In 2004, I stepped into my first journalism course at Butler University, “Introduction to Mass Communications.” When I reflect back on this particular class, I often find myself laughing, because pretty much everything we learned now stands contrary to what I believe today.
Eleven years ago, our textbooks told us to write a press release for everything, that releases were the preferred method of communication amongst reporters. We studied the ways of Edward Bernays and talked about the importance of propaganda. We learned about media tours and press kits. My favorite lesson of all, though, was that at the time, broadcast placements were considered THE most valuable placements of all.
It would seem that a lot of what I learned while studying journalism when I did is now mostly irrelevant. Remember, Facebook was barely a thing back then. I’m pretty sure mine was the first class that even had access to the platform, back when you needed a .edu email address to join and the URL was still THEFacebook.com. Twitter didn’t exist, and the founders of Instagram hadn’t even met yet.
To really put this into perspective: The first iPhone didn’t come out until we were trying on our caps and gowns.
My point here is that no one could have predicted how my generation would single-handedly change the public relations landscape (and just about every other landscape, too).
But now here we are. For the most part, we’ve all adapted to the new normal. Press conferences and media tours are antiquated. A social media brand mention by an influencer is now just as coveted as a broadcast news placement … maybe even more so. And I can’t remember the last time I sent a reporter a press release without first being asked to do so by said reporter.
So much has changed in the PR world over the last decade, which raises the question, what lies ahead for us? Here are my predictions:
A 2014 Gallup poll showed that trust in mass media is at an all-time low. As this distrust spreads and the average person begins to realize how much of their news is actually sponsored content, influencers will rise from the ashes. We’re already seeing the shift. Brands are paying big bucks to access the communities of prominent social media figures. Carefully crafted endorsements from these influencers will eventually become the equivalent of today’s celebrity endorsement. Soon, the ultimate win for a PR pro will no longer be an above-the-fold New York Times placement; it’ll be an organic post by a coveted influencer.
But that’s not to say that earned media will be worthless. Please see here for further insights on that.
In the future, when newsrooms are running leaner than ever and earned space amongst the pages continues to decline, you will have to figure out THE most creative way to cut through the clutter. Pitching a journalist via Snapchat or Periscope might not sound so crazy down the road. In fact, I would guess that brands will turn to multimedia content (namely video) instead of the written word to grab a reporter’s attention. You’ll see press releases less often than you already do, and PR pros will embrace storytelling in creative formats more than ever before. It’s forced creativity: Adapt or die trying.
And, with technological advances, it’ll be time to get analytical. Publishing platforms are all the rage, but soon, monitoring tools will have their day in the sun. Quantifying success has long been a gray area in the PR industry. We don’t have established industry standards for reporting on PR efforts, because let’s be honest, a lot of what we do is squishy. In a way, social media has made us look bad. Social platforms provide real, actionable data points. We can talk about impressions and ad equivalency, but we all know it isn’t the same. In the future, we’ll need to move toward quantifying our efforts — as an industry. We’ll need to assign real value to the different facets of our role and better prove our worth.
One thing that won’t change? Public relations will always be about compelling storytelling. The way we share these stories with reporters and the public will continue to evolve, but at its core, PR will remain rooted in powerful stories.