Do I really think my next boss will be an iCEO robot? NO.
Do I think communications professionals would be naive to rule out the threat of automation altogether? PROBABLY.
Is this one of many significant trends underway that we must attend to in order to remain relevant in our worlds of brand and communications? YES.
Recently over 60 industry leaders and 170 live streamers came together to debate the future of the communications industry as part of Social Media Week London. I was joined on the panel by Tim McLoughlin, Head of Social Media at Saatchi & Saatchi and Thane Ryland, Head of Social Analytics at Microsoft Mobile to explore a variety of areas from Chinese social media and their approach to social commerce, through to the digital skills gap in the UK economy. The communications industry needs to adapt to the changing digital landscape and there are clearly many challenges ahead. Three areas seemed to spark the most debate, which I’ve summarised below.
Does the rise of automation threaten communications roles?
Frequently breaking news headlines are being generated by robot journalists but if we accept that PR is about managing reputation, then digital simply changes what our roles will become as opposed to threatening them. As echoed in a recent PRCA report, clients are simply expecting agencies to deliver in different (digital) service areas such as SEO, blogger outreach, online advertising, and online reputation management and so understanding these areas and making them work for clients becomes our job. Google page one is, to a large extent, your online reputation and it amazes me how many large organisations are still getting this wrong. Understanding exactly how to manage Google maps, Google+ profiles and Wikipedia communities should be a given, but is so clearly absent in far too many cases.
How can we convince C-Suite to invest in digital?
Just because we’re talking about new technology, doesn’t mean we can’t talk in the same old language. Twitter recently published a report that talks in the context of reach and cost efficiency and has captured the attention of senior professionals across the globe. Online interactions create data records which mean we are able to quantify the effect of our efforts compared to other areas of marketing, using this to take more calculated risks and demonstrate value.
Lots of organisations allocate around 10% of their budget to “Test” or “Innovation” pots and securing activity within these lines initially can be a good way to demonstrate the value of new approaches. For example, Coca-Cola’s very successful content marketing strategy had its origins in test and learn projects funded from a “bravery” marketing pot.
What does the convergence of PR, advertising and media agency activities mean for the industry?
We’re seeing communications budgets coming together into one pot, but does this spell the end of specialist agencies? The conclusion we came to was “no”. Whilst the concept of “PR” versus “Advertising” versus “paid” versus “earned” media is nonsense, it doesn’t change the fact that multitalented teams of specialists are always likely to be required to manage brand health and audience engagement. This is regardless of how the activity is badged or who’s paying for it.
We should remember that brand and reputation building is about far more than just communications efforts. The nature of our connected world means that there are now far more brand touchpoints and so consideration needs to be given to every single one as opposed to just the big Sunday night TV spot. In short, branding needs a rebrand!