The Future of PR…and Beyond!

By Chris Kemper

3,000 PR people. Thousands of tweets. And more cards changing hands than a Vegas blackjack table.   

Such was the scene at PRSA’s 2014 International Conference in Washington, D.C.

With the theme “Leading the Way: The Fearless Future for PR,” speakers included Amy Robach of Good Morning America, author Walter Isaacson, Chuck Todd, the newly-minted moderator of Meet the Press, and Mike Buckley, Facebook’s VP of Global Business Communications. There were also more than 100 breakout sessions that covered everything from integration to gamification.

This was my fourth conference, and like the others I thought it was definitely worthwhile.

It’s been a few weeks since the conference ended, and I’ve had time to cull through my notes and consider the implications of what was discussed. While there were many themes – convergence, embracing data, and marketing to millennials to name a few – there are two I would like to call out.   

Brand journalism:

This was the buzziest of the buzzwords during the Conference, and one that I’m sure you’ve heard. The news hole is getting smaller and smaller – illustrated locally by the Cincinnati Enquirer’s recent changes. As that happens, trust in traditional media is plummeting. And now, with an amazing array of tools available to us, we have the opportunity to be our own journalists. 

I’ve always view my role as that of an internal reporter – constantly on the lookout for news nuggets and story ideas – that I could then pitch to the media. With brand journalism, the reporting process is the same, but we’re the ones doing the writing and telling the story to our publics.

This is both a threat and an opportunity. A threat because we have to find ways to amplify the message without the support of traditional media. And we lose the long-appreciated impact of the media’s third-party credibility. But it’s an opportunity because we are, in essence, our own gatekeepers.

The key will be how effectively we can communicate (see below).

Content marketing: 

Brand journalism’s sibling. Now more than ever, content is king. Were you there when Joe Pulizzi discussed this at a chapter luncheon a few years ago? Now it’s coming to the forefront.

We can generate and amplify our own content, improve our own visibility, and share it across multiple platforms. To do this, our content has to be top notch. No buzzwords. No jargon. Crystal clear. Concise.

With lots of journalism talent available in the marketplace, some organizations are hiring former reporters and giving them ample leeway to deliver interesting content. I see this trend continuing for years to come.

While I’ve never viewed the Bengals as a bastion of PR excellence, they have been doing this for years with Geoff Hobson, an employee and former journalist who acts with independence and, as such, holds the same credibility as other beat writers. 

In a breakout session, Lee Odden, a can’t-miss conference speaker, said today listicles and cat pictures get traffic than the New York Times.

And Polly LaBarre, a founder of Fast Company, said “There is no old media and new media, only the spaces between you and your audience.” We have an opportunity for that space to get smaller.

We need to embrace forms of content beyond the written word: video, infographics, video conferences, podcasts and photography. For example, at the Scripps National Spelling Bee we’re starting to use to create fun, sharable visuals.

Know your audience. Know your content. And know your delivery method.

This was not discussed at the conference, but I believe a trend in the coming years will be to have organizations with complementary missions come together to create their own online media outlets. They will likely employ former journalists and would lend themselves to a sort of implied third-party validation. What do you think?

There were only a few of us from Cincinnati who attended the Conference. Each time I’ve gone I’ve found it to be worthwhile. The 2015 Conference will be in Atlanta…hope to see y’all there!


Chris Kemper, APR, is a past president of the Cincinnati Chapter of PRSA and manages communications and public relations at the Scripps National Spelling Bee. You can reach him @chriskemper.