Communications professionals don’t usually speak with mixed messages, but when three executives got together recently to talk about the state of their industry, they offered an assessment as contradictory as the field—and the nation—itself.
On one hand, it’s a tough, stressful, trying time to be in communications.
And on the other? It’s a great time to be in the business. So come aboard!
That was the message at the recent 2022 IPR [Institute for Public Relations] Bridge Conference at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies in Washington, D.C. And if that sounded a bit confusing, it was no more so than the disconnected America of 2022, a time of hope tempered by anxiety, turmoil, and bitter divisions, when no one can seem to agree on much of anything, including what constitutes reality.
“Your trust barometer is just spiraling down,” said Craig Dezern, senior vice president and global head of communications at Hilton. “It’s appalling.”
A Chaotic Time
This makes it difficult for marketers. Gone are the days when Walter Cronkite could end his CBS newscasts with the words: “And that’s the way it is”—and everyone could pretty much agree. Now there is no singular “public” to appeal to, only myriad interest groups, often more concerned with attacking one another than finding solutions or common ground.
“For companies—both internally and with your team members, your employees, and externally—your comms are always being on the verge of being sucked into something that comes out of nowhere,” Dezern said. “And, suddenly, you’re in the middle of the political crosshairs.”
The two other panelists agreed.
“Stakeholder engagement is just getting really, really tough,” said Sukhi Sahni, senior vice president and head of brand communications at Wells Fargo and an instructor in the Master’s in Public Relations & Corporate Communications program at Georgetown.
“The pace is really hard … It’s constant. So keeping up and making a meaningful impact has been, I think, a real challenge,” said Mike Kuczkowski, founder of Orangefiery, a consulting and communications firm based in New York and San Francisco. “I think there’s a degree to which communications performed very well in 2020, when it was called upon, but I don’t know if it cemented those gains. So, as things return to normal, can communications maintain this domain that includes all these different stakeholders? Are we going back to a place where there’s a media statement to get out there… and you’re not building the brand or working on longer-term stuff?”
A 'Wonderful’ Time
That’s the bad news. The good news, as Dezern put it, is this: It’s “a wonderful time to be graduating with a communications degree.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, public relations jobs are expected to grow 11 percent between 2020 and 2030, faster than the average for all professions. And today, with a widespread shortage of workers in a variety of professions, those entering communications—and seeking to advance in the field—have more options than ever.
“If you’re looking for a job, I think you’re actually ruling the market versus the other way around,” Sahni said. “You’ve got tons of choices. You’re doing it on your own terms.”