Imagine attempting to explain SEO, pay-per-click advertising and social media to the grisly hack of Fleet Street’s heyday.Their eyes would have glazed over.

To be fair, you could say the same to many newspaper journalists today and probably get the same reaction.

While not everything is moving with the times and print struggles with an increasingly unavoidable fate, the business of news is adapting to avoid the severe consequences of standing still.

Technology is now the catalyst for sparking interaction between clients and companies, and the weapons of choice on the PR battleground are smartphones, tablets and laptops.

While the likes of BuzzFeed and LADbible, which made their names on social media, try to push away from clickbait, traditional news media is still accused of attempting to replicate the tired methods that made the new kids on the block so popular.

“When I talk about media, clearly the landscape of the last 15 years has totally changed,” said Katy Broomhead, senior PR manager at KPMG, which hosted the event in its Manchester office.

“A big portion is [still] tracking the news agenda and being alive to the issues that affect us as a firm or our clients.

“My role is to forge relationships with the media and basically tell the KPMG story via the press. Ultimately what I do is still the same: forging relationships and telling stories.

“Fifteen years ago, the Holy Grail was that pink piece of print coverage in the FT. These days we’re just as likely to celebrate coverage in Politico or BuzzFeed.”

The concept of social media – and a platform like BuzzFeed – would have been as alien to a PR of the Nineties as it would have been to Joseph Pulitzer.

As with newspaper companies, PRs must now find new ways of communicating with their target audience.

Claire Tennant is managing director of agency MC2, which employs 48 people in Manchester.

Claire Tennant

During 15 years in the business, she has seen a wholesale change in approach.

“When I first started my clients were in the professional services sector and it was all about their messaging,” she said. “They were purely on transmit, so there were a lot more in-depth regional features for the legal sector.

“[Our clients] were obsessed by legal trade press: that was their world. Then obviously the nationals on the bigger cases, but that was as far as it extended.

“Nowadays, if you fast forward, there’s a lot more opportunity and the way they tell their story has changed. There’s a lot more they can react to, piggyback on, so they get much more back from their audiences who they can then engage with as opposed to continuously transmitting.”

Lisa Morton left university in 1989 and arrived in PR at a time when the internet as we know it today didn’t exist. In 1996 she set up the Manchester-based agency Roland Dransfield, which now employs 13 people.

Lisa Morton

Over more than 20 years, she has not been shy about changing with the times: “Once a friend told me they’d heard someone say ‘Roland Dransfield knows nothing about digital’, so I thought, ‘we’re a PR company, do we have to?’

“We absolutely did have to, so I got on a plane.”

That plane landed in Boston, Massachusetts, where Morton embarked on a fact-finding mission, learning about the importance of inbound marketing and online content.

“We adopted HubSpot as an inbound marketing platform for ourselves and there were very few agencies doing similar,” she said. “I don’t think anyone else in the North West had that platform.

“It’s about attracting an audience, getting them to come to you by virtue of the fact you are publishing content that they’re genuinely interested in. When I started out in PR, it was all outbound.

“You were pushing stuff out to people when you weren’t really sure if they were interested.”

As traditional media, like print, becomes less powerful and is replaced by technology, the way the public consumes information changes.

In the same manner that TV news began the decline of print years ago, the internet and social media is exacerbating the problem.

Ben Martin, creative director of Peppermint Soda, has 19 years’ experience in the industry – and believes it is taking the job out of the hands of professionals, and putting it into the hands of ‘normal’ people.

Ben Martin

“I think the real importance in the way social media and technology has changed the industry is that it’s no longer media outlets and marketing agencies that are doing the sole communication,” he said.

“There’s no drop-off anymore. There are now regular people, consumers, that are creating their own streams that have got more followers than some of the professional media outlets.

“We’re seeing the rise of the vlogger and the blogger. We’re seeing the rise of new channels like LADbible, On the Tools and Joe. There are lots of new media coming through.

“But more importantly people have got a voice, they’ve got a following and they’ve got a lot of influence whereas the influence used to come from mainstream media. That’s completely changed.”

Anna Heyes, managing director of Active Profile, agrees – and believes ignoring social media is ‘no longer an option’.

Anna Heyes

She added: “I think the nature of social media has changed - the reactive side definitely has. It’s given us multiple new channels which means multiple skills are needed. It’s a crucial element now, rather than an option.

“That’s certainly something that’s changed over the years to become a crucial element to campaigns. We can’t forget that instant connection with customers: everybody wants to understand a purpose and have that connection – that’s social media, really.”

Whether they like it or not, businesses who have a social presence have been forced into a different kind of relationship with their customer. Increasingly, immediate communication is becoming a necessity, rather than a quirk or a gimmick.

Mary Harding, consumer MD of Tangerine, said: “There is a real high level of expectation from a customer for a brand to engage with them directly.

Mary Harding

“If you look at John Lewis, they have got it nailed in terms of any complaint - they respond within 15 minutes. That’s pretty good. And I think customers want to be heard constantly.

“Gone are the days of AVE [Advertising Value Equivalency] and ROI. I think that’s becoming less and less meaningful and impactful for clients, which might be a bit of a controversial thing to say, but I truly believe that.

“What we do now have is lots of measuring tools, like Sprout, which allow us to measure engagement, sales and footfall. All of which is much more meaningful and impactful to our clients.

“That’s where technology has really, really raised the bar – how we behave and the responses between customers and brands.”

But blindly following the crowd to Twitter and Facebook comes with a warning from Paul Newman, director of communications for the Peel Group.

Paul Newman

He cut his teeth on the Knutsford Guardian before spending 18 years on TV, most notably as a sports correspondent for BBC News and a foreign correspondent for TVAM, where he covered the first Gulf War.

Newman was also director of communications at the FA between 2000-03, a tenure that included the redevelopment of Wembley stadium and Sven-Goran Eriksson’s high-profile relationship with Ulrika Jonsson .

“People are entitled to their opinions,” he said. “I think the issue that’s out there for everybody to consider is the integrity and veracity of material that’s published.

“Just because it’s on Twitter, Instagram or an online blog doesn’t mean it’s true. And I think for news organisations this is where the challenges lie.

“The job of the journalist and the editorial staff is to respond and to utilise that material in an appropriate way, using their instincts and judgment.

“Now the reverse applies for PR people. We’ve all had experience of a demand for something instantaneously, and the reality is sometimes you need to pause for the sake of your client or your organisation.

“Just because instant responses are available, it doesn’t mean they have to be utilised all the time.”

As with newspapers, PR firms need to be aware of the pitfalls of social media.

Jamie Watson, managing partner at Pixel8, warns that immediacy can be as much of a hindrance as an asset.

Jamie Watson

“It can be instantaneous now. The old model of bringing something in and making lots of changes is changing very rapidly for us,” he added.

“The mistake we probably made is thinking that the technology is the answer, when technology is the enabler.”

BELOW: Flick through the Q2 2017 edition of BusinessCloud's interactive digital magazine

E-edition cover