09 Dec Innovation, talent maps and relationships key to future success of communicators – PR 2025 and beyond
I was a guest at the recent 2014 PRIA National Conference in Brisbane and participated alongside well-respected industry influencers in a panel examining the future of our industry: PR 2025 and Beyond.
It was a good discussion that prompted some tough and insightful questions. There’s a lot of future-gazing in our industry – however to accurately predict the future of public relations takes an honest look at where we’ve come from and where we’re at right now.
Communications hasn’t changed
At its heart, public relations is a relationship between an organisation and its customers and stakeholders. Simplified, our role is to work out the organisations objectives, analyse the target audiences, determine messages that will engage and motivate them, create content, and figure out the best way to deliver it. Effective communications practice includes built-in measurement in programs and campaigns to enable evaluation, as well as the ability to refine and demonstrate results back to the organisation. In the 20 years of my career, that hasn’t changed and won’t in the next 20 either.
What has changed is the environment that we’re working in. Where once we relied heavily on third-party channels including traditional media, today, everyone is a publisher. The opportunity if you have content is enormous, but the challenge is the resource required to create valuable content to effectively use these channels.
Never before have organisations been as closely connected to their customers as they are today; and never have organisations required more from us.
Our role today
Communications functions have traditionally been engaged at the pointy end of business decisions. Once the decision had been made or the product determined, we were typically engaged to work out the communications strategy.
What happens now?
Communications is integrated into every element of an organisation – from the board, to the executive, sales, marketing, human resources and customer service divisions. Corporate communications functions are expected to advise on communication strategy, as well as have the skills and expertise to create multi-channel content, build and run social media assets, monitor and respond to issues that can arise from a multitude of channels at any time, and run traditional functions like internal communications, media relations, reputation management, executive positioning. Agencies are called on less to deliver pre-set programs and increasingly to advise on how to cost-effectively resource integrated programs across multiple channels that get results.
So what’s required for communications practitioners to respond to this changing environment now and in the future?
- A capacity to innovate. In a fast changing environment the capacity to innovate quickly is critical. This means proactivity to pilot new tactics, adopt new technology, integrate measurement into everything and be prepared to adapt fast. Those that avoid risks, wait for permission or the perfect solution will struggle.
- Effective structures and the right skills. Rapid change and a content-led environment will require multi-functional teams with specialist skills to be effective. Our ability to reach target audiences where they are, with the right content, at the right time and on the right channel will be critical. If you haven’t developed a talent map for your department or agency, it’s worth consideration. Knowing where your gaps are and what should you do yourself versus what you should outsource are key questions.
- Relationships. The right relationships will also be fundamental to your capacity to respond to this fast-changing environment.
- Internally, this means executive commitment to integrate communications into all business functions and invest in digital, mobile and social. How you access the skills you don’t have yourself will be driven by relationships. For example, we have created an ecosystem of specialist providers that complement our team and deliver the skills we don’t have ourselves. Your capacity to find great talent in other specialties like digital asset builders, community managers, video producers and content creators is essential.
- Don’t overlook the development of relationships with other communications functions with your stakeholders, partners, customers and industry bodies. Everyone is content hungry and if you get your relationships right, your capacity to scale your communications impact is unlimited.
We are in one of the most exciting and fast changing industries. While the pace of change will continue, it’s important to remember the fundamentals haven’t changed. I believe we are incredibly well placed to harness the opportunity ahead of us. Agility, innovation and flexibility coupled with great relationships will be the key.