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How 2020 Will Drive a Communications Transformation

This article originally appeared on O'Dwyer's PR and is reposted here with permission.

This year, we’ve read about influencer fatigue, politics fatigue, social media fatigue, content fatigue and probably a dozen more kinds of fatigue. We’re also drowning in data, we’ve been told the press release may or may not be dead and trust in the media remains low. It occurred to me that an appropriate phrase to describe the age might be “everything fatigue.”

Granted, this notion of “everything fatigue” seems like an unnecessarily negative way to frame what’s going on in communications right now. We’re in the midst of a communications transformation! And yes, transformation is hard: it requires perseverance, dedication, resilience, adaptation. But the effort is worth it, as earned media is becoming more strategic, more measurable, and more essential than ever before. For those of us who work in comms., PR and marketing, we’re in the middle of something truly special.

So, what’s driving this transformation? How is the landscape changing and what do we see becoming more important in 2020?

The lines between PR and marketing will dissolve

What’s the difference between PR and marketing? Is it about where your audience is in the sales funnel? Or is it about your ultimate objective as a team? Who owns content in your organization? Who owns reporting?




PR agencies already provide a number of services historically provided by marketing: design, content, social, video, analytics. But who ultimately owns the brand? Truthfully, it’s a combination of both PR and marketing, and the lines between those functions will continue to blur into 2020 and beyond. 

USC Annenberg’s 2019 Global Communications Report found that 51% of communicators expect more integration with marketing over the next five years. The functions have so much to offer each other—analysis of what’s working and what isn’t, data to inform attribution models, technology both teams can utilize, and even moral support in the face of shrinking budgets. 

Part of what this means is that PR professionals need to ensure they can speak the language of marketing so they’re prepared in the years to come. It will be even more crucial to understand metrics, paid strategies, attribution, product positioning, technology, and most importantly, selling. The aforementioned Global Communications Report found a huge difference in the importance CEOs and in-house communicators place on selling products and services—44% of CEOs report selling as the most important marketing issue for their orgs, but only 25% of communicators felt the same. To remain relevant in the eyes of the C-Suite, communicators need to think even more about how to actually sell their company’s product. 

Further, the boundaries between paid media, owned media, and earned media are increasingly permeable, and any particular type of media may have more than one owner. Ultimately, the lines between PR and marketing are blurry at best (and arbitrary at worst). They will continue to evolve in 2020, and even more so over the next decade.

The corporate marketing landscape will experience significant change

Comms. isn’t the only function undergoing significant change right now; marketing is experiencing an evolution as well.

Some companies are going as far as eliminating the CMO position in favor of the roles of the Customer or Chief Experience Officer and Chief Information Officer. Part of this is driven by yet another blurring line—the line between prospect and customer.

Traditionally, we think of comms. as serving the top of a sales funnel—generating initial awareness, maintaining reputation, and monitoring for crises. And then as someone progresses into the funnel, marketing takes over—converting awareness into leads. But once a prospect actually becomes a customer, who owns that relationship? Many marketing departments have a customer marketing team, who focuses on sharing education content, nurturing clients, and finding opportunities to upsell. However, in other cases, these activities are owned by customer success or account management. This has led some companies to eliminate the CMO altogether.

For PR pros, this comes back to one of our first questions—if you’re in public relations, who is your audience? How is this different from the marketer’s audience? And what does the shift in how (some) companies think about marketing mean for the future of public relations?

Now’s the time to determine what data is actually helping you make decisions, and focus in on that for the new year. Stop reporting on vanity metrics that don’t tell you anything about actual impact or attribution.

The media and influencer environment will evolve

You already know about the crisis facing the news media industry; newsroom jobs have declined, fake news and misinformation is on the rise, and media organizations have merged or disappeared. While we’re not going to get into all of that here (there’s tons more information on Pew Research’s State of the News Media site if you want to read more on this), let’s talk about what this means for the relationship between PR and media.

For a PR professional, it can be hard to keep up with media contacts, many of whom may move around frequently or write for multiple publications. Publications you’ve come to rely on are acquired or shut down. Journalists are under pressure to produce more content, and many receive hundreds of pitches every week.

Couple that with the increasingly complex role of social media in news. According to Pew Research, 62% of U.S. adults say “social media companies have too much control over the mix of news that people see.” Concerns about fake news, misinformation, and the negative impacts of microtargeting further complicate the relationship between PR and media.

And how about influencers? Despite some public setbacks, influencer marketing continues to grow. Business Insider estimates that the influencer marketing industry will be worth as much as $15 billion by 2022. Social influencers are still very important to any comms. strategy. But there are millions of influencers—ranging from celebrities with 50 million followers to nano-influencers catering to a tiny but very niche audience. Influencer relations are made more complex because it’s another function that straddles the PR and marketing teams. Who owns the influencer relationship in your organization?

All of this points to an evolution in the relationships communicators have with traditional media and social influencers. Communicators will need to be nimbler in maintaining these relationships, think about how they connect with individuals, and be sure they’re continually providing value to keep relationships strong despite the changes and challenges. 

These challenges help fuel the work my team and I do, and have me feeling optimistic and excited—not fatigued—as we prepare to enter a new decade. The 2020s will be the decade of the communicator; I’m ready for it and hope you are too.