Martin Waxman

What the PR Industry Can Expect in the Next 10 Years

By: Martin Waxman | October 30, 2013 | 

What the PR Industry Can Expect in the Next 10 Years

By Martin Waxman

I recently read a Forbes post by Greg Satell where he presents several trends he believes we’ll see in the next decade in marketing.

He made some great points about where we’re heading and I thought I’d add what the PR industry can expect to his insights.

‘From Messages to Experiences’

It wasn’t long ago when we were all about the key message – literally.  And while that’s an important fundamental of communications, it’s not the end-all, be-all and we used to make of it in media training.

These days, it’s more important for us to learn how to tell stories, visually, creatively, honestly, and effectively to give something of value to the communities we’re trying to reach. It’s about getting to the heart of the matter, not massaging messages via sleight of hand.

You’re here ,so you already know how much Spin Sucks!

‘From Rational Benefits to the Passionate Economy’

The PR industry has a tradition of billing by the hour for the services we provide. That’s good, but it doesn’t take into account the big ideas we create in a few minutes or the passion required to deliver out of the ballpark results.

It’s ‘time’ to move beyond tracking increments of quarter hours and start showing clients we don’t view them as numbers on a ticking meter. This means a shift in our pricing model that demonstrates we’re committed to giving clients our all and producing the breakthrough work I mentioned in point one.

‘From Strategic Planning to Adaptive Strategy’

I remember a time not too long ago when we’d get a client briefing and then prepare a full-year plan. That brief was like the bible and we wouldn’t waver from it because it was – well, the Big Plan.

Now we should take a 50,000 foot strategic look at the year ahead, but do the detailed planning every quarter and fine-tune it each month. And we should constantly listen – to our community and the world around us – and be prepared, happy, and open to shifting to a new opportunity we discover on the immediate horizon.

‘From Hunches to Simulations’

I’m still a big believer in gut reactions and left-field concepts that you just know will help achieve your goals. And I’m a big non-believer in focus groups, those artificial gatherings responsible for the maintenance of the status quo because the wrong mix of five or six people in a room focuses too closely on whether a picture should have a thumbs up or thumbs down – true story!

It’s important to test our ideas and what better way than in a real-life, real-time and just plain real simulations, actual experiments. And then when the results merit it, we should follow on point four and quickly adapt.

‘From Brands to Platforms’

I’m going to interpret this as a shift from brand-centric push communications to the helping model Jay Baer articulates in Youtility. PR can often be agoraphobic and unwilling to veer from the tried and true (as in simply posting a news release and expecting people to be excited). We need to journey outside our comfort zone and figure out a more meaningful way to connect.

How about actually starting with a conversation and abandoning the canned pitch?

The PR Industry 10 Years from Now

Do you think the next 10 years are going to bring about as much change as the past 10 did? What will the industry look like in the not too distant future? Where do you think PR is heading? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

About Martin Waxman

Martin Waxman is president of Martin Waxman Communications and conducts digital and social media training workshops. He’s a and LinkedIn Learning author, one of the hosts of the Inside PR podcast, and past-chair of PRSA Counselors Academy. Martin teaches social media at UToronto SCS and Seneca College and regularly speaks at conferences and events across North America. Find him on Twitter @martinwaxman.

  • Great post!! It’s a fantastic list that I think you can already see unfolding.
    I would submit that the demand for immediacy is only going to grow. The consumer expectation in ten years is that every brand will be listening 24/7 in real-time and will respond accordingly.

    • HeatherTweedy Thanks Heather and great point. It’s already shaping how we act in an issues/crisis situation and we’ll need to be able to respond quickly – and also manage work so we maintain some personal time.

      • martinwaxman HeatherTweedy The difference is unless it is automated it takes people. So there will be a huge disparity from expectations vs what a brand is willing to do. I did a fun exercise.
        What if every Fan and Follower of Starbucks asked for help on Social Media on the same day. How many people would be needed. I guessed 500 just one per minutes. So 60,000 workers. and imagine the day those people would have. Would be worse than a call in center I bet.

  • I think in 10 years Siri will have a software upgrade so that we can all do PR ourselves without a need for an Agency or actual Public Relations Pro helping out.
    The Ad Industry every years talks about the Agency or Advertising of the Future. And while tools and channels might change the basic nuts and bolts of both industries remain the same. The one difference is that things will be more real time.

