PR in 2016: Tumbling Silos and Heated Competition for Talent


[ Caution: The sky will tumble, mountains will crumble. If you’re afraid of change, 2016 will be a miserable year.]

Round about this time of year, we all seem to look back at the previous year and mumble something about good riddance and then predict wonderful things for the coming year. For me, it depends how you feel about change. I’m the type who can’t wait to see what’s around the next bend, but if you’re one of those people who doesn’t welcome change the way most people greet their morning coffee, you might want to find a cave to hide in because 2016 will be, if nothing else, a tumultuous year of change for those of us in the communications industry. Here’s what I predict will happen.

1. Silos Will Tumble: For years most corporations have kept a nearly insurmountable wall between internal communications and external, never mind all the usual barriers between social and traditional media monitoring. The new reality is that those boundaries already have melted in the minds of your customers. In 2016 consumers will continue to expand their use of mobile and social platforms, ignore traditional media sources and instead turn to each other and their apps when they make buying decisions.

The good news on the measurement front is that media-monitoring companies are getting good at social listening. Technology is making it much easier to bring social and web analytics into the PR dashboard. The big step forward in 2016 will be the integration of internal communications metrics into those dashboards.

2. Brands Will Bumble, Content Marketing Will Crumble: Brands will, of course, bumble along, making mistakes while trying to navigate the new merged environment, confusing what PR does well – build relationships, create true organic engagement – with marketing. The result? Content marketing will hit the saturation point. The people brands are trying to reach simply will ignore everything most companies spew.

3. Recruitment Will Rumble: The biggest problem no longer will be cost cutting but recruitment. The PR talent pool was never that deep and many senior pros are looking to retire. At the same time, the rapidly recovering economy is making jobs, many of which have remained vacant for too long, even harder to fill. As corporations step up hiring, it will take longer and be much more expensive to find true talent. And with increased competition on the recruitment side, organizations will need to focus on their culture and reputation, or they’ll be spending a lot more on salaries. Where the money goes, metrics follow – look for more budgets shifting dollars to internal, culture, reputation and CSR measurement.

4. Standards Leave the Rumble Seat, Head to the Driver’s Seat: When the Media Rating Council (MRC), in partnership with the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), the 4As, the Institute for PR (IPR) and the IAB, finalized its Social Media Measurement Guidelines there was little fanfare. There should have been a lot. The MRC is Congress chartered and all major brands and organizations back it. What does it do? It tells organizations that SELL media for a living exactly what they can and cannot do.

The MRC issued definitions of “reach and impressions” that essentially reinforced our belief that most of the numbers thrown about are at best “potential” impressions. So, if you’re on the buying end of social media, you now have standards with which you can hold agencies’ and media’s proverbial feet to the fire. And it doesn’t stop there. The MRC document outlines agreed-upon nomenclature, definitions and best practices for a host of commonly misused metrics for social media.

To further bolster the rigor with which social media can and should be measured, in 2016 the IPR Measurement Commission will complete its validation of the Conclave’s social media measurement standards, validating the standards around sentiment and engagement.

5. Measurement Vendors Will Stumble: On the measurement side, the merger mania of the past few years will lose favor with customers and investors. Numerous customers will express frustration with bad data, inaccurate metrics and revamped interfaces. They’ll start the RFP process searching for better vendors.

6. Marketing Will Grumble, but Cost-Effectiveness Metrics Will Replace bad ROI: For years, marketers and their bosses have flung around ROI without ever calculating it correctly. Mostly they made up silly equations such as “the value of a like” or used AVE to attempt to put a “value” on social media and PR, while continuing to use bad math and incomplete cost calculations to determine the ROI of direct mail and paid media.

But with better data and more sophisticated platforms, helped by a wave of data analysts and new PR grads forced to take business courses, increasingly communications departments will be investigating the cost effectiveness of all their activities. First on the chopping block may be direct mail, which not only wastes entire forests but increasingly is seen as horrible for the environment. Once data reveals that the real costs doesn’t match the real-dollar returns, organizations will see the efficiency advantages that PR and social media bring. Further jumbling of the paid media world will occur as ad-blocker apps become the norm on cell phones. Ad-blocker apps like Peace, Purify and Crystal offer freedom from ads for a small fee ($3.99 in one case). In its first two months, one app earned $150,000+ in revenue.

7. Technology Will be Humbled: The technology and data all-you-can-eat buffet that has engorged the communications landscape will lose its appeal as clients realize all those fancy tools and piles of data are worthless without trained, knowledgeable human expertise to interpret it. [See #3 above.] Organizations will invest more in talent and human-based insight and dial back technology investments until such time as they can digest what they have already.

CONTACT: @queenofmetrics

 This article originally appeared in the December 14, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.