By Phil Rabin

In today’s world, everyone can be a reporter, photographer and, if they choose, their own “media” outlet.  So where does that leave professional communicators?

The opening speaker at the National Press Club Communicators’ Summit, Richard Levick, Esq., Chairman & CEO of D.C.-based LEVICK, pictured above, raised a number of points that should give communicators reason to question their future role in their organizations.

Specifically, said Levick at the October 31 event, “everybody fights the last battle,” meaning that our approach to dealing with what’s pending will be shaped by what has been tried in the past.  But as is becoming obvious,  given fundamental changes in how we communicate, things that worked in the past may have little relevance or impact in the future.  As one example, “we are now at a point that every social issue emanates from the grassroots – not top down,” said Levick.

(Beyond social issues, note the impact of social media in fueling desire for Popeyes chicken sandwich which, when reintroduced to the chain’s menu, resulted in fans taking to social media “to praise the chicken sandwiches, post memes, and poke fun at Popeyes rival Chick-fil-A,” stated one media report.)

Levick also stated that in an online article, Jeff Bezos, who owns Amazon and The Washington Post, offered the observation that Amazon today can be viewed as a disruptor but, in the future, Amazon will be disrupted.

According to the article, the problem is that “as soon as we’ve gotten used to a system, it often becomes a target for yet another disruption. Despite the longer-term benefits, almost every meaningful large-scale disruption produces winners and losers in the short term. Companies go out of business, people lose their jobs. Whole communities can be decimated.”

(In a related item, The Washington Post reported on Nov. 4, that Baltimore-based Under Armour, in recent years, “has struggled to stay relevant … amid mounting competition from rivals such as Nike and Adidas.

(“This is an abrupt about-turn for a company that, until recently, was on a mission to challenge the might of Nike,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail.)

Another speaker at the NPC conference, Josh Wright, executive director for Ideas42, an organization based in NYC with a D.C. office, talked about how “tribal” we have become, and that would suggest that social media will play an ever-increasing role in shaping the opinions of members of the “tribe”.

And then there is the profound impact of constantly-changing technology on how we communicate, specifically, print version of newspapers, at some point, becoming relics of the past and traditional television networks seeing a decline in viewership.

By this time next year, reports Slate, most of the world’s largest media companies will have their own streaming networks up and running, and they’ll be aligned with, it not outright owned by, some of its biggest tech companies, most of whom are giving away yearlong subscriptions in order to both pad their numbers and remind viewers who’s really running the show. A year of Apple TV+ comes free with a new iPhone, AT&T customers who already pay for HBO will get free upgrades to HBO Max, Verizon is giving its top customers a year of Disney+, and, though details are still fuzzy, it’s likely there’ll be some kind of synergy between Peacock and Comcast.

The changes are profound and constant.  But what does it mean for professional communicators?

I would suggest that successful communicators will be those who focus on continually reinventing themselves to stay abreast of changing technology and also how these changes specifically impact the “tribes” they are trying to reach.  And, it will be a role that will be much more aligned with ROI.

It clearly is a role that will require new skills, constantly staying abreast of what’s working now and what will probably work in both the short- and long-term, but the consequences of constantly fighting the “last battle” will be professional suicide.

Your insights are welcome.

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