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March 26, 2018

Anna Ruth Williams



This article originally appeared on The Social Shake-Up's blog.

Did you know that 2017 was the first year that baby boomers, Gen X, millennials and Gen Z were all working together in harmony in the PR industry? That’s right, the first Gen Z-ers (born between 1995 and 2012) graduated from college and entered the workforce.

There’s a famous great divide between these generations, bringing different values, standards, and yardsticks for what’s important and what defines success. That said, coming together toward a common goal can be a bit challenging, especially as the last few years have brought disturbing headlines about the PR industry.

Year after year, PR consistently ranks as one of the most stressful professions (here’s the latest 2017 rankings), not the best look when trying to recruit new talent. And this fact isn’t 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.

If you look closely, there are several factors affecting this attrition. But there’s no denying this dissonance is driven, in part, by technology and the industry’s lack thereof. The “T” word has been dreaded by a lot of PR veterans. This becomes clear when you see that agencies 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 millennials and Gen Z 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 rut.

By now, it’s fairly evident that younger generations embrace technology. So, aside from understanding that it’s 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 that really makes the difference.

Here’s how millennials and Gen Z can use technology to improve creativity, work-life balance and ROI, and what that ultimately means for the next decade of our industry.

Innovating Creativity

Ask anyone in-house what they’re looking for in a PR agency and, if they answer honestly, they’ll tell you “creative ideas.” Agencies are known for staying on top of trends and providing top-notch and (with a little luck) viral campaign ideas.

Technology and creativity may not feel synonymous to our Gen X and baby boomer counterparts, but I assure you that many people would disagree, especially those spearheading STEAM initiatives across the country.

When it comes to PR, there are quite a few ways we can use technology to innovate including:

1. AI—Everyone buzzes about AI but what it can do for industries like ours is still relatively unknown. What if we used it to help us interact with our audiences during PR campaigns? What if facial recognition capabilities went beyond Snapchat filters and auto-photo tagging on social media networks and became part of our entire experiences? What if we took the data and personal preferences of museum visitors immersed in a WWII or Julia Child’s Kitchen exhibit, and used it to update them about related events?

2. VR—Similar to AI, VR is another buzzword that all industries are trying to wrap their heads around. However, for the PR industry, VR could be a game-changer. Just think, if a member of the media can’t make it to your tradeshow booth, they can visit remotely via VR and get the entire demonstration in just minutes (minus the bad airplane food).

3. New Mediums—I find myself often quoting Marshall McLuhan, “the medium is the message.” It’s a 50-year-old phrase and still very relevant, especially as Gen Z continues to enter the workforce. Less than 20% of Gen Z say they’re likely to use traditional Gen X tools like email or landlines for work. But on the flip side, Gen Z is the least likely generation to use millennial favorites like messaging and chat apps in the workplace. These unique preferences leave room to create new mediums for people to consume information and communicate.

Reimagining Work/Life Balance

Now that employee turnover rates have reached more than 50% industry-wide, millennials and Gen Z are forcing everyone to rethink the way they lead, as well as the benefits they offer. Millennials crave flexibility while Gen Z-ers value autonomy. But before you dismiss us all as whiny brats that want to change vacation policy or meeting schedules, know that these generations really want to make a difference.

Millennials and Gen Z have been consumed by smartphones and social media and a certain type of reverse effect is starting to happen—instead of striving for work/life balance, they are reimagining it as work/life integration. And in no industry is this truer than PR. Think about it—newsrooms are shrinking, so media members are increasingly turning to PR pros 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: 

1. 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.

2. Connected Home: On average, 55% of all respondents agreed that connected devices, such as cars and fridges, could be used for work in the future.

3. Personal tech is work tech: The majority of respondents (56%) would prefer to use the same tools for work as in their personal lives.

Improving ROI Measurement

Showcasing the impact of PR is one of the biggest challenges the industry faces and can be directly correlated to the decline of client retention. The metrics in today’s PR toolbox—impressions, ad value equivalency, website visits, social engagements, share of voice, sentiment, awareness, trust—don’t get at the root of ROI and don’t measure the relationship with sales and marketing.

PR should align 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 the desired action (for example, signed up for a demo)? 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 pro’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.Learn how your organization can adapt to the next generation and the Future of PR.