    A great example is how many press conferences/announcements have gone away because someone tweets it instead. But replacing that is the fact so many leaks occur and people can go off message not just verbally but forever online. Like when Trump says something dumb then deletes the tweet….too late screen shots saved it. So PR Pros have to prepare clients for this.

    • Howie Goldfarb Ha! I’m sure Siri would have been great on pitch calls, too!  
      You’re right about how easy it is to blurt something that becomes an issue in real time – similar to what Heather says below. And then if (when) things go off the rail as they often do, we need to step up and take responsibility – fast.

  • I’m particularly interested in a shift in pricing models. It’s quite the balancing act to stay within budget by tracking hours and a results-oriented mindset.  Do you think a performance-based pricing model is the new reality — or is there still too much risk?

    • jasonkonopinski We use a value or results-based pricing model, so I am very interested to hear others’ take on this.  
      Oddly, I have found that employees are the worst abusers of the system.  Their desire to please can create real issues with scope creep.

      • HeatherTweedy jasonkonopinski this is very hard. While I am the ultimate ROI guy a lot of measures are subjective. And of course if you invest time you want a certain return on your end.
        The only way to do this right is to get the subjective numbers. What are various things worth to the client. A extra sale of Skittles is way different than the extra Boeing jetliner sold.

        • Howie Goldfarb HeatherTweedy jasonkonopinski This is a complex issue – and tough to change because it requires a shift in mindset. When I had my agency, we said no to billable hours because we disliked them so much and wanted to show our clients we were different. So we adopted a value-based approach that was calculated – at least in part – based on what billable hours would net as a base. And then we did the work and focused on getting amazing results. Our staff and the clients loved it. But we did get scope creep, as Heather mentions.
          It wasn’t until we were 10+ people that we started to have issues. I’m convinced we could have solved it without billable hours, but all the advice we got was to switch to that system so we could measure how productive people were so we did. Of course, no one was happy.
          That said, clients don’t think in billable hours, they think in terms of their total budget. And it seems like that’s the approach we should take – speak the same financial language as they do, so to speak. Retail doesn’t charge customers by the billable hour for its staff time. Maybe agency should look to that model and adapt…

        • martinwaxman Howie Goldfarb HeatherTweedy jasonkonopinski I’m all for the hybrid system you talk about here, Martin. Figure out how much time a project will take (of course the scope has to be very clearly defined, with contingencies spelled out), then take a look at the value delivered and assign a price takes both in account.
          Tracking hours makes you accountable and helps determine whether you’re over-servicing (or your original estimate was flawed), and value pricing ensures you’re not giving it away. It also helps ensure the client isn’t shoveling money out the door as people churn away on the account.
          My accountant charges by the hour, which makes sense. He has tons of clients, many of them requiring only a handful of hours over an entire year. But we don’t do piecework. We do valuable, long-term work.

        • RobBiesenbach Thanks Rob. The key is uncommodotized. I read a great article in the NY Times last summer on how the history of how billable hours came to be:
          At the time, it was a differentiator – you paid more to get greater value. And it still works for some professions like accounting. Hopefully, the PR/agency world can figure out something new.
           Howie Goldfarb HeatherTweedy jasonkonopinski

        • martinwaxman RobBiesenbach Howie Goldfarb HeatherTweedy jasonkonopinski A great discussion here. I think achievement-based pay is the future, especially as more people work part-time or are self-employed. The problem, of course, is that time is still the most common and simplest metric for measuring performance. (think of all the face time people give at the office) Until that changes for most professionals, we will always just be equating time with money.

        • dnovich martinwaxman RobBiesenbach Howie Goldfarb HeatherTweedy jasonkonopinski It’s going to be a tough transition, that’s for sure. My feeling is that we can start with time and then agree on a value, Performance-based incentives are good too – because, as you say, so many of us are entrepreneurs. Thanks!

  • martinwaxman Nice post, Martin! Focus groups really are a thing of the past — and I don’t even know if they were a valid thing to begin with! Truly hit and miss. But when you talk about listening to our communities… Are you emphasizing social?

    • Matt_Cerms Thanks Matt. Yes – I am emphasizing social for listening and also engaging/talking/resolving, etc.

  • susancellura

    Question – if you are starting out, isn’t it easier to go with billable hours until you can better evaluate a project value?

