the turn of the century. Join us as we learn more about the history of PR with tips on how you can successfully implement its concepts into your marketing strategy. 

Let's have a look at the timeline...

1900s – 2010

Let’s start at the very beginning. When searching for the origin of modern PR, many historians point to American journalist Ivy Lee, a reporter for New York-based newspapers, and his friend Edward Louis Bernays who was a theorist. Lee’s PR career began in 1903 when he started working as a corporate advisor at Standard Oil. He encouraged the business owner, American industrialist John. F Rockefeller Jr, to visit the mines and interact with the workers to build  a more positive public image as a man of the people at the helm of a company that cares. This proved to be successful and in 1906, Lee moved on to create the very first press release after a major rail crash in Atlantic City. The purpose of this press release was to spin the narrative of events and salvage the Pennsylvania railway company’s reputation. Lee invited the press to view the crash site and encouraged them to ask questions about the details of the events which demonstrated that the railway company was being honest, transparent and cooperative. 

Lee’s friend, Edward Louis Bernays, had a professional background as a theatre press agent and also assisted the US government to muster public support for World War I. Bernays referred to this work as ‘psychological warfare’ and eventually concluded that the political propaganda tactics used by the government to influence public opinion could be similarly exploited for private corporations to increase public opinion and ultimately raise revenue. Utilising his editorial and historical knowledge of these techniques, Bernays refined the art of the press release and developed many early theories on public relations, eventually releasing his 1923 book Crystallizing Public Opinion which was considered groundbreaking at the time of release. This book release, as well as American companies beginning to create internal PR departments quickly spread the practice to Europe, and with the invention of television in the 1950s, influencing the general public became even easier and ushered in a new era for PR marketing. 

From the 1990s onwards, PR developed incredibly quickly alongside the rise of the internet. Brands were now able to communicate with consumers directly through digital channels and could create campaigns that were even more targeted towards specific demographics. Trade associations, PR news magazines, international PR agencies, and academic principles were quickly established and by the early 2000s, press services began to offer social media-specific services, but product placements in television shows as well as sponsored articles in newspapers or magazines remained the most effective method of raising brand awareness within PR. The advancement of technology greatly benefited the PR sector as larger numbers of demographics could be targeted with better precision. Check out our noughties timeline! 

1990s – Mobile working culture that we know today was born. Owning a mobile device became more accessible and bulky laptops hit the Social PR world. Internet Wire (now Marketwired (www.marketwired.com)) is launched as the first Internet-based press release distribution company.

1999 – Blogger.com launched and was purchased by Google in 2003.

2001 –  PR Newswire issues the first multimedia news release for Touchstone Pictures while promoting the film Pearl Harbor. PR Web offers social bookmarking. Social media links are added to press releases.

 2003 – WordPress, a free and open-source blogging platform, launches. WordPress is used by more than 27.5% of the top 10 million websites as of February 2017. It is the most popular and largest blogging system on the Web with more than 60 million users. Blogging quickly became a new method for brands to reach specific target consumers and would invite popular bloggers to branded events to promote a company to their audience.

2007 – The iPhone is released, which puts social media into the palm and opens a level of accessibility that brands could previously only dream of.[5]

2008 – PitchEngine was founded by Jason Kintzler (www.jasonkintzler.com) as an alternative to the traditional press release and push distribution process of wire services and the first PR publishing platform.

2010 – TODAY

2010 was a pivotal year for many reasons; it marked the beginning of a new decade, the British boyband One Direction was formed, and a little app known as Instagram was launched to the masses. The cultural impact of Instagram is still being observed today but we have witnessed its capabilities for much good, such as bringing awareness to global issues such as the Black Lives Matter or the #MeToo movements. But, we can also see how it has negatively impacted society too with the easy circulation of misinformation and fostering mental health issues such as body dysmorphia, especially within younger generations. With the rise of Instagram, came the Instagram influencer. 

Many influencers began as bloggers, focusing on a specific interest such as fashion, motherhood, or travel and would share their experiences, tips, tricks and most importantly, their favourite products with their followers. Companies quickly realised they could form partnerships with online influencers to market their products or services to their followers to increase brand awareness, build a positive reputation and rake in revenue. By 2010, the general public had become familiar with the usual PR tactics such as celebrity endorsements and television product placements which lacked authenticity or relatability. The original benefit of brands partnering with influencers is that most of them were normal, regular people living regular lives with a side hobby or interest that they shared for fun on social media. Therefore, any product promotions they posted on their Instagram felt more genuine and like a friend recommendation rather than an obvious advertisement. 

Influencer marketing has evolved to become the most popular form of PR for brands with an estimated value of $16.4 billion in 2022. More and more brands are prioritising influencer collaborations over other PR methods such as paid articles or events with 55% of marketers preferring Instagram influencer marketing over other campaign channels. This could be due to the high engagement rate with potential consumers of these campaigns which reached 68% utilisation in 2022. A huge benefit to online PR campaigns is that it is far easier to track engagement and success rates than other techniques. With a paid promotional article, there is no way to track how many potential consumers were influenced to purchase a product unless there is an exclusive discount code or direct link if the article is posted online but these tend to not be too accurate.  

