What’s the future of PR? What’s the future of business? Is it a bit too early in the morning to consider those questions? It’s a big topic without a clear answer, but at this year’s PRSA International Conference, which ran October 26-29 in Philadelphia, Brian Solis, principal analyst at Altimeter and forward-thinking PR guru, gave a rousing keynote speech to open this year’s conference, which I attended.
Solis’ topic: What is the Future of Business? Or, as he calls it, WTF. The important thread throughout his address was that to evolve the PR profession to suit the ever-changing topography of business and media, it’s up to PR practitioners to put the “relations” back into “public relations.” “This is a time to lean forward, to try something new, to try something different in your approach. In order to do that, we have to first see what it is we don’t do right in order to change and innovate,” Solis advises.
Solis thinks PR pros can rethink their approach to writing and marketing. “We’re still broadcasting at people, marketing at people, and in an era of social media, we’re actually kind of antisocial,” he points out at the beginning of his speech. “Without understanding social science, without aligning with a bigger mission or vision with what we are trying to do, we are just managing [our] businesses the way we always have. We aren’t moving in any new direction.”
Solis asserts that it’s time to challenge our organizational ecosystems and use social media to reinvent PR by making relationships matter again. Approach your social media and marketing strategy from the perspective of your audience. As Solis points out, “they have to go through a journey with your organization, and PR should redefine the whole journey and experience.”
He asks us to consider the ART – the Actions, Reactions, and Transactions – of social media. If a member of your audience is going to give you their attention for a moment, what do you want to do with it? Solis uses the example of Old Spice, a brand he associated with his grandfather, and a brand he never considered using – until Old Spice’s funny viral video campaigns. “Old Spice made the brand relevant for a consumer who would have never thought to use their products. Think about where you can introduce emotional value,” says Solis.
Solis presents his Hybrid Theory, which puts PR at the center of influence, engagement, content marketing, and consumer experience. Through all of these, PR pros can directly engage. In what Solis calls an “ecosystem of accidental narcissists,” your audience has an audience, with whom they only share things relevant to their audience, and that audience will do the same, so it’s important to understand not only your audience, but what will make your audience share with theirs.
Solis asserts that marketing doesn’t come down to the Millennial generation versus the non-Millennial generation; a Boomer with a tablet and a smartphone will exhibit the same behaviors as a Millennial, so it’s time to approach these behaviors as a widespread lifestyle. To thrive in future business, PR pros must figure out how to be part of that lifestyle of connectedness and engagement.
We must also understand how people make decisions. Connected customers don’t go to Google to make their decisions – they go to their network for trusted recommendations. People share their experiences and in the end, it doesn’t matter what your brand promise is – it matters what your brand experience is, and how clients share that experience. “Brands are dying because they fail to realize that customer experiences or opportunities to improve experiences are the future” of successful campaigns, warns Solis.
“The future of PR lies in creating shareable experiences; it starts with a vision, a mission, and a purpose,” he continues. “You have a role in changing how businesses, organizations and governments talk, relate, and influence.” And this change isn’t about tools, technology, blogging, or influencers, it’s about behavior, “What people feel, do, share, like and don’t like. It’s about you and me. And that’s why PR has to change,” says Solis.
Solis suggests defining your purpose and vision to start. Think about your customers, how you communicate with them and how they communicate with each other, and consider what’s important to them. Then, think about how to earn relevance and keep earning relevance.
Solis ended his insights with thoughts on change: “We all talk about change but we never talk about how to change ourselves. It starts with us and how we value the work we do and the impact our work has. There will always be a new platform or device; how do you make those things better? Use technology to bring your vision to life rather than using new technology to do what you’ve done –talk at people.”
As a former journalist who joined the BurrellesLuce team just two months ago, I found Solis’ heavy use of jargon left me feeling a bit talked at. He raised a few points that gave me some new perspectives to consider as I make my way in a new industry, but I also wondered whether relevance is a commodity that can be earned or an ever-changing state of interaction with clients and audience. In looking at our team at BurrellesLuce, I find that we achieve relevance through constant interaction, and dare I say engagement, to stay relevant in their space and in ours.