2023 State of Comms Tech Report
For communications and PR professionals, success has historically hinged on two critical skills: building and maintaining media relationships and crafting compelling, resonant stories. In the past, this meant having a thick rolodex and an innate talent for turning even the dullest news into a captivating piece of a brand’s larger mythology.
Today, the landscape is changing. Not only has marketing technology proliferated over the last decade—we’ll get to that later—but the way that newsrooms and journalists operate has also changed significantly.
A study from Northwestern found that between late 2019 and May 2022, over 360 newspapers closed their doors, and since 2005, the United States has lost over 25% of its publications. The prognosis is grim: We’re expected to lose one third of our newspapers by 2025, which will in large part impact local papers.
This has led to a few things: An increase in freelance reporters; the rise of independent journalism and newsletters; and fewer reputable outlets to pitch story ideas and news to. And newsrooms are less likely to see pitches that come through their inboxes because the volume is nearly impossible to manage.
Driven by editorial decision making and alignment, reporters are also coming to the table with ideas about what they want to cover, and they’re working on their own to find the sources to help them tell that story.
These developments pose incredible opportunities for technology to bridge the gap between comms pros and their audiences, and here we will outline our predictions for the burgeoning comms tech landscape in 2023. As the industry advances, technology should be viewed as a supporting actor. Nothing can replace the relationships, creativity, and skill necessary to excel at a job in communications, but embracing tech solutions is the way forward.
This is a challenging space for PR and comms pros to work in. But technology can (and should) be viewed as something that can help. Those who embrace new tools while continuing to sharpen their relationships and storytelling skills will come out on top. Time to set the stage.
The rise of the communications engineer
The year is 2023.
Just a couple of months into the second millennium’s Jordan Year, we’ve seen endless headlines around burgeoning technology such as ChatGPT, data trusts, and augmented reality.
Where the future will take us is anyone’s guess. But one thing is abundantly clear: Technological advances in the space are only accelerating, and tools that used to only be available for highly technical groups and the FAANG titans are becoming commonplace.
Embracing this change is the best thing communications professionals can do for their careers. Whether they work in public relations, social media, or content creation, leveraging technology to make their work more strategic, efficient, and effective is what will propel them into the future of work.
Comms pros have a decision to make: Become a fossil or become a communications engineer.
Communications engineers sit at the intersection of art and science. They rely heavily on real-time data and analytics to drive strategy and creative. They replace guessing with knowing. They embrace the AI-driven tech that is key to transformation. And they build agile teams fueled by intentionally deployed tech stacks.
The most strategic and performative comms pros will become engineers. Those who continue doing business as usual will be out-skilled and out-performed by their tech-savvy peers—and not just when it comes to writing a pitch more quickly or producing brand forecasting reports.
According to Aaron Kwittken, CEO of Stagwell’s Comms Tech business unit and founder of PRophet, “You don’t need to be a technologist to be a communications engineer. You just need to be willing to let comms tech tools act alongside of you on the stage albeit in supporting roles. But make no mistake, you will always be in front of the curtain while the technology helps make your magic happen behind the scenes.”
The rise of the communications engineer will have a resounding impact not just on the comms pro’s day-to-day work, but also across industry recruitment practices, creativity, agency budgeting, data privacy, team culture, and more.
New technology will improve talent retention by giving professionals more time and space to work creatively and problem solve by taking care of the tasks that can be automated. It will decrease attrition and burnout by eliminating mundane drudgery work. It will also create an environment where always-on learning is top of mind.
The future looks bright. Despite the fact that the comms industry sometimes gets a bad rap for an apprehension towards adopting technology, a recent survey conducted by The Harris Poll and AI PR platform PRophet found that 94% of comms professionals want to be a part of the changing future of the PR industry, and 91% agree that there is unlimited potential for where their industry could go.
Comms Tech landscape
So what are the solutions that communications professionals should embrace? And how can they build a tech stack that makes their job easier?
Across the board, comms pros recognize a need for new tech: 61% agreed that their current tools are not sufficient in the aforementioned PRophet x The Harris Poll survey.
