According to Benjamin Franklin, the only things certain in life are death and taxes. He obviously forgot "change" — which is just as certain, by any measure.
Just ask anyone in media or public relations, who will promptly start reciting a list of what we're now accepting as elements of the new normal.
So what changes are shaking media and its oft-despised offspring, public relations (PR)?
Are we finally seeing the death of traditional media — newspapers, TV news and programming, even radio?
Is the ad-sales model dying a slow, painful death as more people get their news and entertainment via the internet, bypassing cable in favor of Netflix or turning to Twitter instead of CNN?
Take the Content, Block the Ads
Put differently, do information hungry consumers have any tolerance, let alone understanding, for the ad revenue model that made America the greatest media market on the planet?
It seems they do not. Mobile ad blocking technology, according to a recent study by PageFair, continues to grow. Some 198 million users worldwide are blocking adds — and many of them are in the US, which experienced a staggering 48 percent jump in users over the past 12 months.
How will advertisers get in front of a target audience if not through ads on content rich websites like CNN, Slate and BuzzFeed?
More importantly, how will publishers of worthwhile content convince advertisers to spend money with them and find a sustainable revenue model that provides quality content with some semblance of editorial independence?
Beleaguered Public Relations
Given the downward spiral in media, some might say PR has outlived its usefulness, that it’s a moribund activity generating very little value in the overall marketing mix.
More and more marketing decision-makers are looking beyond even digital publishing options to accomplish branding and customer acquisition. Why? Because these newer options make it easier to assign a cost to a result (pay-per-click, conversion cost, etc.), and metrics are everything these days.
Articles in the Wall Street Journal or TechCrunch will also yield general benefits such as a spike in website traffic and even qualified leads. But since high-impact ‘earned’ media placements like those are hard to attain for the average technology company or startup, there is a natural tendency among marketing decision makers to want to steer investments toward owned media.
Social Killed the PR Guy
It's hard to argue that PR’s glory days are over — an increasingly fuzzy memory from the days before the rise of Web 2.0 and digital marketing, when people turned to broadcast TV instead of YouTube and lingered over a magazine rather than a mobile-social app like Facebook or Snapchat.
Nor is there any question that PR as a profession must adapt to survive the rapid change underway. That train left the station several years ago.
Most PR agencies are already making the professional pivot toward a wider suite of services. For instance, some agencies have taken a greater role in overall brand messaging, even going so far as to take on website design duties that were previously the domain of website development shops.
Others have taken a more communications oriented approach with a keen focus on helping brands capture and relate their stories with a reportorial authenticity not normally associated with marketing.
While there continue to be many opportunities for agencies to go after “earned media” —media placed with reputable outlets through traditional outreach campaigns — some brands and their agencies have turned to initiatives that blur the lines.
It's getting harder to tell the difference between paid and earned media.
The World of Content Marketing
Brand journalism stands out as a particularly effective initiative.
Under the umbrella of content marketing, brand journalism involves creating a continuous stream of value-added content for a company’s given customer base using many of the attributes normally associated with journalism. These include editorial calendars, well researched topics with no obvious sales agenda, articles written by former journalists and narrative-driven content.
Brand journalism has become a preferred method for brands wanting to reach a wider audience with high quality content that is delivered on a consistent basis, that is shareable across social networks and that ultimately drives clicks and conversions.
Other options exist for PR professionals, including taking on more owned media such as social media, native ads (a prime example of the blurred lines we talked about), landing pages for inbound marketing campaigns, paid contributed posts — anywhere there is a need for content with a strong brand voice.
While not exactly grim, the future for professional communicators is fraught with uncertainty. And that isn't as bad as it sounds.
Where there is uncertainty, there tends to be more innovation.
What Jim Collins calls “productive paranoia” is his book, Great by Choice, is nothing more than finding a way to channel our primal fear of an unknown future toward a more successful way of navigating an uncertain future.
What will the future hold for PR professionals? Nobody knows.
What is known, however, is that more change is coming. And because of technology, change is happening exponentially in some industries.
In the near future PR professionals may come to look more and more like brand communicators charged with taking on a diverse role in helping shape a brand’s core values, customer messaging and media relations.
It’s a role those with enough paranoia and adaptability will assume with relish.
While the road to adjust and adapt for PR might be rocky at this moment, its key role was and remains to build mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their customers.
The channels through which this is done might evolve continuously, but with the new evolutions come ever more opportunities for powerful results through integrated PR campaigns.