20 years ago

Public relations & the new millennium



Twenty years ago, a landmark study on the state of public relations in Quebec unveiled a detailed portrait of a practice that was rapidly entering the era of modernity. It was 2004, and PR was in full metamorphosis.

It wasn't yet the age of social media nor of smartphones, but new information technologies were changing how PR worked, as we moved from the 20th century to an era of ease... In fact, we had just said goodbye to fax machines and word processors still so popular in the 1990s.

A significant shift had also taken place. Formerly a male-dominated specialty, women had become the main PR representatives; with income equity finally achieved, a more assertive role and career advancement now possible.

The brand-new bachelor's degrees in PR − finally offered after many years of waiting −  have fulfilled their promise as young graduates, trained in the most innovative trends, arrive in force, confident and ambitious.

Additionally, more and more professionals are displaying their skills and values by leveraging information and communication sciences, continuous improvement and measurable processes, thereby unmasking untrained people who usurp the credibility of PR. And, most importantly, they are making a strong statement about the importance they attach to ethical issues.

A major step has also been taken: issues management, crisis communications and government relations have become professional priorities. What's more, PR is gradually establishing itself as a strategic function within organisations, marking an important shift in the recognition of the central role of communications in helping organisations communicate in the public arena.

But sustainable development and CSR are still far from their minds. And only a tiny proportion know how to identify their roles and even recognize their relevance to their communications responsibilities, underlining the major gaps they will have to fill.


Long-awaited during this turning point, the research rallied all the associations − Société québécoise des professionnels(le)s en relations publiques (SQPRP) (then known as SRQ), IABC QC, Association des communicateurs municipaux du Québec, Alliance des cabinets de relations publiques du Québec (ACRPQ), Forum des responsables de communication du gouvernement du Québec: major allies for professionals who were able to better define their priorities.

I was a member of the research team that built this first major reference on the practice of PR in Quebec, along with Danielle Maisonneuve, then founding holder of the newly created Chair in public relations (2001), and our late colleague, André A. Lafrance.

A world of information to be rediscovered. To better look ahead, firmly rooted in our foundations.

To consult its pages, just click at the end of this analysis, which revisited this key period in 2020 (in FRENCH): Les relations publiques au début du nouveau millénaire – Une pratique en route vers son avenir (page 17).

In addition, while this research focuses solely on the Quebec reality in the early 2000s, several elements of this portrait may also indicate similarities across Canada. Just as Quebec's trajectory is often associated with practices observed on a Canadian scale, highlights in English are provided here for reference: ► The State of Public Relations in Québec − Highlights.

Our thanks once again to UQAM for its support throughout this long process, and to all our colleagues over the years. Sustained links between professional and academic communities are a major strength to be nurtured. This period eloquently testifies to this. Warmest greetings to all those who contribute to this vitality.


Solange Tremblay

May 2024