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Meaningful Conversations: PRWeek Editor-in-Chief unpacks an industry evolving

July 2023

Meaningful Conversations: PRWeek Editor-in-Chief unpacks an industry evolving

Is it PR? Is it Marketing? Is it Advertising? 

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.”   

PR as a Priority: Go Beyond the Creative Story 

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.”   

Navigating an Industry Evolving 

Having unique communications insight into corporations and marketers around the world, Steve says the best brands navigate the ever-changing PR industry by: 

  • Having a business view and understanding that they exist to drive business impact one way or another 
  • Reinventing what creativity means in a multi-channel world 
  • Understanding it’s still a people business and prioritizing top talent as a result 
  • Sharing and learning best practices with/from others in the industry 
  • Nailing the content game by leveraging top talent to make branded content as compelling as editorial content 
  • Being where their audiences are and paying attention to social channel cues  
  • Remaining curious and leaning in to understand how to get the best out of technologies like Meta’s new platform, Threads, and generative AI (i.e. identifying prompting as a key skill)

The Human Element 

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: 

  • Be ready. Turn up ready to go every day. Like journalists, most PR pros have that whatever-it-takes attitude. They’re used to managing issues or crises and turning things around quickly. Being nimble is as important as being smart and knowing when to be quiet. Everything does not require a comment.  
  • Love what you do. Be able to communicate and act on that passion or risk falling behind quickly in the ever-evolving world of PR. 
  • Uphold your standards. Your own and your brand’s. Never compromise on quality or integrity.  
  • Lead by example. Don’t ask people to do what you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself. 
  • Tell a great story. It’s about creative storytelling. Break out of your silos to find inspiration everywhere.