PR pros are anticipating “considerable” change in coming years, largely through technology advances, and are betting heavily on owned and shared media.
In its 2019 Global Communications Study, the Annenberg Center for Public Relations at USC surveyed more than 1,500 PR pros worldwide to identify emerging trends and current beliefs about the industry.
Both agency pros (61%) and in-house communicators (53%) predict “considerable” change will occur over the next five years. Most (59%) believe technology will be the biggest driver of that change.
However, PR pros should also expect to see their work and the work of marketing departments become more commingled.
Many consumers already see marketing and PR messages as interchangeable, and industry insiders expect the two roles will become more integrated. Over half say that marketing and PR will become much more integrated; another 39% say the roles will be somewhat more combined.
Agency pros are bullish on PR financially, with 86% predicting a rise in revenues. In-house marketers are less sanguine, but 50% believe they will see an increase in their department’s budget.
CEOs responding to the survey are ready to bet on the PESO model, which combines paid, earned, shared and owned media. These communications leaders say the power of earned media will decrease over the next few years, while social media and online publishing will create a need for owned and shared media.
For the future, 38% believe shared media will be the most valuable and 36% say owned media will take the top spot. Traditional channels like paid advertising and earned media placements garner fewer votes of confidence.
Agency and in-house communicators predict that shared media tactics, like influencer marketing and social media campaigns, will gain importance, while earned media efforts will lose both budget allocation and return on investment.
New technology is rapidly changing how PR pros create content and campaigns, and the new study suggests even the most savvy communicators might be surprised by its acceleration.
The study authors write:
PR professionals recognize that artificial intelligence is altering the media landscape, but they don’t realize how quickly it’s happening. They predict about 35% of financial reporting will be written by robots in five years, but Bloomberg reports that 30% of their financial stories are already developed by AI. Students predict a greater percentage of robot journalism in the future, but even they may be surprised by the pace of change.
Bloomberg uses a system called Cyborg, which according to The New York Times is able to assist reporters in churning out thousands of articles on companies’ earnings each quarter. The program can dissect a financial report the moment it appears and spit out an immediate news story. In addition to covering earnings for Bloomberg, robots report on minor league baseball for The Associated Press, high school football for The Washington Post and earthquakes for the Los Angeles Times. These machines aren’t yet replacing reporters, but they are helping them modernize the more mundane aspects of their jobs.
Communicators are ready to embrace technology, however, if it helps them perform their jobs and offer consumers a higher-quality service. Respondents say they’re most interested in using artificial intelligence to optimize customer experiences (33%), whereas tasks that require more finesse, such as crisis management and trend prediction, receive lower scores.
Social media continues to be an important tool for PR pros. Most respondents believe social media monitoring will become a larger part of their roles, surpassing current top tasks like traditional media monitoring and content creation.
Respondents rank different platforms as the most useful to their role in the next five years. The top contenders are YouTube (48%), Instagram (46%), Google (42%) and LinkedIn (35%). On the whole, respondents prefer visual platforms to text-heavy offerings.
The study writes:
YouTube and Instagram, whose popularity are based on photographs and videos, are projected to be the big winners in an era of decreasing attention span. Google, an AI leader offering a portfolio of technology tools, is not far behind. While visual experiences will rule, text-based platforms may not: A mere 5% feel Medium will be an important communications platform in five years.
The study also looks at how students envision the future of the PR industry and the media landscape, compared with how current pros view their work and their colleagues. One key difference is the optimism PR students have for technology’s impact on society.
Though 61% of PR pros say media changes will lead to a more misinformed society, only 43% of PR students offer the same conclusion. Students are also more encouraged about levels of engagement in the future, as 72% believe people will become more tuned in to news and current affairs.
There’s roughly an even split regarding tech’s impact versus the human element.
Some 46% of students say technology will be more important than human capital in the next five years; 47% of current PR pros argue human capital will take precedence.
The study summarizes:
Al Golin wasn’t a fan of social media. He preferred high-touch to high-tech. He believed in building relationships face-to-face, rather than on Facebook. But there is no turning back. Technology is our future and tomorrow’s leaders will embrace it. For a long time, we’ve championed the art of Public Relations. To remain relevant to our companies and our clients, we must combine that art with science.
At the same time, we need to remember that our job is to build relationships. Relationships between companies, brands and people. PR professionals have unparalleled insight, not shared by any other discipline, into the elements of human connection. We know how to listen and we know how to tell stories. Technology will enhance these skills, but it will never replace them.
You can download the full report here.