What does the future of communication look like?

This week it’s been a bumper few days for comms pros, with a plethora of events, conferences and awards ceremonies taking place across Europe.

I featured thoughts from #commsconf in this article by guest blogger Jenny Burns on Wednesday and today it’s the turn of Jarrod Williams who attended #futurecomms14 in London.

Want to know what events are on? See my comms calendar.

Jarrodjarrod (pictured) is Communications Specialist, (PR and Digital) at leading affordable housing association Bromford here in the UK. You can find him on Twitter @jarrodwilliams.

He kindly responded to my plea via Twitter for a comms pro to guest blog about #futurecomms14. Over to you Jarrod…

What does the future of corporate communication look like?

In the coming months I’m investing some of my time at Bromford into researching the future of comms, specifically the role digital, social and content will play. So when I noticed social newsroom platform mynewsdesk were hosting a conference on that very topic, they got my attention.

DeirdreWhen I realised the infamous Tom Foremski @tomforemski, would be on stage alongside other top comms professionals like Paul Sutton, Betony Kelly @betonykelly, and Danny Whatmough @dannywhatmough, not only did they have my attention, they had me journeying down from Wolverhamtpon to the London Dockyards to see what all the fuss was about.

The day kicked off with a keynote from international author and lecturer Deirdre Breakenridge (pictured – credit @thepaulsutton). Her point was clear:

there is no path in front of us, it is ours to make, so always be curious and always ask questions.

She discussed the changes we’re already facing and how much of an exciting time it is.

It’s all about understanding how our audience has changed, how they’re now connected to us through a myriad of platforms and are communicators themselves.

The convergence of owned, earned, shared and paid are shaking up everything, so it’s time to start think like the consumer, thinking like a journalist, thinking like a data analyst, and seeing what these new mindsets give you.

(Want an explanation of these terms? See my glossary – Rachel).

We don’t connect directly anymore, instead our role is to facilitate other people’s conversations and help them to build their own relationships.

(Tweet this)

Her thoughts on the key three roles of the future comms professional? Data, content and crisis.

Content vs the big idea
There was a panel debate on content vs the big idea. The panel was generally on the same page from the outset, that this is a VS debate. Both the production of content and big projects are equally important and should be used in conjunction.

As Paul Sutton of Bottle PR suggested, it’s about drip feeding the content, with O2’s Emma Hart suggesting content was about engagement and the ‘big idea’ being about disruption. The panel also agreed calculated risk is fine, and should be encouraged.

Content has to be realtime and current, and tone can often be difficult, but it only through content will you achieve the big impact and reinforce that campaign key message.

Don’t be afraid to try, and don’t be afraid to fail.

Analytics should inform content. Use any bit of data you have, any piece of analytic information from Google and Facebook to build the bigger picture of your audience. Work out when people want content, what they want and why they want it.

Dan Slee of @Comms2Point0 also gave a hat tip to the work of customer service teams and the need to be human through everything you create.

tomTom Foremeski, of ‘Die! Press release! Die! Die! Die!’ fame (he wants to know why that’s still discussed, “MOVE ON!”) was always going to be the big disrupter of the day. His main message for PRs seemed to be to “shut up, stop being annoying and go home!”

Pic credit @presly.

The bull never speaks
Tom stated that every company, regardless of size, has the potential to be a media company.

The problem is, when has The Times ever penned a story about how great The Times is, or BBC News about BBC News. It just doesn’t happen! So why do brands think they are being “brand journalists” (a term he hates) when they write something about themselves.

He mentioned Red Bull as best practice, and pointed out, “the bull never speaks.” Content should be trusted, it shouldn’t hold a bias, and Tom doesn’t believe brands can do this particularly well because in the end, we try and turn everything into marketing.

His advice? Pick your service, pick your niche, listen to the audience and create unbiased stories with unique angles. Then you MIGHT be on the right track.

The art of storytelling
Stephen Follows of Catsnake Films spoke on the art of storytelling and how it’s ingrained in everything we do and part of human nature.

We’re the product of all the people who tell and listen to stories.

We can tell stories easily, like as Ernest Hemmingway did in six words. For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.

futurecommsWe don’t need a novel to have impact. Once you understand how to truly craft a good story, you need to understand how to get it shared. There are a number of reasons why people share, from using your content as social currency (making them look good) to the emotional impact it has.

There’s a science behind it; for example excitement and anger will encourage more sharing than sadness or contentment.

(Further reading on storytelling – see the article I published this week on storytelling hacks for comms pros – Rachel)

Anatomy of the modern communicator

When the anatomy of communicator panel kicked off, host Gabrielle Laine-Peters @GabrielleNYC boldly declared we’d come full circle and that PR was just PR.

No, we aren’t JUST PRs. Our role now encompasses far more and the modern professional is someone who understands change and can do a bit of something (to a degree). We still need people with their passion in specialist areas, but it is part of a team of these specialised generalists that we can achieve success.

A team is important, the modern communicator isn’t one person, it’s a group of people playing off each other, like a big PR power ranger megazord. (love the fact my blog now has a Power Rangers reference! – Rachel).

What is media relations?
Media relations shouldn’t be considered a role, but a tool that communicators use within their job. Credibility, authenticity and an eye for the news agenda is also key.

The panel summed this up in three core skills: strategy, storytelling and analytics.

The future of tech
When it came to the future technologies of PR, it was clear than digitally enabled devices, like smart cars, smart watches and interactive bathroom mirrors are all things PRs need to take note of.

As Neville Hobson @jangles, pointed out, mobile had rarely been mentioned throughout the day, but will be central in the near term, with items such as Google Glass and Occulus Rift on the horizon.

Tom Foremeski kind of agreed, believing that messages will soon be crafted for wristwatches, not iPads.

Before the end of the day, Jon Morter, who got Rage Against the Machine to No.1, regaled us with his top eight Facebook hates. Needless to say, the language he used to describe some of the mundane posts brands push out was… colourful. To understand what he means, visit Condescending Brand Page and you’ll see first hand.

My key takeaways from the day:

  • Yes there going to be confusion and exhaustion, but take hold and push forward.
  • Be curious and have a passion.
  • Don’t ignore data, or the interpretation of it, because this is key to everything.
  • Treat your audience as humans by being human with them. Listen to them and use that knowledge to shape your content.
  • Don’t forget your old skills, just adapt them to the shift in culture.
  • The way campaigns are run has changed and content is now more important, but even the old(er) methods like email marketing still work.

Post author: Jarrod Williams.

Thank you Jarrod, sounds like an extremely interesting event, I was sorry not to be able to make it due to previous client commitments, and appreciate you penning your thoughts here to share your experience.

Further reading
If you’d like to find out more about what was discussed, see the hashtag #futurecomms14 on Twitter and I believe there’s a Storify of all the Tweets, pics and posts coming soon.

Paul Sutton has blogged about it here: The future of communications: women? plus created a Twitter list of contributors that you can follow.

Dan Slee, @danslee, from Comms2point0 has also blogged: The future of comms could be a labcoat, tea and cake.

What’s the future of comms? To me it’s what you make it.



  1. […] William’s guest article for Rachel Miller Online Marketing (function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = […]

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