It has been 167 years since the death of Fryderyk Chopin, yet his presence still permeates through Warsaw. It was this city – a mishmash of traditional culture and new, glittering skyscrapers – that was chosen for the latest meeting of the ECCO International Communications Network.
As 30 PR professionals from 15 markets gathered to discuss the future of the communications industry and what tomorrow’s PR agency would look like, I thought of Chopin – his legacy looming large over a capital that has undergone more structural and spiritual change than most.
There are lessons here for us. The communications industry has been transformed by the democratisation of the social and creative web and the collective impact on how we consume media and information. In this vastly different environment, what is the role of the storyteller?
Together we identified four main characteristics the agency of the future will hold:
- Restless – Technology and the rise of sharing networks has accelerated the pace of change to faster than ever before. Tasked with connecting leaders and brands to their audiences in an increasingly complex world, the PR agency of the future cannot just match this speed, it must run faster. This means staying ahead of the curve in terms of technology, channels and tools, and finding new ways to reach people. The agency of the future cannot stand still.
- Diverse – the PR agency of the future must fit with and understand the market it operates in. This means calling on a wider, more diverse pool of experts and individuals, crowdsourcing ideas and skills from beyond the industry to match specific projects. From the creative – artists, poets – to the campaigning – activists, academics – a more varied set of communicators will pioneer a more progressive approach and bolder ideas that have real impact.
- Relevant – the average consumer is bombarded with between 4,000 and 10,000 marketing and advertising messages each day, according to a recent US estimate. People have, understandably, developed their own filters to cope with this information obesity. Consultants will need to make their campaigns brutally targeted – out is the mass press release distribution and ‘aimed at women’ audience identification, instead we will usher in more data-led insights to develop an in-depth understanding of our audiences and how to target them effectively.
- Connected – Beyond a future focus on new channels, tools and content, one element of communications will retain its importance: relationships. Communications has always been based around human interaction, relationships and trust; the ability to deliver, face-to-face, a passionate pitch. This will be as crucial in fifty years’ time, as it is now, as it was fifty years ago.
In our efforts to prepare for the future, it is important to remember what we must protect. When Chopin, who had suffered from ill-health for most of his life, was struck down with suspected tuberculosis at 39, he was terrified of being buried alive and instructed his family to remove his heart upon his death. I hope that the communications industry does not, in its fear of being buried by new technology and practices, remove its heart. We are conductors, we are composers and we are well-placed to adapt to the future while remaining faithful to the fundamentals.