Robbins has long been active in the PR industry, having spent 17 years with the Public Relations Society of America and being a regular commenter on various high-profile blogs, including PR Daily, PR News, HubSpot, SpinSucks, Fresh Ideas and more.

In 2015, she was listed as number 14 on Onalytica’s list of 100 top PR influencers, and today, she works as the client onboarding and implementation VP at Burrelles.

So, are you ready to talk all things PR? Let’s jump right in:

Working in PR is complex at the best of times, but especially nowadays with so many media channels available — and so many content formats to choose from. What do you think is the biggest challenge PR professionals are facing in 2020?

The biggest challenge is just [that] — where to focus your efforts to get ‘the most bang for your buck’ and avoid ‘shiny object syndrome.’

There will always be new channels and platforms coming and going, but [what] it really just boils down to [is this]: you need to be where your target audience is.

Look at this way: if you’re a successful fisherman, you fish where the fish are. The same concept applies here — for both channels and formats. Do the research and find your audience, then you know where you need to be and in what formats.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t experiment when it comes to emerging platforms and formats — just be smart about it. For example, podcasts are making a resurgence. Does that mean you have to create podcasts? Maybe. One way to find out is to monitor your competitors and find out where they are. Regardless, you won’t know without the research.

The world of PR has changed so much over the last few years as social media and influencers have been on the rise. With this in mind, what value do you think traditional PR efforts offer in the digital age?

I think we all know by now that some form of social media presence is an absolute necessity. Influencers are another story. My personal opinion is that ‘influencers’ in general are less important. For instance, you can tap into your existing base and empower them to be brand ambassadors. User-generated content is also proving to be a very powerful tool for many organisations.

As far as traditional PR, the time couldn’t be better than now! Even though overall trust in the media has been declining, mainstream media is still one of the best ways to reach many audiences. In general, people still trust media stories over paid advertising — especially local news.

Digital is the vehicle that most Americans prefer, but the news story itself originated somewhere and that’s usually traditional media. Journalism, and thus, media relations, is still critically important in public relations.

In today’s competitive market, where consumer attention is such a difficult thing to come by, how can PR efforts cut through the noise? What elements really make PR work relatable and resonant with audiences?

Now that’s the million-dollar question!

Beyond your initial research, you have to continue to monitor and evaluate your PR programmes. If you aren’t continuing to evaluate and measure what’s working and what’s not, you won’t know how (or when) to adjust your tactics accordingly.

In general, good storytelling is what resonates. But first, you have to understand what your story is and why it matters to those you are directing it to.

It’s also about honesty and transparency. Using hard data is a great way to substantiate your claims, gain trust and to tell the story in a way that triggers emotion is the clincher.

Of all the trends predicted for PR in 2020 (and beyond), the increase of access to accurate and immediate data seems to top the list in every case. Why do you think the rise of data will influence the way PR professionals work?

The increased availability of data is both a blessing and a curse. I say that because in some organisations, while the data is being gathered, it may be siloed by another department — making it difficult for the PR professional to access.

There’s also the amount of data — it can all be overwhelming. It takes skill to harness the power of all that data and make sense out of it. I’ve noticed an uptick in communications-related job descriptions where they are asking for some data analysis skills or experience. That’s not to say all PR pros need to become data scientists, but that they [will need to] understand what data is important and make some sense of it in the bigger picture.

Data will continue to become more voluminous and PR pros need to ensure they aren’t left in the dust by their marketing colleagues.

Looking towards the future, what trends do you think we’ll see in PR over the coming years?

I always struggle a bit with these sorts of questions. Remember when Facebook’s organic reach was sky high and the end-all-be-all? Looking back, that seems to have been just a tiny blip on the radar screen compared to where we are today! Essentially, trends come and go — whether it’s written stories, audio stories, visual stories, video stories — and depending on what vehicle they are disseminated, the tactics will continue to evolve, but the overall strategies will not.  

The one thing I hear the most from both clients and other PR pros is the need for solid, qualitative measurement. It seems like we’ve been talking about this forever, but I dare say this is the year we must stop talking about and do it already

Side note: For your readers who don’t know where to start, AMEC has some great resources.

You’ve worked extensively with young PR students. Considering the current state of flux that the industry is in, what advice would you give to young people hoping to succeed in PR?

Mentoring and advising PR students is a labour of love for me. I’ve been a guest instructor, lecturer and speaker over the past decade and there’s one thing that always holds true … I advise them to find people and job descriptions for the jobs they’re drawn to. Through that, figure out what skills they’re lacking and therefore, what they need to do to get that job.

I also tell them I never want to hear them say, “I’m going into PR because I don’t do math” or “I don’t like to read”. If I hear either of those, I’m apt to tell them they want to reconsider their career choice.

I also advise that to be successful they need to embrace lifelong learning. I read every day and learn something new nearly every day! Even old dogs can learn new tricks — and if they want to succeed, it’s required.

What advice would you give to young people wanting to go into PR? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Wondering what other changes you can expect to see in the PR industry in the coming years? Check out these Five PR trends to look out for in 2020.