In PR, the world’s a-changing

A personal look-back at the changes which have taken place in the public relations industry over the last 17 years

David Sawyer
May 2, 2014 · 4 min read

2014 is an interesting year to launch a PR company.

Times have changed in the world of public relations. Social media is reinventing the profession and it’s no longer enough to just offer traditional media relations and associated services.

The main driver for this change has been the Internet and the underpinning technological advancements which have led to superfast broadband speeds for all. In 2014, the average Western European spends more time on their smartphone or tablet than watching the TV.

Zude PR’s David Sawyer “almost halfway through his career”…and plenty of grey hairs to prove it.

Having worked for a global PR agency for the past 12 or so years, and with 17 years’ experience as a PR consultant, and now setting up my own business roughly halfway through my career, today seems as good a time as any to reflect on the changes that have taken place in the way we consume news since I was born. Particularly since 1997, when I began my career in public relations.

Back on Saturday 4 November 1972, print was king. Every paper had an industrial and labour correspondent, and disputes between workers and bosses dominated the news agenda. I grew up in a household with a keen interest in current affairs. Radio Four was always on (in every room) and my parents read The Guardian/Observer religiously every day. But that wasn’t all that unusual; everyone “took a paper”. I remember thinking it very odd that one of my mate’s parents only bought the Radio and TV Times.

It seems like a bygone era now. While still very important, print media circulations are plummeting. As the last UK General Election demonstrated, there’s still room for TV and radio but it is social and online media which are changing everything.

This is down mainly to consumer habits. Take me, for example. I love newspapers, love broadcast media, can’t get enough of it. I listen to Today in the morning and grab Channel Four News on +1.

I get my print news from the Metro (when I use public transport) and specialist magazines such as Management Today and Runner’s World. The news I would have in the past got from a daily paper, I get from the BBC News app on my tablet or smartphone, or keep a Google News window open in Chrome. I still take a paper but not every week, and only on a Saturday (The Guardian): more often than not it lasts me all week.

Why? Like many people with jobs and a young family, I’m busy. There literally are not enough hours in the day. I haven’t got time or the head space to read a paper from front to back or sit down at a set time every evening to watch the news. Most of it I’ve already received as a newsflash through the BBC News app on my Nexus 5, anyway.

So, if the way people receive news is changing, so must the PR profession. Traditional media is still very important, it’s still any decent PR’s ‘bread and butter’ but a PR who doesn’t know his/her way around the ever-changing new digital landscape is not going to get very far.

To finish off, here are some examples of how things have changed in the PR industry over the past 17 years:

  • When I started in PR, we used to post out press releases. When we heard some organisations were emailing press releases, we wondered whether it would ever catch on.
  • We also faxed releases to journalists, until 2004.
  • In 1997, the circulation of the Daily Record was around 700,000 (which some of us thought a ‘poor show’). It’s now 215,000.
  • Social media didn’t exist at the start of 1997. Six Degrees was launched that year, sold at the height of the dotcom boom and ceased in 2001.
  • At the end of last year, Facebook had 1.23bn users worldwide, 556m of whom accessed their Facebook every day through their smartphone or tablet. A staggering 24m Brits logged on to Facebook every day. As a PR tool for communicating your organisational messages to your key audiences, Facebook is phenomenal.
  • Twitter has 241 million monthly active users while Google+ (the one everyone thinks they don’t need to bother about) has 1bn+ users. If your business is online it has to be on Google+, if only for the SEO benefits.
  • Linkedin has 300m active users, including me.
  • Facebook, Twitter, Google+ did not exist in 1997.

So, the world’s a-changing. It’s less insular, more global, more interconnected. You don’t go to your local town to buy your computer anymore, like when I was a kid, you buy it off the Internet. And as this screenshot from my recent laptop purchase shows, it goes halfway round the world to get to you.

One final thought. While for many clients, getting their story in a key newspaper is still what they think about first when they need to get some PR’ for something, it’s important to realise that, while still very important, there are other, often ‘better’ ways now of reaching their target audiences.

And a good PR can help you with this, in these changed times.

This article appears in full at

Public Relations and Marketing

Anything and everything about Public Relations and…

Public Relations and Marketing

Anything and everything about Public Relations and Marketing

David Sawyer

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Won the first UN award for public relations. Writes at Social Media Examiner, SEMrush, MuckRack, PR Daily. Runs marathons in 2:42. Founder —

Public Relations and Marketing

Anything and everything about Public Relations and Marketing