My summer reading list includes Dr. Thomas Friedman’s latest, audacious work, “Thank You for Being Late: An optimist’s guide to thriving in the age of acceleration.” Friedman covers the major drivers of our world’s acceleration in the 21st century. For instance, today it takes 10-15 years to adopt the types of technological advances that humanity used to absorb over the course of a couple of generations.
While reading this thought-provoking gem, I’ve also been reflecting on ARPR’s own acceleration. Our fifth birthday is just around the corner (August 1st to be exact) and if you’re one of the 50% of business owners that makes it to this milestone, you know how I feel. I can only describe it as a proud, bewildered mama bear who turns around and realizes how many mountains her tribe has climbed.
We’ve accomplished a helluva lot the past five years, like a 45% YoY growth rate. But Friedman got me thinking that what’s more impressive than our agency growth, is how we’ve done this against the acceleration our industry has faced. Over the past five years, public relations has witnessed significant changes – some depressing, like journalist layoffs; some fascinating, like new analytics tools; and some just super cool, like these Snapchat Spectacles the team gave me. In order to PRopel what’s possible for our clients, our Army of Awesome has also had to keep up and evolve with these dynamics for 60 months straight.
So, in the spirit of Friedman’s optimism, let’s raise a glass, eat some cake, and look at five ways that PR has changed since ARPR was founded in 2012.
1) Newsroom Changes
Perhaps the most challenging dynamic that PR pros face is the massive shift occurring in newsrooms of all shapes and sizes. In the era of citizen journalism, insta-news cycles, click bait headlines and fake news, publishers are shifting their monetization strategies, which has a direct effect on newsroom staffing and content distribution.
Over the past five years, we’ve witnessed the death of print publications, the closure of local outlets, and even the collapse of collegiate journalism degree programs. Most recently, in the first half of 2017, ARPR’s tech clients were impacted by IDG’s massive layoffs, which obliterated publications like Computerworld. These losses were quickly followed by more sad announcements from HuffPost, TIME Inc., and New York Times.
Newsroom changes have also been more nuanced. Such as publications ceasing to accept contributor content, article length getting shorter, more publications refusing to put vendor backlinks in articles, and the rise of freelance writers.
Which leads me to the emergence of podcasts. With smaller newsrooms and more digital news consumers, podcasts are some editors’ answered prayers. It’s a lot easier to record an interview and throw it on the web than it is to put a 900-word article through the copy-editing ringer. Today, almost 20% of U.S. adults listen to podcasts at least once a month.
While PR pros are giddy over this new medium for storytelling, there are still some gaps. For example, the only real measurements we have to track podcast listenership is subscriptions and downloads. But even then, it’s difficult to dilute how/if the track is fully listened to. Moreover, it’s impossible to know what action a listener takes after listening (e.g., goes to a website, calls to speak with a sales rep, searches for more info). For these reasons, publishers are still tinkering with the monetization strategies around podcasts. The next five years of podcasting will be interesting to watch…
3) Marketing Automation
Consider this –10 years ago social media was emerging, and PR firms didn’t jump on the bandwagon fast enough. They half-heartedly tried to bolt social media onto campaigns, and they hired “some millennials” to help them understand it. As a result, PR agencies lost revenue to social media firms that sprung up, and internal PR departments became dangerously siloed from their social media counterparts eight cubicles away. The same phenomenon is happening this decade with marketing automation.
Over the past five years, marketing automation software, like HubSpot and Pardot, has become lower barrier to entry. What used to only be accessible by enterprise is now affordable for small businesses. For example, MailChimp recently released its marketing automation tools for FREE. Now, brands of all sizes can launch sophisticated campaigns with refreshing visibility and ROI. My colleague Renee wrote a great blog about why communicators must embrace marketing automation now because it’s changing PR (for the better). In fact, since ARPR launched our lead gen and marketing automation service offering 1.5 years ago, 60% of our clients have taken advantage of it (more).
4) Micro Storytelling
Remember those Snapchat Spectacles I told you about? Well, they’re just one indicator of the rise in micro-storytelling. Over the last five years, social media platforms have evolved at a rapid pace, including the launch of Snapchat and Instagram Stories – the two most popular channels for micro-storytelling. In fairness, the first micro-storytelling platform, Vine, also launched in the past five years…and then subsequently died.
On the internet, attention span is a commodity. Micro-storytelling allows brands and individuals to capture an audience with short, witty, real/raw and creative video and picture snippets. These five to10 second snippets are strung together to tell an engaging story over a brief period of time. And people love them. In 2016, Snapchat made news when it reached more active daily users than Twitter. Then in 2017, Instagram Stories stole the spotlight when it announced it had exceeded Snapchat in popularity. Grab some popcorn and tune into these platforms, it’s going to be fun to watch this trend play out.
Okay, so I’m not being serious with this one. Okay, maybe I am. Really, I just wanted an excuse to use emojis in this blog post. If you follow me on social media, you’ll know I ❤️ emojis. I even have an emoji keyboard on my MacBook. I use emojis so much that you’d think I had been emoji-ing my whole life. But Apple didn’t officially support emojis internationally until the iOS 5 rollout, which, you guessed it – was about five years ago. For many marketers, emojis have breathed new life into consumer communications campaigns. Appboy’s 2016 study of emoji use in marketing campaigns found that emoji usage has increased by 609% year-over-year. Why? They’re relatable and fun. In fact, Quintly found that emojis generate 17% more interactions on Instagram, and Experian says 56% of brands using emojis in email marketing subject lines had higher open rates. 📈
We’d love to hear what PR trends have been most beneficial (or challenging) for you over the past five years. Join us in this Future of PR LinkedIn Group to keep the conversation going.
P.S. In honor of our fifth birthday, we’re taking our Army of Awesome to Cabo San Lucas for some team bonding and relaxing. Follow us on Instagram the first week of August to see what happens when you put over a dozen PR nerds in one cabana. 🍹🎊🎂🏝