Inside the Profession

Why Communicators Should Expect a Year of Disruption in 2018

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The communications profession will evolve in ways we cannot imagine today. In this shifting environment, communicators need to be prepared for absolutely anything.

Even so, our firm is seeing some patterns emerging in the profession and in the marketplace as we look ahead this year:

The emphasis on intangible skills will grow. Our firm has conducted a number of studies in this area in collaboration with Dr. Bruce Berger at The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations at the University of Alabama. What we’ve found applies at the individual level and at the level of the organization.

The most successful individuals in communications exhibit self-awareness, emotional intelligence, resilience, creativity and general likeability. And successful communications departments are the ones with a culture of open dialogue, engagement, transparency, shared decision-making and a willingness to take risks. Those intangibles can help organizations cope with change. More than ever, that sort of thinking is striking a chord with our clients, and impacting their messaging and hiring practices.

In a similar vein, I expect we’ll see organizations making even more “investment hires,” seeking raw, moldable talent and not just focusing on relevant experience. Diversity is one facet of that — not just different types of people (though that is extremely important and something all our clients are demanding) but also different ways of thinking and different skill sets.

A good hire can learn to navigate a new organization and learn the substance of its operations on the fly while also contributing a valuable outsider’s perspective. That ability to learn and adapt has value, and it can’t really be taught. In 2018, I won’t be surprised to see even more of a willingness to consider outside-the-box candidates from different fields or industries.

Social media. Direct engagement with individual consumers. Grassroots advocacy. The list keeps growing. Digital media and individualized outreach are here to stay and have been colossal topics across the profession in 2017. That said, from what many clients are telling me, the pendulum may have swung too far away from traditional, top-tier media relations. Longer-form earned content — and the professionals who can deliver it for their organizations — could play a growing role in 2018.

In 2018, as in 2017, uncertainty is the only thing the profession can really count on. At any time, some new app or social movement or economic reality could shift the landscape for all of us. But that’s why great communicators are so valuable to their organizations. They manage risk well. They anticipate disruption. Whatever happens, they shouldn’t be surprised.

Bill Heyman is founder, president and CEO of Heyman Associates, New York.

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Bill Heyman


  • I would love a link to the research on the qualities that make a successful PR hire. Your points are well taken. In an environment where the technical skills needed are constantly changing, the practitioner’s ability to embrace change and adapt becomes more important than any given technical skill.

    And those qualities you flagged as success indicators seem harder and harder to find: “self-awareness, emotional intelligence, resilience, creativity and general likeability.”

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