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PRSA ICON Recap: Stories, Business and the Changes Ahead

Heather Harder

This past week more than 3,000 public relations professionals and students attended the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) International Conference in Indianapolis. This year’s conference challenged professionals to think strategically about “Accelerating the Speed of Innovation and Connectivity.” Here are some of the top takeaways.

Stories always win: Even as digital technology takes over, the basics remain the same. “Life is about events and observation,” human rights advocate and entrepreneur Derreck Kayongo said in the opening session. When Kayongo decided to build a business around recycled soap, he was faced with a negative perception about his product.

His tip: Change the narrative. Kayongo changed his business from “the recycled soap company” to “a company that improves global health through access to soap and hygiene education around the world.”

Business comes first: “PR is a critical business function,” consultant Shonali Burke, ABC, said during a Facebook live session. Communications professionals prove their value when they act as strategists and measure their business impact. This requires a conversation with the C-suite to determine the right key performance indicators (KPIs). According to Burke, the most effective public relations and marketing professionals worry less about who job certain tactics belong to and instead focus on how they can work together to help the business achieve its goals. This could mean a marketer writes a press release and a public relations professional drafts sponsored content. It’s more about what’s best for the business and less about who does it.

This industry is at a turning point: Seventy-six percent of those surveyed believe public relations is becoming more complex. Fred Cook, director of the USC Center for Public Relations, presented this and other findings from the Global Communications Report. Notably, just 27 percent of public relations professionals surveyed believe the term “public relations” will adequately describe the work we do in five years. Additional predictions for 2020 include:

  • Agency and in-house public relations leaders expect their revenues to grow, at 33 percent and 13 percent, respectively. As businesses look to hire, both writing and technical skills will be in high demand.
  • Earned media is losing its market share. Moving away from a heavy emphasis on earned media, the industry is becoming more focused on a mix of owned, shared and paid content. By 2020, public relations professionals predict their businesses will be comprised of 31 percent earned media, 28 percent owned, 24 percent shared and 15 percent paid.
  • While earned media is not losing value, it is becoming increasingly important for communicators to have a balanced mix of media channels that can amplify their messages to the right audiences. As Cook put it, “We’re going to have to learn how to pay for media the same way we pitch for media.”

As the speed of innovation and connectivity increases, public relations professionals must be prepared to adapt quickly and adjust their offerings. The pace of industry change is picking up, and it’s not slowing down any time soon. 

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