Can PR Adapt To The Evolution Challenge, Asks Managing Partner Of N2N Communications

In this post, managing partner of N2N Communications, Vanessa Liell provides insights on Paul Holmes’ Global Communications Report.

There is no doubt that Australian Public Relations professionals – both agency and in-house –  need to brace for rapid change in skills, structures, services and attributes to be successful in our future industry.

This is reflected in the recently released Global Communications Report which states: “Public relations executives around the world are optimistic about the industry’s future and believe that over the next five years they will be expected to deliver more – more strategy, more content, more channels, more creativity and more measurement”.

The challenge for our industry is how we adapt effectively to meet this change, and whether we have the courage and leadership to do so.

Key findings of the Report indicate significant market opportunity and insight into the impact of digital disruption, structural change and market demands. This evolution demands a rethink of the services we provide, the skills we require and our attributes as professionals.

It’s no surprise our future growth will come from new services – content creation, digital and social, measurement and evaluation and paid media. However, our current structures, both in-house and agency, don’t reflect the skills required to evolve our services as quickly as the market demands, and this is likely to be our greatest constraint.

The Global Communication Report indicates 30 per cent of corporate and 47 per cent of agencies expect a complete or extreme amount of change in structures to respond to the evolving environment by 2020, driven by adoption of new technology, expansion of channels, demand for new services and the skills required to deliver them.

While our core services – writing, media relations and communication strategy – are still highly valued, talent with these skills is short and can’t alone deliver the creative and integrated campaigns that our future demands.

So can we adapt to the challenge? Not unless we move fast.

The Global Report indicates corporate budgets and headcounts remain constrained, service demands have changed, the type of work required has changed and the structures of agencies and communications functions have changed.

Respondents predict our work will be increasingly complex, challenging and require greater strategic and creative skill; and while we know the change is coming, we still recruit from each other, prioritise writing skills and don’t budget for paid.

Our ability to tackle these challenges requires courage, confidence and leadership. We have significant strengths, demonstrated by the market demand for our skills and services. There are plenty of challenges ahead – however our ability to have a go, take risks, back ourselves and learn from what works (and what doesn’t) will indicate the strength of leadership skills individually and as an industry.

This means getting comfortable with the uncomfortable, creative thinking in how we structure our agencies and functions, robust analysis and honest conversations.

There is no silver bullet to the creation of a high performing team with the skills to adapt to this change. Recruiting from each other will only get us so far. Paid internships for university students and dedicated graduate programs are a critical starting point. And the rest is hard work.

It means staying close to the market to know what skills are in demand and what skills are available. It requires an understanding and respect for disciplines other than ours – including media buyers, digital/social strategists, content creators, video and designers, marketers and data analysts.

A key risk is our lack of willingness to challenge the status quo. We need to think differently about where we source our talent from – what degrees, which graduates and what attributes will challenge and push us to evolve our services? To attract and retain diverse talent will also require us to think differently about how we structure our roles.

This means consideration of a shift from static structures to different models including partnerships with freelances, alliances with other agencies, and options for part-time and flexible roles to attract working parents or those with other responsibilities. And this comes with demands on us, as leaders, to help navigate the ambiguity that comes with this evolution.

Our future success will be tied to the behavioural attributes of problem solving, teamwork, critical thinking, curiosity, adaptability and creativity. A key challenge for our leadership will be how we shift our cultures to foster, reward and grow teams that thrive in this new environment, that embody these behaviours and enjoy the challenge and opportunity that comes from rapid change.

Our future services are very clear and, according to the Global Communications Report, our industry will be most valued for its strategic and creative services, with ‘arms and legs’ tactical support declining in value. This reflects the increasingly challenging and complex environment for organisations when it comes to communications.

Our ability to solve strategic challenges with great creative ideas drawn from insights, executed cross-channel and evaluated through robust measurement, is where we need to get to – and quickly.

While the environment and challenges are complex, the market demands solutions that are clear, well-articulated, that harness technology and demonstrate a return on investment.  To meet this market demand we need get past our fear of data and be prepared to invest to learn using technology (digital and social platforms) as critical sources for data and analytics.

Such technology and access to data has unleashed the opportunity for significant insight into our audiences and their behaviours. Never before have we had such rich insight into how our audiences access information, the channels they use and the content they respond to. Those who harness this insight and adapt their communication services to respond to what our consumers demand will evolve fastest and benefit most from the growth of our industry – expected to reach $20 billion globally by 2020.

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