20 Years of Change and Growth in the PR Business

By Patrick Gossage

Twenty years ago I launched Media Profile in a corner of my brother’s promotion company. We were soon two or three, and twenty years later there are over 50 consultants working on a breathtaking variety of clients. This story has repeated itself all over Toronto, and Canada for that matter. The PR business is booming, almost unnoticed by the wider marketing community.

What happened?

First the business is more professional and sophisticated than it was twenty or thirty years ago when a few well established firms soaked up big corporate and government clients and served them with pretty standard media relations, speech writing and publicity services.

PR has moved with the times, and most firms can now offer media training, Media Profilecrisis management, product launch support, store and other facility openings, financial communications and IR, and what is loosely called marketing communications. We have met new and growing demand for earned media and other forms (such as sponsorship) of developing profile, and in many cases created that demand.

For many years, many of us found financial institutions our bread and butter. This business was in ferment, increasing their product offer, getting into electronic banking and fighting for share of mind. They were also being pilloried for high service charges, and closing branches, so reputation management became an important part of our services.

The expansion of media’s reporting on not just banks but all traded companies, and the more visible role of the capital markets, the brokerage houses, the pension funds — all opened new opportunities for intelligent, factual media relations with a new breed of demanding business reporters and commentators. We all remember our first AGM’s which we entirely organized from speeches to AV support.

Then the explosion of the Canadian telecom industry fed growth (think – 20 years ago there as only Bell and the provincial telecom monopolies), the fight for long distance competition, the explosion of broadband and all kinds of communications services and devices which continues unabated. PR became an important adjunct to highly competitive marketing campaigns.

Some companies exploded with activity during the dot.com boom. Everyone wanted media space for their successes and for profiles of the captains of the glamorous tech industry – and we provided it. Most of us survived the bust and now a whole new breed of specialized tech reporters in robust tech media and in mainstream TV, print, even radio want and need stories from our high tech clients big and small.

While we did not enter the pharma field, many did and expanded their businesses as each new drug needed its endorsers, launch events and ongoing stakeholder communications programs – all providing very attractive remuneration.

Lifestyle media and media features and sections specializing in new products and gimmicks – everything from cameras, to travel equipment, to toys and electronic gizmos, fashion accessories and makeup – all exploded in the last decade creating an insatiable demand for novelty, functionality and appealing design. This we fulfilled in spades. Many of us have product showcases for our clients, and the media show up in droves. This tends to be seasonal with Xmas items already put to bed in the spring.

We’ve all also noticed the new plethora of Canadian entertainment and “star” magazines and TV shows and news inserts. Again we are there to feed them the photos, interviews and DVD’s, discs and other material – and even the odd real star — they need for our clients.

And of course, when our clients get into reputation issues, whether fraud in a law firm (yes, they now use outside PR firms) an industrial accident, an environmental spill or other horror, our senior people move in, giving mature and reasonable advice and counsel. For many of us this and media training have become a large part of our business.

There are simply hundreds more interesting stories to tell, companies and individuals that want profile, and dozens more outlets of all kinds to expose them in than there were twenty years ago. It’s a great business to be in, and there are more and more companies succeeding in it.

Pat Gossage is the Chairman of Media Profile.