On January 26, three PR pros, Bridgette Borst Ombres, Michelle Garrett, and Tressa Robins, joined us to talk about the trends that could define the industry in 2022. Moderated by Richard Carufel, Editor of Bulldog Reporter, this rousing panel discussion covered a variety of important topics, including trust in media and brands, the Metaverse, writing skills, PR and marketing operating in silos, and many more. Here are some of the key learnings gleaned from this year’s event.
Trust is built through clear and frequent communications
Though it was a challenge long before COVID, the pandemic has only served to exacerbate the issue of earning and maintaining trust. Trust in PR. Trust in brands. Trust in the media. Brands ‘disappearing’ or going quiet on their customers during the pandemic was one area panelists identified as decreasing trust.
“The companies that didn’t have a strong online presence or weren’t on social media suffered because they [the audience] need to see you. You need to be out there,” said Garrett, founder of Garrett Public Relations.
Borst Ombres, Principal Consultant at The Commsultant, expanded on the point, bringing up an analogy by David Feeny, an authority on business transformation. “Be the dolphin, not the whale. There is a frequency to the dolphin. You are communicating with your audience frequently in short, relevant, targeted messages. And then you go down and you reassess. You pull more information together and then you come back up. Whereas with the whale, you are staying quiet for a long period of time and then when you finally come up, you spew all this information to your key publics who are left scratching their heads and asking, ‘what of this mountain of information is relevant to me?’”
Robbins, Vice President of Customer Onboarding, and Content and Social Media Manager at Burrelles, brought up another consideration that brands—and their leaders—need to keep in mind when trying to build and maintain trust. She said, “There are so many things that PR and communicators can do. We all know that truth, transparency, timeliness, and messaging consistency are critical. But given the disruption to everyone’s lives in the past couple years, I think two of the things that we’re seeing missing are empathy and compassion.”
PR pros can’t afford to miss out on all social media has to offer
Social media’s influence continues to grow and in the past year many platforms have modified their offerings to enhance the experience of users. For instance, the launch of Twitter Spaces or TikTok allowing three-minute videos. As a result, brands are struggling to figure out where they need to be and how to take advantage of the platforms in a way that will be meaningful to their audiences and beneficial to their goals.
“I think the key here is to get over thinking that you have to be everywhere,” said Robbins. “A euphemism my grandpa used to say all the time was ‘you fish where the fish are’. It’s the same concept with social media. You need to know where the people are that you’re targeting and then you need to be in those places.”
Robbins laid out three key parameters to consider when deciding which social platforms your brand should be on. The second parameter after “fish where the fish are” is to understand the platform’s use case, while the third is to consider resource availability. “You may simply not have the time or resources to be active on all the platforms you’d like to be,” she said.
But one space that our panelists agree PR pros need to be on is Twitter. In fact, Garrett encourages all PR pros who are not using Twitter to make their way there immediately. “There are reporters tweeting about what sources they’re looking for, what stories they’re working on. Journalists are actually telling PR pros to ‘get on Twitter’ and ‘follow us on Twitter’.” Journalists, she said, want PR pros to, “Interact with us when you don’t need or want anything. Just be a human being and chat with us.”
Borst Ombres has heard similar sentiments from journalists. “Twitter is becoming more and more integral to their day-to-day job. Not that it wasn’t important before, but it’s become even more critical today.” She’s also seen journalists shift their social habits in other ways to meet their audiences where they are, specifically with TikTok and Instagram. “I am noticing that journalists more and more are sharing snack sized show and tell videos around what they’re working on.”
The best integration of PR and AI is yet to come
Artificial intelligence was a hot topic on last year’s panel as well. There’s no doubt its role across industries is growing, and while our panelists have seen more use of AI-supported tools in PR, they still believe the industry is in the beginning stages.
“Most monitoring services now use some form of natural language processing, machine learning and artificial intelligence,” said Robbins. “But those tools still require some human intervention along the way, whether it’s training, programming, facilitation, or teaching. I don’t think it’s going replace humans anytime soon.”
Borst Ombres is a fan of the innovation she’s seeing come from the space. Though she has yet to find an AI-enabled tool that can replace what she does, she’s an eager student. “I think now is the time where we should be leaning in and paying more attention to AI’s role in PR. Mainly because I am seeing so many tools pop up left and right, and they’re getting better. They’re getting smarter at things like media research, writing, even sentiment analysis.”
Garrett takes a more cautious approach. “There’s a use for it somewhere along the way but you can never replace the nuance a human can bring to written content. That’s where I’m a little bit skeptical.”
If there was one takeaway repeated throughout the discussion it was to remember to be human. To practice transparency, empathy, and compassion as a brand and as a communicator. And to remember that no amount of artificial intelligence, machine learning, or augmented reality can replace the unique skills that humans possess. As Carufel put it, “Job security for us all.”
The full recording of this webinar is available on-demand.