How PR Has Changed in the Past 20 Years
D+P Public Relations

How PR Has Changed in the Past 20 Years

By Emma McClain

With two decades of experience in the industry, Devine + Partners has been a firsthand witness to the evolution of the PR landscape. From how professionals engage with audiences online to the rise of social media and artificial intelligence, the changes have transformed the industry since D+P opened in 2003.

As our year-long celebration of our 20th anniversary winds down, we take this opportunity to reflect on 10 ways the industry has changed over the last two decades, continually redefining the world of PR.

The shift from print to digital news subscriptions

We have witnessed the shift from print to online news readership and digital subscriptions. More and more people have swapped their newspapers for digital news apps that can update them in real-time as stories develop. Roughly 58% of Americans express a preference for digital devices for news consumption, while 27% prefer TV, 6% prefer radio and only 5% prefer print. For PR teams like D+P, this shift influences our approach to pitching, specifically who we pitch and how we pitch a client story depending on the audiences we are trying to reach.

Shrinking Newsrooms

PR professionals have also stepped in to fill the gap of shrinking newsrooms by providing journalistic-quality stories, photos and b-roll directly to newsdesks. U.S. newsroom employment has declined by 26% since 2008. It has become necessary to streamline the process for reporters in order to ensure they have the necessary resources to tell our clients’ stories, including comprehensive information, photos and supplementary materials in advance.

The Accelerated News Cycle

Speed wins when it comes to PR these days. Due to social media and digital demands, the news cycle is now 24-7. As a result, journalists and PR professionals must deal with shorter deadlines and faster turnarounds. With fewer journalist covering an increasing amount of news, it’s become imperative to secure coverage without missing the critical window of relevance. We’ve adapted by cultivating robust relationships with journalists, strategically timing their pitches, crafting easily digestible content capable of seizing the public’s attention and, in some instances, remaining on standby to promptly respond to time-sensitive developments for the benefit of clients.

The Rise of Authenticity

In today’s PR landscape, authenticity has risen to the forefront with the need to create and maintain genuine connections with a client’s audiences by ensuring that messaging consistently reflects the brand’s core values. Over time, the discerning public has grown adept at detecting insincerity. Notably, 51% of consumers believe that less than half the brands out there create genuinely authentic content. Therefore, showcasing a client’s authentic image becomes a powerful differentiator. Achieving this entails the willingness to acknowledge mistakes, take tangible actions to correct them, actively engage with the public and respond to their feedback, all while maintaining consistency in messaging.

Navigating Crisis Management

In a fast-paced, social media dominated online world, PR professionals must act faster than ever in a crisis to effectively manage negative publicity. In the post-COVID-19 landscape and amidst the ever-present risk of disinformation and misinformation, unforeseen crises can arise at any moment. Establishing comprehensive crisis communication plans is now a pivotal strategy for navigating these unexpected challenges. Skillfully managing an impromptu crisis can potentially lead to a scenario where individuals or organizations emerge from the ordeal with an improved image.

The Integration of Social Media

With a staggering 4.48 billion global social media users, a number more than double what it was in 2015, PR professionals must now navigate the intricate web of individualized feeds. It has become increasingly vital to understand how to develop social media strategies, create impactful content and craft posts that align with algorithmic preferences to attain client goals or increase virality. Social media analytics, a facet of data analytics, tracks and records user actions, clicks and responses across social platforms, enabling PR experts to gauge interest, spot emerging trends and enhance their offerings. In doing so, they not only measure campaign effectiveness but also fortify their strategies for continuous improvement.

Emergence of Influencer Relations

Social media has garnered unparalleled influence, and with it, the rise of social media influencers, who become powerful communications channels in their own right for niche audiences. This paves the way for engagement with segments that were previously beyond reach. The outcome of collaborating is often elevated brand awareness for a client and a new level of interest from their followers.

The Era of Brand Journalism

PR specialists no longer need to rely on traditional media to publish a client’s story or content. Brand journalism allows professionals to use the brand’s own media channels, or a NewsHub, to distribute informative and engaging content to their target audience. In addition to having complete control over messaging, brand journalism amplifies brand awareness, draws fresh visitors to digital platforms, promotes content sharing and bolsters brand loyalty by delivering invaluable insights to the existing customer base. Beyond this, it affords the opportunity to manifest the authenticity of brand values by sharing stories and initiatives that harmonize with its fundamental principles.

Prioritizing Video Content Creation

The ways we communicate messages have changed over the years too. More and more organizations and companies are starting to prioritize short- and long-form video to capture the attention of online users. Recent statistics indicate that 96% of consumers have increased their online video consumption and 9 out of 10 viewers want to see more videos from brands and businesses. Videos serve as a creative outlet for showcasing clients while adeptly condensing intricate and significant information and advisories into a format that’s easily digestible for the public.

Introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The emergence of artificial intelligence has been a game-changer for industries across the globe, including public relations. While AI can help stimulate creativity and enhance productivity, it has become clear that AI cannot replace the nuanced insights derived from human expertise. It requires skilled individuals to refine and elevate the basic content generated by the software. As professionals, it’s become increasingly important for us to understand how emerging AI technologies work, the risks involved in using AI and how to critically review materials generated by the software.

As we look back on the evolution of PR over the past two decades, one constant emerges—change itself. The progression from conventional media to the vast digital landscape, has opened doors to new strategies, opportunities and greater collaboration. With the now constant presence of emerging technologies, we can be certain that the future holds even more transformations. Whether you’re a seasoned PR professional or beginning your career in PR, embracing these changes will be the key to staying ahead in the realm of communication and connection.

If you’re looking for help navigating PR, social media, content creation or issues management for your organization, connect with our team of seasoned professionals at To get more insights from blogs like this, join our email list.

Devine + Partners is a public relations agency based in Philadelphia. We offer a full range of communications services – from message and content development and media relations to issues management and employee and community engagement.

Emma McClain

Emma McClain