    • susancellura Great question. 
      When I started out in entertainment publicity – I came up with the value for a particular project (i.e. launching a new TV show or an indie film) based on how many I needed to do to make my ‘house nut’ and a salary for me. I knew there’s a finite amount of time, and I’d say to clients – this is what the fee will be. And I stuck too that knowing that sometimes it would take a bit longer, sometimes shorter, but in the end it would average out. 
      But it began with a simple business goal – what I needed to earn to cover expenses and make some money. I used a similar formula in my agency (though there were more variables because there were more people involved). 
      It’s based on estimated time, because there are only so many hours in a day and night – and I guess I priced it like a product and not a service. That’s worked for me.
      I’d be interested to hear the billable hour POV.
      PS – I still do bill some projects by the hour when the client asks for that.

      • susancellura

        martinwaxman Thank you!

  • I think social media is going to be the primary medium of PR within the next ten years. (That is, if it isn’t already.) Now that brands are focusing more on social platforms, they will eventually need to make online reputation management (ORM) a part of that process. ORM is like the new “safety net” for online PR. Eventually everything is going to come down to relevancy and what people find in the search engines. If your company isn’t listed because it isn’t considered “relevant,” it’s going to be considered a PR failure. That’s my thoughts at least.

    • JRHalloran Thanks! I couldn’t agree more. How we appear in search is very much equivalent to how we appeared in the media 10 or more years ago (or maybe less…). We need to be digital/social and mobile first. That’s going to take a bit of an adjustment for a chunk of the profession, I think.

  • Martin, you just extremely beautifully summed up what I love the most about our industry! I think the ever changing quality of it is what keeps it fun. It is keeps us on our toes, demands for us to remain fresh, relevant and be in perpetual ‘student’ mode, studying, learning, trying to figure out how to ace the next test (and yes I do realize I sound like the PR version of Anthony Robbins right now… #noshame)
    But I think a lot of what has shaped it into what it is today and what will shape it into tomorrow is the people who make it up. Our industry is lucky to be full of innovative, creative, risk takers, that have a passion for creating meaningful and results oriented change and aren’t afraid to tear down some walls to do so. That is a true gift and a rarity, not many industries can say the same. Of course we will always have the outlier posers, but they will continue to become ‘gurus’ whose fame is mostly confined to sending spammy emails on LinkedIn.
    It’s exciting to see what’s next and to do that all of us have a part in creating it!

    • LauraPetrolino Thanks Laura! You’re so right that it’s about the people and we do have a pretty great collection – and especially here on Spin Sucks…
      Add all those qualities plus creativity and hopefully, we’ll really set a tone for innovation.

  • PRhynardPIO

    I get the sense the change we’re already seeing will continue to grow exponentially. We’re merely at the genesis of understanding how to communicate and build mutually beneficial relationships with the new tools at our disposal.
    The fundamentals of meaningful PR hasn’t changed in centuries and shouldn’t change in the future but the mechanisms, strategies and tactics will continue to evolve as we all mature as digital communicators. 
    Everything you talk about is spot on and it’s all good, as well.
    Other than that, I have no opinion ;-}

    • PRhynardPIO Thanks! Great point about the fundamentals of PR – and I think we need to back to the pre-broadcast era of spammy BCC emails to look at how we build relationships and connected people.
      And for no opinion, that’s a pretty good one!

  • Great insight, Martin! I can’t believe I’m just coming across this now 🙂 I love this sentence and think it’s absolutely true: “These days, it’s more important for us to learn how to tell stories, visually, creatively, honestly, and effectively to give something of value to the communities we’re trying to reach.” 
    It segways nicely into the next point I think you’re dead-on about: “We need to journey outside our comfort zone and figure out a more meaningful way to connect. How about actually starting with a conversation and abandoning the canned pitch?”
    It’s so important for PR professionals to tell stories in all formats – releases, photos, blog posts, social – because now, more than ever, we can interact directly with our market through those channels and find out how we can continue to add value.
    Thank you for the insight and food for thought, Martin!

    • Cision NA Thanks for your kind words, Lisa! I appreciate it – and agree that we need to be multi-format communicators.
      And I appreciate your giving this post a second wind – that may become an idea for my next post.

      • martinwaxman You’re welcome, Martin! I like your idea; we often talk about repurposing content and look forward to hearing your insight if you decide to write about it!
        Have a great afternoon :)Lisa

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