A Look 20 Years Into the Future

Phil Nardone

I recently read an interesting piece about what the PR industry will look like in 20 years. I sense that PR agencies of the future will likely look nothing like firms do today.  As I was reading it, I couldn’t help thinking about this blog post I write every month in celebration of PAN’s own 20th anniversary and how much PAN has changed in 20 years.

When I first started PAN, I was laser focused on running a traditional PR firm. Keep in mind – things were much different 20 years ago. Back then we were working from a desktop, stuffing envelops with press packages for an upcoming media tour complete with a press conference and live demos. For anyone who works in the PR industry today, this is a very unfamiliar scene.

Part of my role in leading PAN is helping the company adapt to change. While PAN definitely started out as a traditional PR firm, the emergence of the digital age and social media over the years has shifted the type of agency we are today. The convergence of social media with public relations over the years meant that I had to re-lay some of the groundwork I put down those 20 years ago.

I’ve touched upon this briefly in some my previous posts, but this convergence and change has been predominately led by our clients. As PR is getting a more permanent seat at “the table,” C-Suites and boards are beginning to recognize that PR adds a lot of value with respect to navigating digital platforms, developing strategies across those platforms, and bolstering a company’s historical strength in storytelling. A few years ago, I noticed that clients were coming to us with more than traditional media relations’ requests. It was clear to me then that PAN could no longer operate performing just media relations.

So, about two years ago, after a year or so of planning, I re-did some of the foundation on the house and hired Jen Bonney to serve as our Creative Director. And then six months ago, we re-did some of the framework and brought on David Saggio to serve as the VP of PANdigital. I think David said it best in his own blog post when he wrote, “the lines of marketing versus PR are increasingly blurred, causing success to rely more heavily on strategies that use content, community, and experiences to create actionable results.”

The outlets for consumers and stakeholders to source information these days are limitless. Today, they are looking beyond traditional media sources and are catching news everywhere from blogs to Facebook. This, in turn, presents a new opportunity for companies to present the same information in new ways across different verticals. From my experience, to do this successfully, your content strategy and strategic content needs to be exceptional.

As more and more clients are eager to launch a digital campaign, they are also keen to work with just one company rather than different shops for marketing and digital, as well as public relations. This why you see people like Jen Bonney and David Saggio walking the halls of PR agencies today. We are responding to our clients’ needs and wishes. As the industry continues to evolve, PR agencies must adapt to meet the evolving demands of the industry. We need to run integrated firms that offer everything from the creation of an eBook to a plan on how to successfully grow followers on LinkedIn.

Since Jen and David have joined forces, they’ve been unstoppable. As they say, the force is strong with this one. For example, when PAN client ThinkingPhones was looking to capitalize on the “always-connected” society, the company enlisted PAN to create a PR plan integrating traditional, digital and social elements to educate businesses with a clear call to action for managing connectivity. The team created a long-form infographic and bite-size shareables, which told the story visually, and coupled it with blogs and social content to extend the reach of the discussion. The strategy paid off: The “Constantly Connected Employee” campaign generated 10 unique articles over a two-month period, not least of which included the USA Today “Snapshot,” and ThinkingPhones’ social channels strongly outperformed previous months’ engagement levels.

Following a successful “May the Fourth” campaign in 2014 led by Jen Bonney, PAN client Carbonite turned to the team again this year to help it capitalize on the holiday. Jen developed a creative, interactive quiz that was built for social sharing as respondents found out whether they were the Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker of their office. The quiz not only aligned with Carbonite’s Star Wars messaging and appealed to broad consumer interests, but it also drove traffic back to Carbonite’s website and lead-gen assets. Nearly 4,500 people took the survey, which received 1.5million impressions on Twitter. Like I said, the force is strong here and I’m sure it will reappear in December when the new Star Wars flick launches.

Looking ahead, it is hard to think about what the industry will look like in 20 years. If you asked me 20 years ago what I thought PAN would look like in 2015, I don’t think I could have ever predicted that we would have evolved into the integrated firm that we are today. I can’t tell you for sure what the future looks like, but I can tell you it’s bright, and I can’t wait to see what else is in store.

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