When asked how open he feels comms pros are to new technology, Joe Hollister, Communications Manager at enterprise automation platform Workato, said eight or nine out of ten. “If there is a software or program or platform that can make some part of our lives easier, I’ve always been on teams that have been very open to those prospects,” says Hollister. “On the other hand, a lot of what we do can still be very manual, task-driven, arduous, and just…painstakingly long.”
And for Lululemon’s Global Content and Social Strategy Director Chris Jackson, the most important reason to onboard a tool is because it will make his team quicker and smarter. “Is there a gap within our tool stack that we need to fill?” and “Can this tool fill that gap?” are two questions he asks when considering a new product.
“A lot of what we do can still be very manual, task-driven, arduous, and just…painstakingly long.” —Joe Hollister, Communications Manager at Workato
Even though teams are willing and able to onboard new technology, actual adoption doesn’t happen overnight.
The good news is that the possibilities are endless—and continuously growing. When it comes to the technological resources available to comms pros, few have done a more thorough job of researching marketing technology than Scott Brinker, HubSpot’s VP of Platform Ecosystem.
When Brinker began charting the MarTech landscape in 2011, he found 150 tools that supported marketers in their day-to-day activities. Today, there are 10,383 tools in Brinker’s MarTech visualization. That’s a whopping 6,822% increase in number of overall tools for marketers—and 713 of them fall under the communications, PR, and social media categories covering things like influencer management and activation; media monitoring and targeting; generative AI for content creation; trend monitoring; and social listening.
Let’s dive into our predictions.
Setting the stage
Since the release of ChatGPT, a chatbot that pretty much broke the internet when it released last November, generative artificial intelligence (AI) has become an unavoidable dinner table topic. While many headlines focus on the positive impact it will have on the future, there’s also a sense of trepidation around the unknown risks of ubiquitous adoption.
But what is generative AI (the technology that powers ChatGPT), and why is it relevant to marketers?
Even though ChatGPT brought the conversation around generative AI to mainstream Twitter, it isn’t necessarily new technology—it’s just becoming stronger, and the library of use cases is expanding rapidly. The term “generative AI” can be traced all the way back to scientist John McCarthy’s pioneering work around artificial intelligence in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until deep learning algorithms allowed for massive data inputs and robust computing power that generative AI became a broader topic of interest.
Its wide range of capabilities are uniquely suited to support marketers. Generative AI, as you may have gleaned from its name, is technology that can generate new content like copy, images, videos, music, and more using artificial intelligence. The tool takes directions from a user (i.e. “write me a paragraph about John Travolta’s famous Saturday Night Fever dance scene”) and processes it against the inputs it has been trained on (in the case of ChatGPT, a comprehensive scrape of the internet from 2020 and 2021) to produce a result.
And writing and research aren’t the only ways generative AI is coming in handy for marketers. DALL-E 2, an AI system that takes natural language inputs and creates unique artworks, is another tool that can help comms pros create imagery for press releases and articles. AI tools that support net-new creation of marketing collateral are becoming more useful and accessible every day.
Why you should care
- It can help you in your day-to-day job: PR pros can use generative AI for a variety of daily tasks, from the creation of pitches, press releases, bylines, and social posts to summarizing media coverage.
- The investment in this technology is massive and will continue to grow: The current artificial intelligence market size was valued at 136.5 billion in 2022 by Grand View Research, and it is projected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 37.2% over the next seven years.
- Potential disadvantages will require intentional mitigation: Kwittken outlined his view on it to marketing and media outlet The Drum earlier this year: “The downsides will need to be managed,” he said. “Generative AI may reduce the need for junior staff; could be used as an accelerant to create and spread mis- and disinformation; and could make professionals more complacent, less creative, and more transactional. This is where it will be on marketers to get creative about how they use this tool to enhance their current activities, not replace them.”