Another reason could be due to the COVID-19 pandemic which forced an already chronically online society to spend even more time online due to lockdowns. The 2019 pandemic impacted the fashion industry greatly with many brands forced to permanently close their stores both during lockdowns when there was no footfall and post-pandemic too due to soaring rental costs. In 2023, many small businesses and fashion start-ups are choosing to focus their efforts strictly online as it is more affordable, can reach a wider audience and online campaigns have a higher acquisition rate. 

However, influencer PR relationships are now so oversaturated within the market that what originally attracted business and consumers alike, the authenticity is diminishing swiftly. The formula for PR collaborations with online influencers is now very recognizable and there have been multiple controversies with leading influencers being criticised for promoting misleading products, products that directly oppose their interests and morals or even products that are hazardous to our health.

Similarly, becoming an online influencer has become an extremely coveted occupation, with top earners receiving free products, access to exclusive services and events, plus thousands (or millions if you’re a KarJenner) of pounds for a single promotional Instagram post. Because the lure of fame and fortune is now attached to the job role, 67% of PR professionals are concerned with influencer fraud and consumers are becoming much less trusting of influencer promotions. Both groups are looking to ‘nano’-influencers (1k-10k followers), or smaller ‘micro-influencers (10k-100k followers) for collaborations and recommendations, with 37% of brands choosing to work with nano-influencers over macro or micro-influencers in 2022. Additionally, younger generations such as Z and even millennials are spending much less time on Instagram in 2023 compared to three years ago, preferring platforms such as TikTok where content feels much less curated and more ‘of the moment’ than Instagram.

THE FUTURE OF PR

In 2023 and beyond, consumers long for honesty and authenticity from brands more than anything else; we don’t want to be lied to. We’ve also wised up to classic PR tactics with entire TikTok channels dedicated to exposing PR techniques such as ‘pap walks’ where celebrities wear specific fashion brands and purposely get photographed by paparazzi to raise brand awareness. So, with seemingly no more tricks up its sleeve, how can PR develop with this cultural shift? Surprisingly, many think the answer lies within the metaverse. AI technology is infiltrating many sectors and PR is no different. 

AI can help PR professionals gain a better understanding of consumers’ wants and desires through data analysis, media monitoring and sentiment analysis. Collecting and analysing large amounts of data quickly and efficiently allows PR professionals to make better-informed decisions and develop more effective PR strategies. AI can also help PR strategists select the most effective influencers to partner by utilising AI to track consumers’ reactions and engagement. In a survey conducted in 2022, more than 60% of comms professionals said they planned on implementing AI into their acquisition strategies by 2024. Not only can AI help PR practitioners ensure they are partnering with the right influencers for their brand, it can also help match the right content with the right audience, making the consumer experience feel much more personal which in turn is more likely to result in sales. 

AI isn’t just being used for helping create more efficient PR campaigns, it is also being used to create the influencers themselves. Completely 3D-rendered virtual influencers such as Lil Miquela (@LilMiquela) have captured millions of followers through their enviable style, unique personalities and even manufactured drama with other virtual influencers with some of the biggest names in the fashion industry choosing to collaborate with AI over real-life influencers. In a time when demand for online authenticity is at an all-time high with many feeds currently oversaturated with influencers promoting products for their personal notoriety, an obviously fabricated AI influencer is not only new, fresh and exciting but also pokes fun at what the influencer industry has become. 

Brands such as Calvin Klein, Palo Rosa Beachwear and Prada have already executed successful campaigns with Lil Miquela through ‘Instagram takeovers, discussions with brands in the Metaverse, and video graphic adverts with supermodel Bella Hadid. These experimental tactics capture a wide scope of demographics with over 50% of UK audiences stating that they find these virtual characters appealing resulting in an engagement rate that is three times higher than their flesh-and-bone counterparts. The benefit of using virtual influencers for brands is that it allows for more creative control and does not require a whole team of stylists, makeup artists or production crew, with many tech forecasters predicting that once the 3D market picks up more momentum, it will be more cost-effective. Having full creative control over partnered influencers allows a brand to avoid controversies for the most part and also means that AI influencers become a trusted mouthpiece that is associated only with your brand.

The 3D industry is still taking its very first steps and we have not fully explored how this innovative technology can be exploited for PR purposes. However, early results are proving hopeful and we predict that AI’s influence is not going anywhere just yet. To learn more about 3D assets and how your brand could be using them, check out our Phygital Frontiers blog

Despite the world of 3D and AI beginning to expand into fashion PR, the majority of consumers are exposed to influencers marketing, press and events as these are far more accessible to the broader market. Therefore, both new and established brands should not dismiss the success or effectiveness of these methods just yet, but should instead focus on forming partnerships that feel true and authentic to the brand’s values and identity; achievable through expert research and market analysis. Here at HYSCULPT, we have our very own PR industry insider who can help you determine which collaborations and PR techniques would be the most beneficial for your brand as well as utilising her Rolodex of influential industry professionals to ensure your brand gets noticed by the right people. If you’re interested in how PR can advance your business, check out our full PR service offerings here

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