Most public relations pros are well aware of their industry’s rich history which dates back to the early 1900s with Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays. Although both figures are responsible for introducing some of the more controversial elements of PR, they’re also credited for being two of the first professionals who understood the need for two-way communication in which organizations deliver their messages while listening and responding to the people who are important to them. This concept still represents the core of what public relations is today.

Although there haven’t been any massive tectonic shifts to alter the  foundation of PR, the industry has taken many evolutionary steps during the past several decades.

Here are a few of the most notable changes.

  • The New Definition of Public Relations: In 2011, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) led an international effort to modernize public relations and came up with the following definition: “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” This definition is pretty broad, but serves to describe the various roles today’s PR pro plays for his or her clients.
  • 24/7 News: We all know the Internet has long surpassed print news as the source of choice for people seeking national and international news. All major media sources now have online outlets that are constantly updated; the news literally never sleeps. What does this mean for PR pros? The job is now even more full time and those in the industry need to constantly be prepared to see how their clients may fit into the steady stream of daily news topics.
  • Social Media: Everyone knows the big hitters- Facebook and Twitter. But the list of social media outlets PR pros work with on a daily basis has expanded to include YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+ and more. Social media channels have become a great way to enhance traditional and online campaigns, save money and participate in two-way communication. Still, it’s important for PR pros to know how to use each outlet to best benefit the client.
  • The Press Release: Oh yes, this gem is still around, but even it has evolved. The Social Media Press Release (SMPR) was developed in 2006 and is much more interactive than the traditional release. Press releases are now full of links, RSS feeds, tags, videos, pictures and more. There are also new distribution channels for PR agencies to deliver messages to readers.
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO): SEO is an internet marketing strategy that involves using key words and phrases to boost your visibility on search results pages. PR pros can use SEO to craft messages that reflect key search terms about brands and companies. If you write with SEO in mind, you will likely improve your ranking on search results pages, which can lead to increased website traffic.
  • Crisis Communication: With the rise of new media outlets, companies now have multiple ways to communicate to their publics during a time of crisis. For example, Dominos’ President issued an apology via a YouTube video. Companies can reach more followers and fans by tweeting a link to a press release or issuing a statement. Since word of crises spreads quickly through online media, PR specialists must respond even faster than in the past.

As you can see, the public relations field is continuously changing, becoming more innovative and adaptable to the current economic and cultural trends. But one thing has stayed the same- the PR industry is here. In my opinion, it always will be. Still, more changes are inevitable.

  • PR will always be about fostering good relationships, and even with the rise of social media, that won’t change. Personal relationships between PR pros and journalists will still exist. In fact, as this post from Mashable points out, relationship building has become even more important as traditional journalists have been joined by bloggers and other key media influencers.
  • According to a PRSA blog on future trends in public relations, the PR industry will see more integration with similar professions. Convergence will continue as PR pros work closely with marketing and advertising departments. We are already seeing a blurred line between these similar industries, with marketing professionals writing press releases and pitching and PR pros writing vital company copy for websites and marketing material.
  • According to PRSA’s 2012 Industry Report, U.S. spending on public relations will have an annual growth rate of 14 percent for the next three years. The Council of Public Relations Firms predicts 10 percent year-over-year industry growth. These statistics prove that the PR industry is growing and that more companies are seeing the value in PR. Certainly, that’s enough to make any PR pro smile!