- Comms leaders are ready to take on this change: “[AI technology] is going to improve the work we’re doing and allow us to focus on the tasks that really drive the business forward,” says Hollister. “We’re going to be able to focus on brainstorming and being creative, and we’ll be able to be a little bit more flexible and agile when it comes to storytelling.”
92% of comms pros think that AI use in PR is worth exploring. (The Harris Poll)
61% of comms pros are worried that AI could eliminate jobs in the industry. (The Harris Poll)
Tie it in a bow
Generative AI will drive next-generation communications, and the comms pros who learn how to wield this technology effectively will see their workflows streamline, their output increase, and their time for more strategic work grow.
Setting the stage
Brand safety refers to the idea of making sure that a brand’s image and reputation is protected from harm, whether it be from potential reputational damage or financial losses. One of the main ways a brand’s reputation can suffer is through ads placed near misaligned messaging or content.
Take, for instance, the infamous YouTube Adpocalypse of 2017. Major brands like Johnson & Johnson and Verizon suspended their advertising on YouTube due to concerns about their ads appearing next to extremist content.
At the time, some reports estimated that YouTube could lose up to $750 million in advertising revenue as a result of fleeing advertisers. While the exact number isn’t known, this crisis led YouTube to take significant steps towards improving its ad policies, placement algorithms, and transparency for advertisers. While some advertising platforms have taken similar steps to help brands have better control over where and how their ads appear, communications professionals need to be vigilant to protect their brand and its message—and this job is only getting harder.
While it may feel like a more perilous landscape than ever, the market for brand safety technology is growing and can help brands protect their reputation.
The spread of misinformation and disinformation (often referred to as mis/dis) is at an all-time high, and burgeoning technology like AI-powered deepfakes and chatbots are making the proliferation of mis/dis easier. Not only are these tools making it simpler—it’s being done at scale and much more frequently than it has in the past. Gordon Crovitz, co-chief executive of NewsGuard, a company that rates the credibility of news sites, went as far as to say that ChatGPT will be “the most powerful tool for spreading misinformation that has ever been on the internet.”
While unchecked AI-generated content is being created at an unprecedented rate, the fire is also being stoked by social media algorithms that favor sensationalized content and manipulative ad targeting practices that prey on specific audiences to sway their opinion.
Why you should care
- Brands need to be vigilant about how and where their ads and stories are appearing: Consumers are paying attention and are quick to respond to brands when they feel their content has crossed a line or has proximity to inappropriate content.
- Developing a smart tech stack can help mitigate these issues: Comms pros can leverage tools that perform ad verification, content moderation, sentiment analysis, social listening, and programmatic advertising. A suite of these products would not only protect brands from seedy ad placements but would also give them the ability to monitor user-generated content and social conversations so they can respond quickly to issues.
- The proliferation of AI is both helping and hurting brand safety: While AI technology can be used to combat mis/dis through content moderation and fact-checking tools, the risk of false information being spread through AI highlights the need for responsible development and deployment of these technologies. This includes ensuring that AI systems are transparent, fair, and designed to minimize the spread of false information, and that they are subject to ongoing monitoring and evaluation to verify that they are not being misused.
40% of comms pros expect their concerns around brand safety to increase in 2023. (Media Ocean)
Over 83% of consumers said that they were much more or somewhat more aware of brand safety issues than they were a year ago. (Brand Safety Institute)
Tie it in a bow
Paradoxically, much of the same technology that is contributing to the spread of mis/dis is also being leveraged to help brands monitor brand safety. Many brand safety platforms use machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP) (two AI-based technologies) to scan digital ads for potential safety issues, like hate speech, fake news, and adult content. They can also provide insights into where digital ads are placed and alert brands when their ads appear alongside unsavory content.
While it may feel like a more perilous landscape than ever, the market for brand safety technology is growing and can help brands protect their reputation. The proliferation of AI tools presents a double-edged sword, however, and being informed is one of the best ways to protect your brand.
Setting the stage
Predictive pitching leverages AI technology to help PR professionals find, reach, and land earned media opportunities more effectively and frequently.
