Celebrating our 28th anniversary as an agency last week, Jackson Spalding (JS) welcomed PRWeek Editor-in-Chief Steve Barrett as the fourth esteemed guest in our Meaningful Conversations: A Series on Leadership. JS head of Public Relations, Monica Corbett, interviewed Steve on several topics, including the complete blurring of lines among PR, marketing and advertising, and how brands can navigate the evolving industry.
When asked how Steve and his editorial team determine what content is fair game for PRWeek vs. Campaign, a sister publication covering the advertising industry in Haymarket Media Group’s global portfolio of business news products across the US, UK, Middle East, and Asia, Steve asked, “Is it storytelling? The channels a brand uses to tell the story are irrelevant. It if tells a brand or business story, it’s fair game.” Steve adds that his team runs content across publications when relevant, which is often.
The 2023 Cannes Lions Awards reinforced the gray in the industry. “PR firms are dominating in non-traditional PR categories, including employee engagement, ESG and social campaigns,” Steve said. But it works both ways. “PR people have to accept that no one has a monopoly on earned media.”
Monica and Steve discussed how years ago, PR and communications teams had to work for a seat at the table. “Covid fundamentally changed that,” said Steve, pinpointing the pandemic’s immediate and permanent prioritization of PR within the C-Suite. Employee engagement went from a nice-to-have to a must-have, and no one is looking back.
Corporations continue to elevate the role of communications and prioritize PR among top strategies within their marketing mix. But driving stronger business results – pushing beyond core capabilities as communicators – is critical.
In a recent article, Steve wrote about how communicators are responsible for more areas of the business — from sustainability and public affairs to business transformation and philanthropy. “[Brands] have begun to restructure their businesses [with PR experts at the top], which is a positive for PR and communications people. However, we must remember that brings greater responsibility, and with that, greater accountability. So, you must deliver more [than the story]. You’ve got to produce results every day to help transform the company’s overall business and brands.”
Having unique communications insight into corporations and marketers around the world, Steve says the best brands navigate the ever-changing PR industry by:
It’s a juggle: businesses demand data, results and content performance. Yet intuitively we know the human element is essential in a story or experience. “We’ve got AI coming in like a big beast. It’s been around for a long time but is going to change things considerably in the years ahead,” said Steve.
He predicts that AI will have a greater impact on advertising than PR because the human element and judgement is so vital in communications. While certain types of work can be done by AI, he doesn’t think robots can do it all. “Humans are necessary for the higher-end, high value work.”
In terms of the human element, as a leader, Steve loves developing journalists. He shares some practical advice for those looking to grow their careers: