The Future of PR: It's Our Time to LeadAt the Ragan Corporate Communicators Conference, I kicked off the day yesterday with a keynote on the future of PR.

I pulled out my magic 8 ball and we peered into it to figure out what the industry is going to look like five years from now.

It turns out, while the magic 8 ball isn’t so good for open-ended questions, when I asked it if it could help us figure out the future, it said yes.

The future is now. It’s not five years from now. It’s not three years from now. It’s happening right now and if you don’t learn the new skills needed to keep up, you’ll eventually be left behind.

If you read this blog a lot, you know I’m a big fan of continuing education, expanding our skills, and working with other disciplines to learn about the things we don’t already know.

Quick Note on Metrics

What I discovered yesterday, though, is the majority of bosses and clients still want us (the royal us) to report media impressions and advertising equivalencies as results. This makes me sad because those things really mean nothing, but I understand it’s our fault. We were working so hard to find a way to demonstrate our effectiveness, we came up with something that – at the time – was revolutionary.

It no longer works.

Yes, if your boss or client wants you to report your efforts that way, do it. But also begin to educate them on how to measure your program’s effectiveness through things the really matter: Increased leads, increased sales, increased grant money, or even increased traffic if you’re paying attention to who the new visitors are and they mean something to your organization.

What is PR?

But, before we talked about the future of PR and the metrics that really matter, I asked the audience to describe to me what they do for a living.

I got everything from travel and getting people in the newspaper to reputation management and Olivia Pope from Scandal (and then we talked about how great her clothes are, but that’s another topic for another day).

The point being, of course, it’s impossible to clearly define what we do and, depending on our role inside an organization or with an agency, it could change every day.

BUT (big but here) it’s important to note there is one overriding theme: It’s our time to lead.

The Future of PR

For most of my career, I’ve listened to the higher-ups complain that we don’t have a seat at the table.

In this new world in which we live – where data and metrics allow us to prove our worth in language that makes sense to the executives – we can have that seat at the table.

It’s our time to lead.

  • It’s time to provide our clients or bosses with advice on how to communicate in the new landscape. This is up to us. They read the paper, they watch television, they hear their colleagues talking about it. It’s up to use to educate them on what the new landscape means to the organizations they are running.
  • Know how to use all of the media types: Paid, shared, owned, and earned. The big shift with the large agencies is to bring all of the media types under one roof. FleishmanHillard is the latest to do this so you’ll soon see a hybrid professional who knows how to do all four. We’ve been doing this for three years. If you join our team, you already have to be a hybrid communicator.
  • Stop thinking about ourselves as non-creative types. We talk a lot about this here so I won’t belabor the point. But, we tend to think of our partner ad agencies as the creative ones because they make the pretty pictures and have the snappy taglines. But we think on our feet constantly and we are always finding solutions to challenges that never before existed. We are creative.
  • Understand data and use it to drive our decisions. There are places you can learn online – for free – about data if you don’t understand it. My favorite is Coursera, but Mitch Joel occasionally writes about it so be sure you’re subscribed to his blog.
  • Be willing to experiment and take risk. This is a really big one. You may not work in (or with) an organization that is willing to let you take risk. If that’s the case, find a new job. With today’s technology changing as quickly as it does and, because it’s our job to test all the latest and greatest tools, if your bosses or clients won’t let you do that, you are going to find yourself pigeon-holed in a career you can’t grow. I’m a big fan of asking for forgiveness.
  • And, for heaven’s sakes, measure our efforts to real business goals. Yes, I know there are some soft metrics, such as brand awareness and reputation, that matter. But as you educate about those things, you also must provide real, hard numbers that show how your efforts are helping the organization grow. Without it, we won’t be leading.

If you’d like to take a look at my slides from yesterday, I’ve embedded them for you below (or you can find them by clicking here). But, keep in mind, most of them are pictures and won’t make a lot of sense without my narration.

As well, Matt Wilson at PR Daily did a nice summary of the keynote.

Now it’s your turn. What do you think is the future of PR?

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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