WE Communications Blog: Alan VanderMolen
This post is dedicated to my good friend and former colleague, David Brain. May your next endeavor result in us pulling a cork or two. AV
Marketing services is heading for a Post-Millennial PR Apocalypse. A world where tax-paying robots and other instruments of machine learning fill a decreasing pool of lesser-valued PR jobs currently held by millennials.
It would be easy to blame soulless machines and technological progress for the looming meltdown. It is more likely, however, the fault of Baby Boomer and Gen X industry leaders who have foisted upon us the twin phenomena of Acute Agency Personality Disorder (AAPD) and Specialist Generalization (SG).
As a quick review, AAPD is diagnosed as agencies having the strong desire to play in disciplines not historically in their domain. SG is taking separate and distinct disciplines and putting them under one banner, thereby discounting the value of each discipline. Omnicom's folding of specialist agency Cone Communications into generalist agency Porter Novelli is the latest example of SG.
The unintended consequence of AAPD and SG is setting adrift a generation of public relations professionals to search for the value they bring the industry. What else is this generation to do when the message they receive from large agency ownership and many in-house departments is that the skills of advertising agency veterans and the promise of robot-generated copy hold greater value than public relations skills?
I speak with public relations professionals all over the world. One thing I have noticed is the disappearance of the words 'public relations' when PR pros describe what they do. Largely, they call themselves communicators, which I get. In fact, many agencies including mine, use communications to describe a broader group of services that transcend earned media. At the same time, however, we need to continue to embrace our PR roots and sensibilities. Another thing I have noticed is the ubiquitous comparison PR pros make of themselves to 'marketers' or 'creatives'...most times discounting the value that PR brings to the marketing services table.
I have started charting what I hear in a simple, 2x2 diagram. On the X-Axis, we have 'communications' on one end and 'marketing' on the other. On the Y-Axis, we have 'analog' at the bottom and 'digital' at the top. Nearly every pro I speak with can map themselves to one of the corresponding quadrants:
The pseudo-value assessed quadrants and corresponding labels attached to them are not particularly motivating for PR pros. I do believe, however, that the rapidly changing public relations industry can provide growth and leadership in marketing services and long-term career opportunities for practitioners. The key is for brands, agencies and pros to embrace the changes necessary to serve the needs of organizations and their stakeholders across an ever-evolving media ecosystem.
Baby Boomer and Gen X leadership in the public relations industry can work with millennials to stave off a PR Apocalypse with these three steps: