The phrase “the future of PR” has buzzed around our industry since the early 2010’s. In 2016, a USC Annenberg survey found only 27% of agency leaders believed that by 2020 the term “public relations” would adequately describe their work.
The following year, 90% of marketers and PR experts told Annenberg they thought the two disciplines were integrating and eventually would become intertwined.
Here we are five years later in a world of digital transformation. Yet, we’re using the same terms. Similarly, we are battling the same problems that have rendered us unable to integrate fully.
In fact, Meltwater says just 1 in 5 PR pros is involved in developing a company’s “overall marketing strategy.”
Mindset: Think like a business strategist
To tackle the future of PR we must encourage our teams to:
- Think critically
- Bolster their understanding of business and
- Embrace technology
Muck Rack says in 2021 the average PR professional tracked just five metrics to prove the value of her work. These included audience reach and social media shares.
What didn’t make the list? Revenue impact.
What good is measuring how many people clicked from Twitter to your website if you don’t know whether those leads made their way down the funnel?
Measure what matters
Boards of directors and CMOs don’t care about lofty numbers. Their interest is in qualified leads and closed deals. This information guides their spending as they seek accelerated growth.
It’s far from a new idea to say that if PR cannot quantify its influence on revenue it will have difficulty justifying larger budgets, higher fees and better salaries.
Consider this: corporate spending on PR has increased gradually since 2017. Despite this, only 7.5% of marketing budgets went to PR services in 2021. That’s $81.6 billion the U.S. PR industry left on the table last year.
Advanced Skills: Think beyond tomorrow
In addition to mindset shifts, we must arm staff with integrated marketing skills. This will take all of us. Below are our roles and responsibilities:
For fun, search “digital PR” on Indeed.com. I found just 18 title matches in 600,000+ communication positions (that’s 0.0003%).
As agency owners and communication department heads, we must create modern positions and hire diversified talent. This will guide PR’s innovation and enable fluency and integration with our digital marketing counterparts.
Colleges & Universities
In general, collegiate PR programs emphasize yesterday’s lessons.
In addition, they are isolated from business-degree curriculum, putting students at a disadvantage when they enter the workforce.
PR leaders: Tell your alma maters and their faculty leaders about the roles and skills today’s PR pro needs.
You & I
Even still, college degrees and on-the-job training aren’t enough to sustain what the market needs from us, as individuals. Here are ways of accelerating our abilities:
- Soak up business - Listen to financial podcasts, take a future board member training class, dabble a little money on Robinhood. These small actions will help you think as the C-Suite does.
- Play in software - Elevate your knowledge of SEO, inbound marketing and more. Enroll in digital marketing certification programs. Likewise, if your company doesn’t invest in a big MarTech stack, take free demos and video tutorials of automation, business intelligence and measurement tools so you know what’s possible. Maybe you can even convince your bosses that they’re missing out.
- Get a mentor outside of PR - Having a mentor in your field is like having the Ghost of Christmas Future. Instead, go find a technologist, a data scientist, etc. They’ll push you to think differently.
Integrated marketing needs PR. The next few years will be critically important in stepping up to the challenge. Let’s get to work.
Anna Ruth Williams is chief strategy officer & partner at Alloy
[Editor's Note: The writer’s views do not necessarily reflect those of PRNEWS. We invite opposing essays.]