It’s more important than ever to tailor pitches to writers’ beats and interests to cut through the noise, and predictive pitching tools make this significantly easier. Predictive pitching tools analyze a prospective pitch and compare it to what’s been written in the past. By ingesting previously published content, the tool can then suggest which journalists might express interest in your pitch topic, as well as how they may respond to your news by assessing their sentiment.
“Journalists are professional skeptics, so if an argument is convincing to them, it’ll probably be convincing to other stakeholder groups as well. This is the root of predictive pitching’s brilliance,” says Andrew Graham, founder and head of strategy at PR firm Bread & Law. “It can stress test media outreach activity, and it can also provide guidance and direction for PR pros who help clients make resilient arguments in the court of public opinion, which is phenomenal.”
In comparison to blasting a press release out to a media list, predictive pitching allows PR professionals to be more strategic. Media lists are going to be replaced by media targets. This will contribute to an increase in earned media placement, more valuable relationships with journalists since you’re tailoring your content to them, and overall better coverage.
Not only can predictive pitching tools help professionals find the right journalists to pitch, they can also make sure you’re reaching out to people who write about your topic in a way that aligns with your pitch. Say, for instance, you’re looking to pitch a story on the advancements happening in the plant-based meat industry, you likely don’t want to send your release to an outspoken advocate of the meat and dairy industries. Journalists who cover both sides of the coin likely publish articles with many of the same words—but their sentiment around your topic may be completely different.
Why you should care
- You don’t have a crystal ball: When asked what would help them better anticipate media interest and sentiment, an in-house PR professional for a large company said “A crystal ball? Reporters are understaffed and covering more beats. What used to get through no longer does.”
- The industry is changing, and you don’t want to be left behind: Comms pros who have been working in the industry for decades are quick to say how much things have changed. The days of sending a press release to every reporter in your rolodex and hoping something would come of it are over. Journalists are highly discerning, spread too thin, and covering a slew of beats. And they’re pitching their own stories in addition to relying on the press releases that pass through their inbox.
- The latest technologies are going to be integrated into pitching software this year: This year, we will see generative AI make its way into predictive pitching tools. Imagine this: You plug the requirements for a press release into a content generator, the tool writes your pitch, analyzes it against content published online, finds the journalists who would be interested in covering it, and sends the pitch out, all in the touch of a few buttons.
77% of comms professionals say that it is harder than ever to get earned media pickup. (The Harris Poll)
Journalists responded to 3.25% of pitches in Q2 of 2022. (Propel)
Tie it in a bow
Predictive pitching is changing the game for PR pros, and 2023 will see huge advancements in the technology fueling earned media execution.
Setting the stage
When it comes to building a tech stack, there is no lack of software to choose from. The approach you take to equipping your team with the right software can vary, however, and historically the strategy has revolved around onboarding either a workflow solution or multiple point solutions.
So what does that mean?
A workflow solution (also referred to as a platform solution) is a software system that is designed to automate and streamline a specific business process or workflow. It usually includes a variety of integrated tools and features that are meant to work together to optimize an end-to-end process. Often used to manage cumbersome processes that involve multiple stakeholders, its aim is to be a one-stop-shop for its user.
In contrast, a point solution is a software system designed to address a specific problem or challenge within a larger workflow. Point solutions are designed to execute a single task or process with the aim of making it as frictionless and effective as possible.
This year, we will see comms teams explore both options and find a blend of cloud-hosted tools that serve their team. As the market for comms point solutions grows, the winner takes all mentality currently bolstered by legacy players will crumble and be replaced by a more integrated approach to technology. Additionally, the rise of no-code and low-code tools will enable non-technical teams to create their own integrations and automations, making a multi-tool tech stack possible.
In Gartner’s Top Strategic Technology Trends for 2023 report, their analysts outline a shift from generic solutions to industry cloud platforms. According to Gartner, “Industry clouds create value for organizations by incorporating cloud services traditionally purchased separately into pre-integrated but customizable industry-relevant solutions.”
