I just read a Global Communications Report published by the USC Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism. The findings were very interesting. One of the figures that really caught my attention was that 87% of PR professionals believe the term “Public Relations” will no longer accurately describe the work they will do in 2022 – nor may it even exist as a separate discipline!
As a Public Relations practitioner, these findings caught my attention enough to read the rest of the report. If this big of a change is on the horizon, then it is probably a good idea to understand the best road to take. Advance planning will help to navigate this potentially significant transformation.
Time for Alarm? Or, a Digital Transformation of Marketing and Communications?
Once I had read the slides summarizing the findings of this USC study, a few observations stood out. First, there is a new group of graduates entering the field of Public Relations with an increasingly optimistic perspective that the world of PR will be around for some time. The veterans of the industry, however, have a different opinion.
This makes sense given the changes that have occurred in the worlds of PR and journalism over the past decade. News media has recently been under attack questioning its credibility. It has been a difficult time of transition for the entire industry, which has been torn apart and rebuilt as something new that primarily lives today in the digital world.
Another important shift has occurred as part of this digital transformation. Accountability. No longer are advertising campaigns based on gut intuition, or is PR done to show a nice set of “clippings” at the end of the day. With the transition to digital has come reporting metrics that are quite revealing, creating a new perspective on how to measure and improve both marketing and PR.
The Merging of Marketing and Public Relations
Looking back to the survey, another metric worth sharing is that nearly 60% of those surveyed believe that the disciplines of marketing and public relations will merge over the next five years. Given the increasing role digital now plays as part of the marketing mix and the shift online of Public Relations, this makes sense. With the focus on creating digital content and sharing it, it is reasonable to anticipate a merging of these disciplines.
Further, the blurring of the lines between marketing and PR is likely driving an expectation that the term “Public Relations” will no longer exist. If PR and marketing do merge closer together, then future brand stories told as marketing communications must be perceived as authentic.
The Importance of Storytelling
I am a big Seth Godin fan – and have been one since he published the Purple Cow. As a disciple of his teachings, I too see marketing as the effective use of storytelling to influence change. Every activity a marketer performs is part of this overall framework.
Based on this definition, the key to navigating a successful merging of PR and marketing is to embrace Public Relations best practices to ensure stories continue to be told – and to do so with authenticity in the same way as a great PR campaign.
In his book “All Marketers are Liars”, Seth Godin elaborates on this topic:
“What we do know (and what we talk about) is our story. Our story about why use, recommend or are loyal to you and your products. Our story about the origin and the impact and the utility of what we buy. The story of your product built into your product. The ad might be part of it, the copy might be part of it, but mostly, your product and your service and your people are all part of the story.”
Given these insights, it is starting to look more and more reasonable to expect a merging of PR and marketing. But there is one more part of this digital transformation that is a necessary ingredient for success.
A Closer Look at Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned Media
The USC study shared findings on how these categories will shift over the next five years. Specifically, respondents expect agency revenues from Earned media to decline by 28%, and the corresponding in-house budgets to decline by 21% over the next five years. (Earned media typically comprises articles and placements that help validate a brand’s authenticity in the media through stories and quotes that are more thought leadership in nature.)
These funds are predicted to be re-invested in Shared media activities, or social media campaigns. Other categories of media will remain unchanged.
If we overlay these predictions with the merging of PR and marketing, it becomes clear that the role of social media is expected to increase in importance – serving as both brand awareness and lead generation. For this to work, these communications need to be perceived as authentic. This helps explain the increasing use of influencers as part of this strategy.
The Future is Bright for Influencers
The world of B2C influencer marketing is quite mature. Apps now exist to bid for services and recommendations in a highly efficient manner. Much has been learned, and the results have been impressive. For marketing communications to be perceived to be authentic, consumers will increasingly steer towards purchasing those products that are actively endorsed or promoted by an influencer.
Here is an interesting example of when the world of B2B marketing might be ahead of its B2C sibling, at least in some industries. My experience in the enterprise software industry has taught me that it is critical to have great industry analyst relations in order to gain commitments to purchase from larger institutional buyers. This is especially true when millions of dollars are in consideration to invest in a software company’s solution portfolio. With such a critical purchase, industry analysts such as IDC, Gartner, ARC Advisory Group, and others play an important role as an independent advisor – as an influencer.
An interesting opportunity might now exist for influencers serving the B2B marketing space. They could fill a need that is less than what is required by industry analysts, yet provide influence as part of the B2B customer journey.
Given the prediction of where budget funds are expected to shift, this role could be an area of growth over the next five years. These influencers could be part of the new world of PR/Marketing, which might in the end simply be called “Marketing.” After all, can you really have marketing without telling a great story?