PR innovators will reap future's real rewards

The protracted recession is pressing in tighter against all businesses, promising to vastly alter the landscape. If you haven't yet felt this vice grip, consider yourself lucky.

The protracted recession is pressing in tighter against all businesses, promising to vastly alter the landscape. If you haven't yet felt this vice grip, consider yourself lucky. Yet, I find it fascinating to play a sort of guessing game of what next year will look like. Will there be a Hummer brand? Will secretive hedge funds be reporting to the SEC? Will there be universal healthcare in the US? Will the online news free-for-all come to a stand still or accelerate?

It's not in malice, but with a sense of excitement, that I question what the near future will look like. The PR practice touches on nearly every industry by virtue of it services: media, healthcare, finance, government, auto, nonprofit, CPG, technology, and the list goes on. Marketing services are somewhat unique in that way.

I wonder what the next innovation in PR will be. Certainly the advent of social media has led to massive change, not only in strategy and communication channels, but it has also spawned entire specialty firms, new practices, tools, and metrics. As the recession shakes out winners and losers over the next year, PR will need to remain alert and adaptive, finding ways to service new needs and perhaps new industries.

I believe the PR field, in general, is made up of early adopters who quickly recognize trends and how to capitalize on them. Yet, I hope PR won't forget that it too has the ability to innovate within its own field, rather than simply reacting. True innovation will be more than a rebrand of an agency name, more than a partnership with a sister firm, and more than a new practice with a fancy name and fancier objectives.

I was speaking to tech blogger Robert Scoble recently about the path of innovation. He noted that the stuff that typically gets the early adopter set all hot and bothered often falls into the category of “small stuff” – something that perhaps wasn't initially created with a business objective in mind, but someone believed would be really cool to try out. Twitter, its founders have said, started as something really small. Google is notorious for its credo that allows employees to mess around creating small stuff, which sometimes peters out, and other times turns into a game changer.

With so many in the PR industry focused on the big stuff right now – revenues, keeping clients or stakeholders satisfied – it might be hard to think about spending time on the small stuff. But it's worth it. No organization could be successful without its worker bees – the ones that do the day in, day out account work. But the true innovators learn to foster an environment where creativity can thrive.

Certainly at PRWeek, we plan to cover the PR game changers that I hope will emerge over the next couple of years. It's likely that some of this innovation will come from the current unknowns, maybe an AE just entering the work force, or a small firm that hits on something that truly resonates. Cultivating creativity needs to happen at all levels, across all disciplines.

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