It’s the year 2030. Autonomous cars fill our roadways, so we can enjoy immersive VR experiences as we commute. Journalists are an endangered species, and PR as a discipline looks little like it did in 2016 – and even less like it did in 2010.
Today we’re seeing microcosms of what the future of PR and media will look like. This is my attempt to build on those emerging trends, stare into my crystal ball, and postulate on how that will evolve in the next decade and a half. In that metaphoric crystal ball, I see three key trends, and three key ways communications professionals will have to adapt.
Journalism is heavily automated
In 2030, journalists will be vastly outnumbered by data scientists and engineers who create and tweak automated reporting technologies. Their robot offspring will write (and optimize) the bulk of news content; predictive analytics will mine conversations to identify priority coverage topics, angles and sources; and the few remaining human journalists will focus on features and investigative reporting, with heavy support from machines.
Some of that is already here: companies such as Narrative Insights and Automated Insights are pioneering automated sports-writing and earnings coverage in mainstream publications. Buzzfeed has revolutionized the media landscape by applying data science to drive massive traffic and revenue. And journalists increasingly rely on their data science teams to source and analyze data, especially in deep-dive or investigative pieces.
The work of media relations professionals will change in very similar ways – investing in parallel predictive technology to try to predict what the media’s predictive technologies will predict (you read that right). This technology will influence how to position a pitch, how to position a quote, or how to get in front of a nascent topic to ensure inclusion in relevant coverage. And both sides will work with the next generation of HARO/ProfNets to automate interview and quote sourcing, much like resume-analysis technologies do today.
Publications will turn into content leeches
Outsourcing actual content creation will be the name of the game. The ‘outsourcing’ to robots noted above will be dwarfed by the amount of content publications curate from outside contributors and from trending content. Each publication will fight to become the primary news digest for their target readers, similar to what Facebook has long worked to achieve.
You see this today with the way Forbes, Fortune and other publications source fully-baked content from a vast network of non-paid contributors. This is on top of the round-up roles of features such as WSJ’s Morning Ledger or Fortune’s Data Sheets, which increasingly feature third-party content.
But last month’s Fortune shift to Medium for its contributor network signals the biggest move yet to curating content published on open or partner platforms – regardless of “official” contributor status. By 2030, the process for sourcing and aggregating trending third-party content will be completely automatic.
That means owned content from spokespeople and organizations will drive mainstream pickup. Spokespeople will publish directly to quasi-owned open platforms – rather than exclusively on company blogs. Predictive analytics will suggest topics, headlines and language tweaks, and advanced technologies will systematically customize widespread distribution across employees, customers, advocates, analysts, journalists, subscribers, fans, and more.
People-generated content drives the news
With algorithms in charge of identifying story and coverage topics, they’ll mine popular conversations for topics ripe to bubble up. Each publication will have its own algorithm to try to carve out its own niche, moving away from today’s “race to the bottom” to simply be the first to report on every breaking news item.
Today, most publications feature “Trending” content and use it to source dedicated news stories and segments. And August’s EpiPen price controversy is the most recent example of a story that dominated headlines and generated calls for Congressional hearings, all starting with a social media-driven movement by parents. Patient advocacy organizations didn’t drive the story, people did. And it is still dominating headlines.
That means control of the media agenda is and will be even more outside of the control of the media, and even further outside the control of communications professionals. With publications of the future relying exclusively on automated technologies to inform what stories to cover, grassroots movements will be the primary signal for what becomes news.
But, those signals will be heavily segmented to niche audience groups, much like advertising technology does today. That affords both media and communications professionals the opportunity to hyper-target story angles to the algorithms that determine what gets in front of small but incredibly relevant audiences.
2030 will be an exciting world, a world where strategic thinking paired with predictive technologies will revolutionize media coverage – and revolutionize how the media agenda is set.