This article first appeared in PRWeek, 5 October 2015
Do you remember life at the turn of the millennium? When print media still ruled, press releases were still sent by fax and Facebook was a glimmer in Mark Zuckerberg’s adolescent eye? It is strange to think that in 2000, the use of words like Twitter, BuzzFeed or even ‘content’ would likely be met with a blank expression, such has been the rate of change in the comms, marketing and media landscape.
What if we fast-forward another 15 years? How much of what we take for granted now will seem antiquated, and which of the embryonic trends in play today will have developed beyond recognition? Will PR as we know it even exist at all?
PRWeek put these questions to the its 30 Under 30 contingent and also to the wider industry through a survey conducted by YouGov. The respondents were a mix of PR agency, in-house and internal comms professionals of different ages and levels of seniority, with a gender split 62/38 in favour of women (reflecting broadly PR’s gender make-up). The issues raised provide a snapshot of where PR may be heading by 2030.
The end of ‘PR’?
Let’s start with perhaps the most striking finding of the survey, which suggests the term PR may be confined to the history books by 2030.
Asked if the expression “PR agency” will be used at all in 15 years’ time, two-thirds of respondents agreed – either strongly or to some extent – that it would not.
Undoubtedly, this is linked to ongoing integration within marcoms. One senior figure who foresees an erosion of the distinction between PR and its sister disciplines is Harris Diamond, CEO of global marketing firm McCann Worldgroup and former chief executive of Weber Shandwick.
Speaking at the PRCA National Conference last month, Diamond said such an “artificial” distinction “has to go”. “We’re all marketeers,” he stated.
Diamond said the “specialised skill set” of PR would remain, but added: “What has to change is the concept that we each need our own place at the table.”
Ketchum Europe CEO David Gallagher takes a different view: “The term ‘PR agency’ has survived too many assassination attempts for me to see it gone within 15 years. What it means may change, as traditional forms of media continue to develop, but I think the term ‘PR agency’ will still be in use.”
Regardless of whether the term is still used, respondents were clear that these agencies will change significantly. The overwhelming majority – 96 per cent – believed (to a greater or lesser extent) they would be expected to carry out a more diverse range of functions by 2030, as the need to become ‘content creators’ grows.
“By 2030 the industry will be unrecognisable to practitioners today. We are already seeing a fundamental shift in the relationship between PR agencies and businesses as the corporate world becomes increasingly transparent and open to scrutiny,” says Krissy Koslicki, Associate Director at Seven Hills and one of PRWeek’s 30 Under 30 contingent.
Krissy goes on to say, “What this means is that PR can’t just be a delivery mechanism or bolt-on but needs to be at the heart of defining an entire business strategy and mission. For example, the most effective communications campaigns will help to shape policy rather than just explain it”.
“Over the coming ten to fifteen years, we will see PR increasingly take a more campaigning approach to effectively define the purpose and wider importance of a brand or individual – as well as presenting it to the market,” concludes Krissy.
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