For years now, leaders within our industry have been talking about how social and digital will either help transform PR firms, or be the cause of their slow and painful death spiral into irrelevance. The truth is that the social and digital evolution is just but one important part of a confluence of functional, operational and cultural shifts that will re-shape our PR firms.
Here’s a list of predictions for what PR firms may begin to look like by 2020. Disclaimer: this list is by no means grounded in any research or third party data, whatsoever. It is simply my conjecture, clearly opinionated and possibly amiss in parts.
Assassination Attempts by Ad Agencies
While most PR firms have come a long way in bolstering their social offerings, it is no secret that the ad agencies are creeping further and further into our domain. They are pitching multi-modal concepts and are even drafting press releases for client concepts that they would hope to see media cover. They are forming special teams under the guise of “content” (duh) and believe that they have stumbled onto something new – having third parties draft and place content on behalf of clients. They are using words like advocacy, expertise, authenticity and borrowed equity. Sound familiar? PR firms should not underestimate the ability of ad agencies to sell ancillary “social” programs that are really PR by another name. The only difference is that ad agencies tend to sell better than we do and have access to bigger marketing budgets which make these smaller social initiatives look like rounding errors. And remember, rounding errors on budgets are easy to approve.
A More Mobile Workforce (and by mobile, I really mean remote)
PR firms are quickly embracing the fact that both men and women alike may have non-negotiable personal obligations and responsibilities that mean they will have less face time in the office. Thanks to the proliferation (and the IT department’s acceptance) of file-sharing services on the cloud, video-teleconferencing, Skype, webcasting, etc., staff are truly able to perform their duties anytime and almost anywhere. As long as firms are willing to bet on talent over tradition, they will be able to attract and retain high performers by embracing this migration to a more mobile workforce.
The Rise of Community Managers
Some agencies, especially the larger ones, have media teams devoted specifically toward developing client media strategy, pitch ideas and execution. In addition to media management, or possibly in place of it, I believe we will begin to see more community managers proliferating the ranks of PR firms, notably those that make social media part of their core. These community managers will be responsible for engaging stakeholders on behalf of brands online and for managing brand discourse in perceptually authentic ways.
Clients get Clout
IF (this is a big IF) PR can take the lead on social within client organizations, then we may see internal clients become more uniformly recognized for their value and contributions. Social can be the PR industry’s stalking horse for earning a more influential seat at the adults’ table. Sure, there are hundreds of PR professionals who have already earned this seat, but I believe there are still thousands yet to come. Clients with more power will equate into clients with more resources which in turn will help spawn organic growth—the healthiest growth possible for a firm.
A Social and Digital Backbone
Per my earlier points, any firm that does not recognize, embrace and monetize social and digital, and make it part of their DNA, is a firm on its ways to becoming a fossil—and fast.
Managing Generation “H”
“Helicopter parenting” refers to an entire generation of youth who have been closely reared and doted on by their parents with few conditions or constraints. This means that management at firms will have an entire generation of young professionals who may need some extra coaching and mentoring. I call it Generation H.
So, how do you deal with this? You will need to employ a corporate style Ferberizing of sorts. In other words, a professional development program that covers process, etiquette and protocol in addition to technique. The goods news is that Generation H is better educated, extremely tech savvy, eager to advance and enjoys being challenged.
Fragmentation of the Global Behemoths
The large global agencies may have to begin to break up into smaller pieces, while managing client conflicts, in order to continue to grow, . It may mean that there is a move back toward specialty shops, but in this case they would be super-specialty shops with global reach and cross-functional bench depth like never before.