What Will The Future Of Comms Look Like?
Today Spectrum Group marks its 20th birthday. And while we pause to fondly recall that in 1996 we were all surfing the net on the information superhighway and doing the Macarena with our Palm Pilots held proudly aloft, we also have an eye on the future.
We loved witnessing all the changes that have drastically changed the tech and communications sectors in the past two decades, but what’s really exciting is the thought of what’s coming next. With that in mind, we’ve asked the senior team to offer their predictions for what the next 20 years might hold for our industry.
What’s Going To Be The Biggest Challenge In The Next 20 Years?
Ben Shipley, Managing Director: At an individual level, I believe the big challenge is in keeping up with an ever-increasing diversity of skills required to play in communications. Knowing enough about social, digital, video, code, data and more is getting harder every day.
Rachel York, General Manager: Staying relevant to the audience and evolving what to do to maintain that relevance
Jessica Tubnor, Client Services Director: Traditional PR will be challenged by other agencies as PR/comms/marketing/content/social media services span across a range of agencies. New technology and social platforms mean the way we reach an audience is so broad and diverse – and newspapers no longer reign supreme as the way to inform and engage. Whoever controls the channel controls the message, so power is being given to marketers, technologists, the everyman. Agencies need to earn the right to manage these channels, currently they are managed by whoever got there first.
Brian Corrigan, Content Director: That’s a tough question because it’s such a long time, especially in technology. The smartphone isn’t 20 years old yet but it’s already difficult to remember how we functioned without it. I’m going to lower my sights a little and say that audience fragmentation will be the biggest communications challenge for businesses over the next few years. People are consuming content in so many different formats, across multiple platforms. This increased fragmentation makes demographics a less reliable way of reaching your intended audience, which is why there’s so much focus on personalisation.
Where’s The Next Disruption Coming From?
Brian: Not sure if this counts as the next disruption because it’s already happening, but it will be fascinating to watch augmented and virtual reality eroding the barriers between real and digital worlds. Whatever your opinion of Pokemon Go, it will be remembered as an important milestone long after Nintendo’s share price falls back to earth with a bump. Like every other major technology trend, some brands will get it horribly wrong but there will be rich rewards for those who make a meaningful connection with their audience.
Ben: Mixed reality and AI definitely seem both interesting and game-changing, even to the point of replacing humans in many roles. That disruption will be on a scale bigger than anything we’ve felt before.
How Will The Definition Of Success Change?
Jessica: Oooooh, tough one. I think as PR becomes more closely aligned to marketing, it will also seek bigger budgets that then require us to justify our ROI alongside marketing. This means proving that campaigns created leads and filled the pipeline. There will certainly be a big market for analytics providers who can help us show this! Secondly, online reputation has never been more “make or break” for companies. It’s so easy for dissatisfied consumers to speak out against a company that hasn’t delivered on its promise. Being able to deliver a brand message that builds trust and engages audiences – and executes with personality – will be more valuable than ever.
Brian: I don’t think the definition of successful communications has ever really changed. It’s probably the one constant in this industry as everything else evolves. Success is a message that’s clearly understood by its target audience and triggers an emotional response. Emotion leads to action. It’s easy to say but difficult to do.
Ben: Impact will always be important for both businesses and individuals, but I think we are already seeing impact considerations outside of the traditional financial ones, and I’d expect that to continue.
Rachel: It won’t, because it will still be based on the impact on the audience. It’s the way we get there that will change. We’re currently focused on telling stories, and stories will stay at the core of our success. But the way we tell them needs to evolve to enable audiences to communicate their own stories to their own audiences. Also, measurability is important. Traditional PR is hard to measure and therefore justify. Data and new tools drive our level of measurability and allow us to better showcase our ROI/success.
What Will Agencies Look Like In 20 Years?
Brian: Who knows what agencies will look like in 20 years, but you’d be a fool to bet against the global consultancies coming out on top. Accenture, Deloitte, and IBM are already among the world’s top five digital agencies. Agency services broadly fall into two categories – creating great content and getting it in front of the right audience. The big consulting houses have longstanding relationships with CXOs that give them a decisive advantage in both.
Ben: Completely different in terms of the skills, channels and outputs they deliver for clients, but completely the same in that a group of diverse and talented individuals will continue to deliver creative solutions to communications problems faced by brands and businesses. Hopefully, agencies won’t all be wrapped inside of the big consulting firms, but it feels like it might be.
Rachel: Senior people will hold roles more like executive producers and will need to understand all disciplines of comms. Agencies will still need their specialists but it will be the highly qualified generalists leading accounts.
Jessica: It’s likely the market will no longer be segmented into PR/marketing/experiential/etc. In order to compete, all agencies will need these skills.
What’s The Most Important Lesson To Learn From The Last 20 Years?
Ben: Technology that feels like it should change the world sometimes doesn’t arrive. The best approach is to plan for what you have now, execute and remain open to change as it comes. Side note for M.J. Fox, I am still waiting for my hoverboard.
Rachel: Be agile and willing to change quickly in order to stay ahead as an industry and maintain relevance. Comms now has a place at the big table and is more relevant than ever. We need to keep showing our value and maintaining authenticity in the process.
Jessica: Stuff changes… and quick. While the fundamental principles of PR will remain fairly steady, the power of the audience should not be underestimated, and the longevity of any channel should not be overestimated!
Brian: Nothing is forever. The internet has defined the past 20 years of communications but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest the open web as we know it is already on its way out. It looks like Apple, Facebook, and Google will battle for control of our app-based communications. Then again, two of those three companies didn’t even exist 20 years ago so who knows.
Where Will You Be In 20 Years?
Rachel: Retired, lying on a beach!
Jessica: Wow, that’s really hard. I’ll be in my 50s and hopefully working part-time doing strategic consultation while attempting to keep up to date and remain relevant
Brian: I’m definitely not a long-term planner. Hopefully, I’ll be able to pop back to the UK for the weekend now that it’s only a two-hour flight. I’ll catch up with family and friends then take my son to see an Everton game. I’ll be doing some form of consulting for a living – I would have said writing but robots will probably be doing most of that.
Ben: Hopefully in geosynchronous orbit, about 36,000km from where I am right now, looking down and laughing maniacally.
What are your predictions? Let us know below.