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PRx Recap: The Future of PR & Media Equals Improvisation, Inclusion, Contributors, Unconventional Models, Visual Storytelling and Diversification 

This is a guest post by Linda Krebs, founder & CEO, LKPR, Inc. and the current PRSA-NY President-elect

The Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA-NY) Tri-state District gathered leaders in public relations and media recently to discuss the future of their respective industries.  While the landscapes may be a bit unclear and the future hard to predict, the one thing that resounds is PR professionals and journalists will need to navigate this new frontier together. 

The thought-provoking discussion took place at the PRx: The Future of Public Relations & Media conference held at the Yale Club in New York City on October 21, 2014.  The conference, produced by the New York, New Jersey, Westchester/Fairfield, Connecticut Valley and Southern Connecticut chapters of PRSA, was a cornerstone event of Communications Week.

The Future of PR: Improvise

Fred Cook, president and CEO, Golin, addressed the most critical business skill every future leader in PR needs in a constantly evolving industry: the ability to improvise.  Cook certainly didn’t take the traditional route to CEO of a global PR agency, having been kicked off the tennis team, fired as a doorman, arrested for drunk driving as the “Sober Chauffeur” and lost as a tour guide.  

He stressed that as a PR professional, one needs to be able to reinvent him or herself to keep up with the ever-changing pace of the industry.  Cook also challenged PR professionals to step outside their comfort zones and try new experiences, “Next time you pass a magazine rack, instead of reaching for your usual copy of Fortune, Bloomberg Businessweek, Cosmo or People, pick up Guns & Ammo, Bass Fishing or Scrapbooking.”  Fresh ideas are only created by new experiences. 

Cook credits his early life experiences and a short stint as an entrepreneur for preparing him to work with other CEOs like Jeff Bezos of Amazon and the late Steve Jobs of Apple, who Cook sites as one of the world's greatest improvisers.  Under Cook’s leadership, Golin has rebranded with the tagline “Go All In” and is introducing the Golin Unternship, a program which allows new hires to get paid to do anything they want for three months before joining the company in their first full-time job. 

The Future of PR: Diversity and Inclusion

Barri Rafferty, senior partner and CEO of Ketchum North America, addressed diversity and inclusion in the PR industry; or the lack of it, especially among the executive ranks. She stressed a need for more women in leadership positions in PR, continuing to recruit men to the profession, as well as building a diversified incoming class of PR practitioners and creating an inclusive culture to keep them there.

Rafferty discussed the importance of succession planning and career pathing, encouraging companies to plan ahead and strive toward one out of every three job candidates considered being a diversity candidate.  She also warned against bringing personal bias to the office, asking PR professionals to leave their home lives and experiences with traditional gender roles at the door, “Ask a woman just back from maternity leave if she can handle more responsibility, don’t assume she doesn’t want it.  Ask her!”

Other tips for women in PR:  Don't wait to be rewarded for good work.  Be a self-promoter and pre-sell like you would your latest campaign idea to a client.  Have swagger.  Leave the apologies behind. Fight for pay equity and don’t label women who do as “aggressive.”  Remember, work-life balance is a myth, but work-life integration is achievable with flexibility and accountability. 

Under Rafferty's leadership, Ketchum recently added its first head of diversity and inclusion and Rafferty also leads a series of Omniwomen panel discussions on topics related to female leadership.  With female leaders performing best at the top four most important leadership communication attributes, she hopes to help more women take a seat at the executive table.

The Future of Media: Contributors

In an age when “content marketing” is the buzz word and citizen journalism is rampant, more traditional news sites are looking to contributors. 

CNN, traditionally a neutral host of news content, introduced its Opinion pages back in the day, acknowledging that readers are often looking for more than just the news of the day; they want an analysis and opinion on it.  Complementing CNN’s news reporting, CNN Opinion pages feature the opinions of regular CNN contributors as well as leading experts.  The pieces are edited and fact checked by the CNN team. 

According to Richard Galant, senior editor, Opinion, CNN Digital, the future of media is “becoming more curators not gate keepers.” 

What are CNN Opinion editors looking for?  They want timely pieces tied to the news cycle.  They want to be a part of the conversation and what people are buzzing about on social media. Opinion submissions should be conversational in tone and not published elsewhere.  

What do readers want?  Which stories do well?  Galant says readers want to know what kind of stake the writer has.  They want transparency.  They are also looking for a personal connection to the topic.  Personal stories do really well.  Their editors do look at the number of comments (quality too), social shares and page views for each story.

What else can readers expect to see from CNN?  More and more video.  The editors are always looking for more unconventional ways of telling stories and how people want to get their information.  The news authority previously launched CNN iReport, allowing anyone to share their stories, photos and videos.

The Future of Media: Unconventional Models

Chris Allbritton, senior editor, The Daily Beast and freelance writer, shared his unconventional journalism career path from AP technology reporter, to independent blogger and founder of Back to Iraq, to Reuters’ Pakistan bureau chief and chief correspondent, to weekend editor of online news site The Daily Beast, and pointed to a future of unconventional journalism models.    

According to Allbritton, “Erosion of traditional media brands has allowed smaller, influential brands to pop up.”  Look no further than Allbritton’s own outlet, The Daily Beast, which was just introduced by Tina Brown in 2008 and now sees 20 million unique visitors per month with 20 to 30 original news stories daily.    

And that’s not all that has changed.  These days, it’s not enough for a reporter to find the story and get it out; he or she is expected to promote that story and engage people about it through social media.  Allbritton’s suggestion for PR practitioners: work with a reporter to develop a social media strategy before a story runs.  Reporters appreciate the help with promoting their content.

So what does the future hold for media?  Allbritton admits that the way forward is unclear, though he expects it to continue to be social based.  He also underscored that the key to the future of PR and media will be trust.  A media outlet needs to build trust with its readers, as a publicist needs to build trust and be a reliable source for that outlet, regardless of medium.    

The Future of Media: Visual Storytelling

The future of media will be visual storytelling and a multidisciplinary approach, according to Megan Hess, assistant editor, Mashable.  The outlet recently introduced long form stories offering readers a more immersive experience, following the “Snowfall effect” and taking a cue from The New York TimesSnow Fall coverage.  

Hess says, “It’s about presenting news in an amenable way.”  Expect to see more graphical representation, but nothing with bells and whistles that won’t translate well to mobile devices and tablets—how most people get their news today.  It’s important for media outlets to present news in a digestible way that offers a seamless experience for both desktop and mobile. 

Hess points to recent reviews by Lance Ulanoff, Mashable’s chief correspondent and editor-at-large, of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus as an example of the collaboration that’s happening among editorial, art, video and product teams at media outlets today. 

Video is key.  Mashable is even integrating user videos into its coverage.  For example, they recently incorporated videos from World Cup celebrations happening in Brazil from social media platforms like Instagram and Vine.  Mashable also looks to build communities on emerging platforms such as these to organically drive traffic back to its online content.

The Future of PR & Media: Diversification

As the media and PR businesses continue to evolve, how does that affect a company’s media strategy for key announcements? 

Foursquare’s director of communications, Brendan Lewis, and communications manager, Laura Covington, provided a case study on the recent announcement of the company’s unbundling of its app in a session moderated by PR Week editor-in-chief Steven Barrett.

The situation: Knowing its audience, Foursquare decided to take its popular core app and create two separate apps—Swarm, the app for keeping up and meeting up with your friends; and Foursquare, the app that helps you find the perfect places in New York to go with friends.  The challenge, communicating these new changes without disenchanting the app’s existing 50 million users.  

“As communicators, we need to plan ahead for all possible outcomes,” said Lewis, who took his team through various scenarios as they finalized their media launch strategy. 

The communications team was involved in every step of the product rollout, from naming the app to determining the best way to engage Foursquare super users.  Recognizing the diversification of media outlets and growing influence of key tech media sites, the team strategically granted The Verge an exclusive on the unbundling.  The online outlet was able to deliver magazine and print quality reporting with the production of advanced multimedia assets to tell the story to a key audience in a powerful way. Other key tech and business media outlets were also given advanced access to the new apps, and a consumer media rollout ensued resulting in coverage in outlets ranging from Seventeen to Shape.

While the transition phase has been a bit longer than the company anticipated and the communications team did face a few unexpected challenges, including the surge of #KillSwarm movement, initial user data suggests that the reasoning behind the unbundling proves true and Foursquare continues to tell its story.   

This was just one of the great sessions held during Communications Week by PRSA-NY. If you're interested in learning more about future PRSA-NY events, please visit www.prsany.org