It's similarly clear that the PR agency that wants to compete now, let alone in the years ahead, needs to find ways to leverage the power of emerging media. But the imperative to adapt to evolving realities is true of any business - in any industry and at any time.
As we contemplate a future in which the pace of technological change seems sure to accelerate, it may be worth remembering that the new media at our disposal are merely vehicles. They will ultimately be of little use to us unless we have a destination in mind. Tomorrow, as is true today, that destination has to be client satisfaction. To get there, even with the best and most modern tools, PR firms of the future will still need creative people capable of generating brilliant ideas.
People will, in fact, become ever more important in a world where creativity needs to be brought to bear not only in telling a story, but also in finding the best way to share that story. The rapidly changing media environment has necessitated an unprecedented convergence of disciplines across all aspects of marketing communications, and mastery of these varied disciplines will require commensurately broad-based talent.
Anyone can look at the explosion of Facebook and Twitter and decide they need to develop campaigns geared toward social networking sites. But if one doesn't grasp the underlying dynamic at work in the growth of social networking as a marketing tool - that the brand-building pendulum is shifting from persuasion to the influence of trusted sources - one will simply be trying to pour old wine into new bottles. And if an agency misses that there is more going on than the well-documented move from traditional to new media - that this is also a story of the shifting capabilities and strengths of various media - that agency will be blind to the central challenges the future will present and the brands they are charged with building.
Finally, it is not enough to merely pay lip service to the ways in which social media facilitate a "conversation" between consumer and brand, or even to listen to what the consumer has to say on his or her end of the conversation. To be truly competitive, the agency of the future will need to have an acute sense of just what to look and listen for, the analytical acumen to find the gold in mountains of data, and the imagination to translate consumer messages into campaigns that are truly responsive. Maximizing the potential of this medium requires nothing less.
Such is the picture that emerges when we break down but one element in the new PR landscape. Already it becomes abundantly clear that the agency of the present - let alone the future - must develop new skill sets and bring those skills it may already harbor to bear in novel ways. It must have the vision and the resources to be able to marry production and distribution. It needs to have the sophistication and street smarts to distribute messages and share content through emerging technologies in ways that discover and respect those technologies' inherent strengths and weaknesses. And it absolutely needs to acquire and hone the analytical and strategic skills necessary to move beyond awareness of consumer trends into influencing and engaging them.
One rarely, if ever, finds such an expansive range of skills in individuals. One can, however, foster the intersection of these skills in a well-integrated organization. Achieving this level of integration, with interactivity between component skills, may well be the central challenge of the future PR agency; the ability to meet this challenge will determine success or failure far more than one's ability to ride any one of today's prevailing trends.
Because it's not about the specifics - we can extrapolate from today's concerns and imagine that we know what tomorrow's specifics will be, and we might be right or we might be wrong. Only by focusing on talent and expertise at the nexus of a wide array of fields can we be sure we'll be able to excel when the future - in all its unknowable dimensions - is upon us.
Miles Nadal is chairman and CEO of MDC Partners, a marketing and communications network that counts Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal & Partners, Zig, Bruce Mau Design, Henderson Bas, Redscout, Attention, Team Enterprises, Sloane & Company, and VitroRobertson among its many holdings.