How ‘Communications’ Became the New PR and Why it Matters

There’s an interesting but subtle change occurring in the way public relations speaks about itself and, therefore, thinks about what it does. Companies, like High10 Media, which once defined themselves as PR agencies now locate themselves in the field of communications. 

This shift might seem academic to most clients but the truth is that the change in nomenclature reflects currents that go deep below the surface. 

This change began to manifest around the time of the Great Recession, not coincidentally, the same time High10 was founded. It was then that we saw the convergence of two enormous forces of pressure: major budgetary constraints on the part of cash-strapped clients dealing    with the effects of the recession and, simultaneously, the emergence of incredibly powerful digital tools and practices. 

The result was, on the client side, much higher expectations as PR firms were being asked to achieve outcomes that marketing agencies (which many companies couldn’t afford to pay at the time) were once responsible for. On the other side of the client-agency equation, PR firms found that, with digital and social media coming into their own, they were able to offer a range of new services to meet and lead the increase in a new set of challenges.

What this meant is that public relations agencies which once specialized primarily (and, in many cases, solely) in speaking to the media became adept at speaking to a diverse range of audiences. We could use social media to communicate more broadly; and now empowered with digital publishing tools to delve into a client’s brand message with a level of nuance and effectiveness; communications teams could help clients publish op-eds on open platforms where they’d be fully in control of, and responsible for, their own message. The possibilities were endless.

Nearly a decade later, communications has emerged as a kind of super-set of marketing, advertising, and PR disciplines and practices. Although the field, like so many areas touched by the power of digital, has leapt forward, it’s still rooted in the same core principle that rooted its PR predecessor: finding original and effective ways to bring an authentic and compelling message to a target audience.

Far from having achieved any kind of stasis, the field is nascent and quickly evolving. The power of online tools—used to do everything from improve efficiencies to discover new audiences to engage them in fascinating ways—is staggering. And while we’ve made enormous progress, we still have yet to uncover miles of uncharted territory in this ongoing journey.