Firefly Paris recently turned 13 – and in 2013, no less! Some people may view this as doubly lucky, or perhaps doubly unlucky! The number 13 is often associated with the end of something and the beginning of something else. This is very much the case when it comes to the pace of the phenomenal and profound changes that have occurred in the French PR market in these past 13 years – from the building and bursting of the first internet bubble to today’s shift towards social media and digital PR strategies.
If we look back over this 13 year period we can see how much has changed in the French PR market:
- Economic crisis: We have witnessed many companies going into bankruptcy while, for those that have survived, communication budgets melt like ice in the sun. The media has similarly been affected, with the rise of more and more advertiser-privileged content that has left fewer editorial opportunities for smaller brands.
- Shrinking media: Consequently, we’ve seen a drastic change in the French media landscape, with numerous printed trade publications falling down, although some digital alternatives are now rising. Some landmark magazines, such as the 34-year old “Ordinateur Individuel” (personal computing) which we thought was impermeable, is slowly evaporating.
- New channels: It all started with the rise of blogs in the mid 2010s, at a time when traditional media was tumbling. And today some of these blogs have now become respected online sources, like Presse-Citron or Journal Du Geek. More recently, we saw the tremendous surge in social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and so on, which all agencies now have to include in their plans.
- New tools: Today, PRs must have an integrated ‘digital toolbox’ in their armoury; an agency will email a press release about a competition set up on Facebook, with press images hosted on Dropbox and a video on DailyMotion or YouTube, animating its community via Twitter, having its own Tumblr full of Gifs and memes… Digital is offering more choices and a faster way to communicate.
- Empowerment of the customer: We all know that the internet can provide us with tons, if not too much, information on products and services. However, more importantly, today the customer can have his voice heard publicly on social networks. The French love to protest, as seen recently by brands such as Cuisinella, La Redoute and Veet.
- Real time monitoring: There was a time when agencies would wait for newspaper clippings to come into their mailbox each morning, but the digitalisation of the channel now means that monitoring is around-the-clock. Findus has just hired an agency to “clean” the web of outrage around the horsemeat scandal, and resulting lack of trust in the brand; however that’s not to say that people aren’t still talking about them! Meanwhile Air France’s 2 man weekday digital team were caught by surprise when a crisis hit (over a weekend of course!).
- 360 PR: When Firefly Paris started, we focused on media relations for our clients. The changes above have led agencies to take a broader approach to PR by addressing all the different audiences of a company, whether in regards to its customers, investors, employees or influencers. As a symbol of this evolution, the main PR union in France recently made a small but very significant change to its name, turning “Relations Publiques” (as in “Relations IN public”) to “Relations Publics” (as in “Relations WITH the public”)
All this brings huge challenges to PR consultancies in France and only those who are able to evolve and adapt will remain. Professionally speaking, this is a very exciting time to be in the industry as you can innovate and create new ways of reaching out to audiences.
But we have to bear in mind that our raison d’être has not changed: PR is still dedicated to the reputation of an organisation or individual – it’s just the channels that are changing.