It has been 167 years since the death of Fryderyk Chopin, yet his presence is still felt in Warsaw. TripAdvisor lists 196 entries related to the celebrated composer and pianist for the city, which is just under the number of sushi restaurants – 200 – an altogether more modern Polish phenomenon.
It was this city – a mishmash of traditional culture and new, glittering skyscrapers – that was chosen for the latest meeting of the ECCO International Communications Network.
As 30 PR professionals from 15 markets gathered to discuss the future of the communications industry and what tomorrow’s PR agency would look like, I thought of Chopin – his legacy looming large over a capital that has undergone more structural and spiritual change than most.
There are lessons here for us. The communications industry has been transformed by the democratisation of the social and creative web and the collective impact on how we consume media and information. In this vastly different environment, what is the role of the storyteller? How will tomorrow’s communications consultant operate, what will he or she offer clients and how do we prepare for these changes?
Together we identified five main characteristics the agency of the future will hold:
- Restless – Technology and the rise of sharing networks has accelerated the pace of change to faster than ever before. Tasked with connecting leaders and brands to their audiences in an increasingly complex world, the PR agency of the future cannot just match this speed, it must run faster. This means staying ahead of the curve in terms of technology, channels and tools, finding new ways to reach people and not simply relying on the same tried and tested methods of previous years. The agency of the future cannot stand still.
- Questioning – Linked to this, ‘taking a brief’ from a client in the future could look very different. As long as the average age of the global CEO stays at 54 and the audience it is looking to reach are made up of members of Generation Y and Z, a disconnect may exist. Usual channels will not resonate in the same way they used to, therefore the role of the future agency will be to interrogate and translate a client’s brief to make it fit for modern users and new habits.
- Diverse – the PR industry’s diversity credentials have often been called into question. For instance, only 8% of PR practitioners in the UK come from ethnic minority backgrounds, according to PRCA figures, despite minorities making up 14% of the general population. This is unsustainable. The PR agency of the future must fit with and understand the market it operates in. This means not only becoming more ethnically diverse, but calling on a wider, more diverse pool of experts and individuals, crowdsourcing ideas and skills from beyond the industry to match specific projects. From the creative – artists, poets – to the campaigning – activists, academics – a more varied set of communicators will pioneer a more progressive approach and dream up bolder ideas that have real impact.
- Relevant – in an age of information obesity, there will be a shift towards relevance. The average consumer is bombarded with between 4,000 and 10,000 marketing and advertising messages each day, according to a recent US estimate. People have, understandably, developed their own filters to cut through all of this noise. This goes for media too, as the number of correspondents and titles constrict amid declining advertising revenues, fewer journalists are being swamped by more and more ‘news’ announcements. Any consultant looking to get ahead will need to make their campaigns brutally targeted – out is the mass press release distribution and ‘aimed at women’ audience identification, instead we will usher in more data-led insight to develop an in-depth understanding of our audiences, their preferences and peeves, and how to target them effectively.
- Connected; conductors – Beyond a future focus on new channels, tools and content, one element of communications will retain its importance: relationships. Communications has always been based around human interaction, relationships and trust; the ability to deliver, face-to-face, a passionate pitch. This will be as crucial in fifty years’ time, as it is now, as it was fifty years ago. Certain aspects may change, however. These relationships may shift from journalists to wider influencers and brand advocates, they may take place on different platforms and they may involve PR in the role of conductor, using an orchestra of brand ambassadors, bloggers, stakeholders, influencers and media to amplify messages and ideas.
In our efforts to prepare for the future, it is important to remember what we must protect. When Chopin, who had suffered from ill-health for most of his life, was struck down with suspected tuberculosis at 39 years of age, he was terrified of being buried alive and instructed his family to remove his heart upon his death. I hope that the communications industry does not, in its fear of being buried by new technology and practices, remove its heart – we are conductors, we are composers and we are well-placed to adapt to the future while remaining faithful to the fundamentals.
Author: Louise Fernley
Associate Partner Pagefield