I get asked to contribute to a fair few pieces of academic research around public relations and communications. I’m always happy to help as it’s usually interesting engaging with students researching this area and I want to help others as others helped me when I was studying public relations.
One of the most interesting pieces of work I helped with recently was Sarah Hazen’s research into how strategic communication has changed in the new media landscape in which we operate. I’ve been meaning to publish this for ages, so apologies to Sarah for the delay in getting this live.
To quote from Sarah’s introduction, this is the background to the research:
In the space of a little over 50 years, the world has witnessed an evolution of communication as well as a phenomenon of social media. From an era dominated by newspapers and radio broadcasts, the media environment has crescendoed via the creation of the World Wide Web into a fast paced, highly vivid, instant and interactive landscape. While the population going into retirement can remember a time when media was constrained to magazines, newspapers and possibly two or three basic black and white channels, a little over half a century later, Generation Z’s ‘digital natives’ are traveling with the internet in their pockets. The technological advances of the 21st century have changed the way the world connects, consumes, digests and re-narrates information.
Social media lies at the heart of the new media environment, reinvented into a number of forms including text, audio, visual and video and syndicated through different forums including web blogs, Wikis, social networks, video sharing, message boards, podcasts and RSS feeds. These social tools have become a part of everyday life in the developed world, and in the developing world to a lesser degree, and are affecting the way in which people interact with one another, with a community, with a business and even with a government.
The changing media landscape has been a discussion popular in public relations literature and practice for over a decade. As the landscape evolves, strategic communication is experiencing a rapid and significant transformation which has been argued to be both adopted, but also neglected and ignored by active public relations practitioners. The advances of technology have been reasoned by those in the industry to have strengthened the core roles and functions of public relations practice as a communicator, but as the paradigm shift in online communication changes from a traditional model of an authoritative, top-down, centralized, one-way communication to an interconnected, democratized, twoway symmetric discussion, some evidence suggests that practitioners are reluctant or slow to adapt their traditional methods to digital strategies.
The decline of a communications hierarchy has lead to the decline of the clear, delineated roles of producers and consumers, the media and its audience – each a crucial element in the practice of media relations. Surrounding literature shows a lack of consistency in defining media, its power and its role in a developing communications ecosystem, indicating a significant need for analysis that focuses on the changing roles played out in this evolving media landscape.
The above description paints a picture of weakness and strength, challenge and opportunity for the PR industry, and the definite need for further exploration into the changing media ecosystem than has already been researched and discussed. With a goal to add greater and improved understanding to the wider investigation and the PR body of knowledge, this study aims to explore the changing media landscape, its effects on press, journalism and the news agenda, and subsequently, how those effects are changing the practice of media relations and the role of public relations within it.
If you’re interested in the theory behind strategic communication and how it’s changing, Sarah’s research is well worth a read. There’s some great evidence in there giving a range of practitioner perspectives, plus some very insightful analysis: