Did you know that 2017 marked the first year that Boomers, Gen X-ers, Millennials and Gen Z-ers were all working together, in harmony, in the PR industry? That’s right, the first Gen Z-ers (1995-2012) graduated from college and entered the workforce. There’s a famous great divide between these four generations who were each brought up during a different era, bringing different values, standards and yardsticks for what is important to them and what defines success. That said, all coming together to find a common goal can often be a bit challenging, especially as the last few years have brought disturbing headlines to the industry that supersede intergenerational differences.
Year after year, PR consistently ranks as one of the top 10 most stressful professions (here’s the latest 2017 rankings), not the best look when trying to recruit fresh, new talent. And this fact is not surprising considering the average client-agency relationship is shrinking from 7.2 to 2.8 years. Further, only 27% of agency leaders believe that by 2020 the term “public relations” will adequately describe their work. Naturally, the self-proclaimed passionate and ambitious Millennial and Gen Z generations are collectively dissatisfied with these stats and the PR industry as a whole. Now, don’t get me wrong – as a Millennial myself I can say with complete confidence that I entered this industry because I had a passion for the core pillars that drive it – writing, creative thinking and relationships. And I am fairly certain my fellow Gen Y-ers (Millennials) and even Z-ers would agree.
If you look closely there are undoubtedly several factors that have affected this attrition, but there is no denying that what’s causing this dissonance is driven, in part, by technology, and the industry’s lack thereof. The “T” word has been dreaded by a lot of industry veterans. This becomes very clear when you see that PR firms only spend 1.9% of their annual revenue on technology when cross-industry average overall is 5.2%, according to a survey by CIO Magazine.
However, since these generations were taught by their parents that they are winners and always encouraged to challenge the status quo, they may very well be the key to accelerating the industry’s innovation and even getting us out of what seems like a bit of a rut.
By now it’s fairly evident that the younger generations embrace technology, so aside from understanding that it is truly a part of the industry both now and in the future, what does this all really mean? Well, it’s how you use that technology, my friends, that really makes the difference. In this article, I’ll explore these two generations ability to use technology to improve creativity, work-life balance and ROI and what that ultimately means for the next decade of our industry.
Ask anyone “in-house” what they are REALLY looking for in a PR agency and, if they answer honestly, they’ll tell you “creative ideas.” Agencies are known for being the PR folks in charge of staying on top of the trends and providing you with top-notch, and with a little luck, “viral” campaign ideas.
Technology and creativity may not exactly feel sympatico to our Gen X and Baby Boomer counterparts, but I assure you that many people would disagree, especially those who are spearheading STEAM initiatives across the country.
When it comes to PR, there are quite a few ways we can utilize technology to innovate creativity including:
AI - Everyone buzzes about AI, and what it can do for industries like ours is still relatively unknown. But what if we took this technology and used it to help us interact with our audiences during PR stunts? What if facial recognition capabilities went beyond Snapchat filters and auto-photo tagging on social media networks and became part of our entire experiences? Just imagine being able to walk into a museum exhibit and immersing yourself totally into WWII or Julia Child’s Kitchen, and taking your personal data and preferences from your visit to continue to update you with the museum’s events targeted by the exhibits you visited.
VR – Similar to AI, VR is another buzzword in the tech world right now that all industries are trying to wrap their heads around. However, for the PR industry, VR could be a complete game changer. Just think, if a member of the media can’t make it to your tradeshow booth because, as I’m sure you are all well aware – newsrooms are shrinking so bandwidth is tight. Now, they can come to you via VR right from their office and get the entire demonstration in just minutes, minus the bad airplane food.
New Mediums Altogether – I find myself often quoting Marshall McLuhan, “the medium is the message.” It’s a 50-year-old phrase and still very relevant to this day especially as Gen Z continues to enter the workforce. According to a recent survey, less than 20 percent of Gen Z respondents say they are likely to use traditional Gen X tools like email or landlines for work. But on the flip side, Gen Z is the least likely of every generation to use Millennial favorites like messaging and chat apps in the workplace. These unique preferences leave room to create entire new mediums for people to consume information and communicate. This innovation likely will go beyond creativity, but will certainly play a huge part in how we continue to creatively communicate with audiences.
REIMAGINING WORK-LIFE BALANCE
Now that employee turnover rates have reached over 50% industry-wide, Millennials and Gen Z are forcing everyone to rethink the way they lead as well as the benefits they offer in order to retain them. Millennials crave flexibility while Gen Z-ers value autonomy. But before you dismiss us all as whiny brats that want to change the vacation policy or meeting schedules, know that these generations really want to make a difference: they want to feel the impact and know exactly what that is more than any generations before them.
Millennials and Gen Z lives’ have been consumed by smartphones and social media and a certain type of reverse effect is starting to happen, where instead of striving for work/life balance, they are reimagining it as work-life integration. And in no industry, is this truer than in PR. Think about it - as I said before newsrooms are shrinking, meaning media are turning to PR professionals more and more to draft content for them, which is forcing practitioners to further expand their skillset between 280 characters all the way to contributed content. Further social media and 24/7 news cycles prove that communication just never stops. So, as the old saying goes, don’t beat them, join them – by using technology to your advantage with the following:
Bots: In a recent survey, seven out of 10 Gen Z-ers agreed that at least some of their current jobs could be automated by bots today, with even more agreeing that bots will automate some part of their jobs in the future.
Connected Home: On average, 55 percent of all respondents agreed that connected devices, such as cars, fridges, etc. could be used for work in the future.
Personal tech is work tech: The majority of all respondents (56 percent) would prefer to use the same tools for work as in their personal lives.
IMPROVING HOW WE REPORT ROI
Showcasing the impact of PR has been one of the biggest challenges the industry has faced over the past couple of years and can be directly correlated to the decline of client retention. In fact, in a recent PR Week article, Editor-in-Chief Steve Barrett gets real, and maybe a little despondent about this when he says, “If it wasn’t already a top priority, now is the time for PR agencies to demonstrate their value with hard data if they are to navigate through the black swans circling overhead.”
Currently, typical measurements in PR’s toolbox – impressions, ad value equivalency, website visits, social engagements, share of voice, sentiment, awareness, trust, etc. – don’t get at the root of ROI, and don’t measure the relationship with sales and marketing. PR should be aligning their reports with marketing to detail qualified leads that come from their efforts and the lifetime value of those customers. Did that feature story result in a spike in website traffic from visitors that took a desired action (for example, signed up for demo)? Or, how many inbound leads did that case study, syndicated on social media, result in?
All of these questions and more can be answered with the help of technology. As the barrier to entry continues to diminish, marketing automation software, analytics software and media buying software will be, if they aren’t already, essential tools in the PR professional’s arsenal. Lucky for us all, the two generations that were born with mice and stylists in their hands are adept at onboarding new technologies in just a matter of hours.
Just think, an investment of maybe only a few hundred dollars a year combined with a Millennial or Gen-zer can make (and save) you millions… not too shabby.
Blair Broussard is the senior vice president of ARPR, helping to build the brand—named 2016 Tech Agency of the Year and a top 30 Tech PR Agency by O’Dwyer’s in 2017—into one of the fastest growing technology PR firms in the country.