I have been in the PR profession for 20 years, recently as the CEO of a New York City consultancy and currently as the CEO of a tech company servicing the communications industry. Many people — among them VCs, technology analysts and fellow PR professionals — are now challenging me regarding the importance of content and want to know what is different about it today.
Here’s the simple answer: As communications professionals, we ultimately want to ensure the proper, effective and efficient delivery of key messages and information (i.e., content) into the hands of our target audiences and constituencies.
Companies hire us or pay our firms to get information to prospective customers (to help make a sale), to investors (to help demonstrate the true value of their stock) or to employees (to build engagement and make sure they know about things such as benefits, company news, etc.).
In doing so, the challenge has always been to figure out the best strategies and tactics for getting the job done. This could involve traditional approaches like media relations and conference participation; more modern approaches like email campaigns and blog writing; or the futuristic and sometimes provocative methods like using chat bots. For those reading this article from my generation (somewhere between baby boomer and Gen-X) you probably understand what I mean by futuristic.
When you consider how the strategies we use to do our work have evolved over the past several decades, you realize that a change is upon us that is forcing us to rethink content and its distribution.
The last time this happened was in the late 1980s. Up until then, content delivery and distribution took place via paper (books, newspapers, leaflets — remember those?). With the commercialization of PCs, we rethought content delivery with respect to the television-like boxes that sat (and still sit) on our desks. Now we are being challenged again with respect to the 2 x 4-inch smartphone screens.
If you are like me, then your mobile device is with you 24/7. The first thing you do when you wake up is look at your phone to see what happened during the night (either by way of push notifications that appear on the home screen or by scrolling through the emails that were delivered to your inbox).
Given this, we need to rethink our work in light of the way content is now being consumed, but we also need to recognize the tremendous opportunity presented to us. Never before have we had the ability to push information and communicate so personally, directly and instantaneously with the people we want to reach.
The year 2017 has the potential to be a transformative one for us in the PR and communications industry. It will require that we acknowledge something is different and then consider innovative ways of doing our work. It will also require asking our organizations to allow us to do things differently, and that may require additional resources.
To assist in making these requests for change, consider the following three trends that will undoubtedly unfold in the coming year.
1. The Digital Workplace is here and requires new, not old, ways of communicating.
Only a couple of years ago, Gartner, the leading technology industry analyst group, formalized its digital workplace practice, recognizing that a transformation was taking place in businesses as a result of new technologies like social media, mobile and others. In its recent “Cool Vendor” report with respect to the digital workplace (Monica Basso, analyst, April 27, 2016), Gartner says:
A digital workplace isn’t a product one can buy. Nor can an enterprise reshape itself overnight as a digital workplace. Instead, a digital workplace is the realization of applied effort in multiple areas, and the result of partnerships between business, HR and IT departments. Gartner envisions that the digital workplace will enable organizations to attract and retain employees, increase transparency, and embrace the changing nature of work and collaboration. It will help organizations bring employees on board, give them the skills they need to succeed, enable them to feel valued and heard, and allow them to contribute.
In 2017, we will need to keep an ear out for discussions regarding the digital workplace but also strive to have a voice in them. This is not a conversation that requires IT expertise; rather, it’s about the importance of content and its impact on business, regardless of function.
Whether it’s sales, human resources, finance or R&D, the communication of information and delivery of content are critical to all. And the effective delivery of content is what we as communications professionals do for a living.
2. Working together, corporate communications, human resources and IT can become revenue generators, not cost centers.
Over the past couple of years, when consulting for companies on their newly implemented mobile employee communications strategy, I have noticed something very interesting.
In many instances, professionals from corporate communications and human resources work collaboratively to ensure unified employee communications. And this totally makes sense given the commonality in their respective functions, which is to deliver content, albeit different types of content, to the same audience.
The same holds true for IT. In the past, IT professionals operated independently from the various business units within the same company. This was the case when their primary responsibility was to maintain the many computer servers on the premises.
However, with the shift to cloud computing, IT professionals now have the ability to provide a more consultative role when it comes to identifying new tools and solutions to accommodate the transformation to the digital workplace.
When communications, HR and IT work together, this can translate into greater productivity, customer satisfaction and profitability. Study after study demonstrates that those departments — which previously may have been considered cost centers — have an opportunity to become actual revenue generators, regardless of whether it’s in an enterprise or a small- to medium-sized business. The good news is that this is starting to happen, and it’s a trend that should continue in the years to come.
3. Legacy tools and systems don’t cut it for millennials.
It goes without saying that millennials grew up with mobile devices the way their elders grew up with rotary-dial telephones. However, only recently have these devices become important in the workplace.
The legacy systems of yore (e.g., intranets, SharePoint) don’t work well, if at all, on small screens. Something needs to be done about this if mobile devices are to serve as a functional conduit for the delivery of information, workplace tools and solutions.
In 2017, look out for what Gartner refers to as the mobile hub. In a recently released “IT Market Clock for Enterprise Mobility” report (Bryan Taylor, analyst, Oct. 7, 2016), Gartner defines the mobile hub as follows:
Mobile hubs (formerly referred to as mobile collaboration) aggregate content and functions under a “single pane of glass” in a mobile app; on the back end, they integrate with corporate systems through an intermediate server or cloud component. Their main focus is gathering content from multiple sources and aggregating them into a single view for a smarter user experience. In addition, mobile hubs also may aggregate communications content such as messages, email and presence; relationship data, such as contacts; or project activities and tasks.
Just as software was written for computers to enable workplace functions and to ensure an excellent end-user experience, the same is now happening for mobile. App-based products are on the market that make it easier to deploy mobile-based communications systems (i.e., mobile hubs). They’re designed for the communications and HR teams to implement quickly and cost-effectively, without the need for heavy-duty development.
And this will become even easier given the closer collaboration between IT and business units, since they are now there to consult and assist.
As a PR consultant for the past 20 years, Jeff Corbin is pioneering the use of technology in the communications industry as the founder of APPrise Mobile, a business-to-business/enterprise native app. Prior to APPrise Mobile, he served as the CEO of KCSA Strategic Communications in New York City. You can follow and connect with him on Twitter @jcorbinIR.