Charting the future of public relations
Reflections On 25 Years In Bay Area PR
Holmes Report
Holmes Report
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Reflections On 25 Years In Bay Area PR

Holmes Report

By David Landis What is it about anniversaries and milestones that encourage one to reflect on the past as well as look forward to the future? Next year our San Francisco-based communications agency, Landis Communications Inc. (LCI), celebrates a big milestone: 25 years. Looking back at photos from that earlier era made us wonder about historic hairstyle choices, but also pointed out how much we – and the world – have evolved.  Now — we — like most of our competitors — don’t just do traditional PR anymore. Over the last several years, our industry has grown to include more marketing functions, digital strategies, social media, community relations and video production — and this list seems to grow every day. Having been around for 25 years, I’ve witnessed some remarkable changes in PR agencies in the City by the Bay. Back in 1980, when I arrived in San Francisco, the biggest PR challenges were:
  1. Should I give the exclusive to the San Francisco Chronicle or the San Francisco Examiner?
  2. How do I get my client into iconic journalist Herb Caen’s column?
I’ve compiled a list of some of the major milestones that have occurred in the Bay Area PR community over the last 25 years. Some of my industry ruminations follow:
  • 1990 – There are many independent consumer PR agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area. San Francisco also is home to big, independent players like Dudell & Associates. Many top Fortune 500 companies (Chevron, Bank of America) are located right in San Francisco, fueling the need for PR. LCI— alongside firms like Singer Associates — form in the midst of a recession.
  • Mid to late 90s – Yahoo, then Google are born. San Francisco and Silicon Valley experience a huge tech boom; powerhouses like NRW, Atomic, Antenna, Spark PR emerge. Many non-tech Fortune 500 companies based in SF (the aforementioned Bank of America in 1998 and Chevron in 2001) leave the city either for the suburbs or elsewhere, which affects the need for regionally-based PR.
  • Late 90s – Startups, funded by a rampant influx of VC cash, proliferate. PR adapts to service the needs of both the tech and the startup community. WPP acquires Blanc & Otus.
  • 2000 – Many agencies — including LCI — have a banner year amid a booming economy.
  • 2001 – The SF Bay Area experiences the big “dot com” bust. Dozens of PR firms, like NRW, go out of business (luckily, LCI survived). There are fewer independent/consumer PR agencies in the Bay Area. Out of the ashes, Allison & Partners is born.
  • Mid-late 2000s – Many acquisitions dominate the PR industry, especially with big multi-nationals leveraging M&A opportunities following the down-turn; Edelman acquires A&R Partners in 2006; In 2008, Ketchum acquires Access Communications; Allison & Partners expands rapidly and in 2010, MDC takes a majority stake in Allison; Beckerman acquires Antenna PR in 2010; some new, independent players emerge, like B2B tech-focused Bateman Group in 2004.
  • 2008 – Yet another recession, but this one appears not to hit the SF Bay Area as hard as other markets.
  • 2014 – The San Francisco Bay Area economy is on fire. From our vantage, the prospect pipeline is unparalleled – and like many others — will have our best year since 2000. Now, SF/Silicon Valley has a new crop of independents, more mid-sized consumer PR agencies, lots of multi-nationals, and of course, tons of tech-focused PR, especially in Silicon Valley.
A look back at Public Relations industry milestones:
  • The nation’s first PR firm, the Publicity Bureau, is founded in Boston in 1900.
  • 1903: Ivy Lee, “The Father of Modern Public Relations,” plunges into publicity work.
  • In 1919, Edward L. Bernays and wife Doris Fleischman form “Edward L. Bernays Counsel on Public Relations,” one of the most influential PR firms of the 20th century.
  • Edward L. Bernays teaches first public relations course at New York University in 1923.
  • The Public Relations Society of America forms in 1947.
  • IBM selectric debuts (1961).
  • In 1980, Fraser Seitel publishes “The Practice of Public Relations,” still one of the best industry-wide textbooks.
  • Widespread use of the fax machine transforms the world of PR (1980’s).
  • Search Engines are launched (begun in 1990, Google launched in 1996).
  • Sarbanes Oxley law enacted  (2002) (makes PR and investor firms more accountable).
  • Major social media launches: LinkedIn (2003), Facebook (2004), Twitter (2006), Pinterest (2009).
  • Google’s algorithm change and link loading affects PR (2013).
. . .and a look to the future of PR:
  • The industry will experience further integration of digital, marketing, social media and public relations.
  • Technology will continue to play an even greater role, as will ROI.
  • While women have dominated PR in the past, the increased role of technology will bring more men into the field.
  • Because technology allows for easy geographic expansion, global PR expertise with local knowledge (like Public Relations Global Network), will be a necessity.
  • Because technology allows for greater transparency, ethics will take on renewed importance in PR.
  • As Millennials continue to come of age, corporate social responsibility will take on greater significance.
  • PR is poised to grow in the industry sectors of healthcare, environmental work and alternative energy.
  • With the decline in print journalism, the number of ex-journalists entering the PR field will increase; correspondingly, the quality of writing will continue to improve.
  • With the increase in available communications channels, media training will command more influence.
  • Even though social media and digital strategies are how people now share information, clients will continue to value the credibility of traditional media.
  • The field will continue its growth, provided visionary industry PR leaders embrace technology/innovation and introduce new products.
What do you think the top changes have been and will be in the PR industry? Featured photo: (L) Founder/CEO of LCI David Landis and CMO Sean Dowdall in San Francisco in 1989, (R) Landis in 2014.   
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