Summits are forums where top leaders join with experts in the hopes that experts will soon become top leaders and top leaders will increase their expertise. This is maybe the most successful aspect of the past couple of annual ICCO summits: the coming together of public relations managers and some of the most highly esteemed global experts in related fields.
I can say confidently that this year will be no exception in this regard. Not only because the ICCO Global PR Summit will take place maybe in one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the world – Oxford – but also because 2016 is such an important year for our industry.
It is clear that the three most important elements of the public communications business – advertising, public relations, and digital – are currently merging, and at a fast pace.
This unification is fueled by a combination of client demands, a changing business environment, and the growth of interactive social media. All three of these elements must work together in order to produce high quality concepts and strategies in this changing industry.
We may not yet understand exactly how fast the industry is changing. With this inability to anticipate where we will be in five or ten years, many thought-provoking questions are emerging, and their answers are disputable.
One such question, perhaps the most important of all, is – when these elements come together to form united companies and offerings – which of them will lead?
I believe that, when these joint companies are formed, “Public Relations” (or whatever you would like to call it, which is a different subject entirely,) will be the most prominent of these elements, for three reasons.
First, PR was created and developed more than a century ago, when businesses were far more private. Perhaps 10 %, or less, of all communications were accessible by the public. Between businesses and the public there was a “Chinese wall” and most often businesses hired former journalists to manage the small part of their business that they considered “public”, their relations and reputation. PR grew from these roots. Today, absolutely everything is public. To call our business public relations is as redundant as calling a window transparent when the purpose of a window is to be able to see through.
Public relations will be the future leader of this new, umbrella industry of public communications (which combines PR, advertising, and digital.) The second reason for this is that today, clients have their own social media and the majority of them think that they can manage these accounts by themselves. However, there are two main issues with which the indisputably need the help of a professional consultant: reputation management and crisis issues. Both of these are core priorities of public relations agencies, but not of digital or advertising companies.
Of course, in the future, as businesses and industries continue to develop, aspects from both advertising and digital will be vital as well. Clients will need creative design from advertising and need developers’ help for their digital businesses, but none of these companies can handle the reputation or crisis management of any of our clients.
The third reason that I believe public relations, as we know it today, will be at the forefront of this new mega-industry is very simple and all of us in business know it. We in PR are the masters of the content, of putting worlds together and speaking the language of social media in the proper manner. Content also will be the leading element of the future communications business, and it is public relations that can best handle this content.
These changes require total changes in our companies, now and in the future. Some aspects of the industry that we know today will be turned upside down. We, the PR experts, need to educate ourselves on a daily, perhaps even an hourly, basis. We will need to hire people in our from business that we never considered relevant before. We will need talent with new and diverse experience to complement what we in PR do so well.
There is no longer a wall between companies and the public, which brings us back to the future of communications in which merged, big communications businesses will become the norm. We intend to discuss this topic in depth at the ICCO Summit in Oxford on September 29th and 30th of this year.
“How to build the Agency of the future,” including how to hire differently, will be the main topic this year at the ICCO Summit. I predict that this Summit will feature amazing imagination for the future and deep understanding of what is going on in the public communications business these days; the exciting days fast change, which is painting the new “face” of our business.