Gartner outlines a world in which the most powerful point solutions seamlessly integrate on the cloud, and give users the option to take the tech they need and leave what they don’t—all within a highly specialized environment built for comms pros. While this might not be the reality for comms teams today, the rise of industry point solutions is a step in the right direction.
This year, comms teams will leverage point solutions in addition to workflow tools to maximize performance. Through greater partnerships and integration capabilities, they will benefit from best-in-class tools, and by onboarding technology that mitigates their specific pain points, their tech will begin working for them in a way it hasn’t before. This transition foreshadows the creation and implementation of highly specialized industry clouds built for comms pros.
Why you should care
- Legacy workflow solutions on their own are no longer cutting it for modern comms pros: What is clear about comms tools in 2023 is that legacy workflow solutions are no longer as powerful as they once were—and with the enhanced integration, automation, and partnership capabilities point solutions are offering, seeking out specialized tools to solve specific problems in your workflow could have immense potential.
- A blend of workflow and point solutions gives users more freedom and optionality: The market for comms point solutions has been growing steadily over the past decade, and the increasing need for targeted and specialized solutions in the PR industry has been the primary driver of this proliferation. The end user is more sophisticated (and has higher standards) than ever. Now you can onboard tools that align with your specific goals and create a software ecosystem that will perform better and with more intention.
- You need to learn about how software works: When researching point solutions, comms pros should try to answer questions like: What is the integration potential of this tool? Does it have any pre-built connectors? Does this company have any strategic partnerships? What does their product roadmap look like? Do they have a public API? What kind of technical support do they offer?
More than 50% of enterprises will rely on industry cloud platforms to accelerate their business initiatives by 2027. (Gartner)
Tie it in a bow
At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you are onboarding technology that aligns with your team’s goals. If your team is more focused on landing earned media than performing social listening, let that help you make the decision around what kind and caliber of tools you procure. By leaning into point solutions, you can find the best tools to supplement whatever core technology your team relies on and achieve greater results from your tech stack.
Setting the stage
Data ethics and privacy are becoming unignorable issues in the communications industry.
The rise of big data paired with general advancements in the tools available to professionals has made it essential that communications pros understand the importance of protecting sensitive information—and know how to do so. Ignorance or complacency in this area can have serious consequences, from reputational damage to legal repercussions.
The good news is that The Harris Poll x PRophet survey found that this issue is already top of mind for folks who work in PR: 91% agree that it is an ethical responsibility for companies to handle data storage properly, and 84% expressed concern that their data privacy could be compromised if they onboard new tech that houses sensitive information.
And the issue isn’t just relevant for those working in comms—as seen throughout this report, the usage of AI-backed and cloud-hosted technology is something that impacts everyone. In October of last year, the Biden Administration released the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights, which they define as “a set of five principles and associated practices to help guide the design, use, and deployment of automated systems to protect the rights of the American public in the age of artificial intelligence.”
When it comes to data privacy, the Blueprint for the AI Bill of Rights states that Americans should be protected from “abusive data practices via built-in protections” and that users also should have agency over how their data is used.
Why you should care
- Guidance and legislation will come down the pipeline (eventually), but for now it’s in comms pros’ hands to protect their data and others’: While the Blueprint for the AI Bill of Rights is a great start in outlining the major concerns and rights Americans should have when it comes to AI, it doesn’t provide specific guidelines for SaaS vendors to take into consideration. Comms leaders want more specific guardrails from their PR tech vendors, and Kwittken suggests the following: a) Algorithmic transparency b) User agreements that state how, where, and when data is being used and protected c) Penetration testing twice a year by “white hat hackers” d) Attestation that the data will not be mined for other uses for the company or others on the platform without prior consent e) Best efforts to reduce bias in the platform f) Annual information security certifications by accredited third parties
- Not understanding data ethics and privacy could have serious consequences: The average cost of a data breach in 2022 was a whopping $4.35 million according to IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach 2022 Report, but leveraging AI and automation tools built for monitoring data security saved organizations an average of just over $3 million. Understanding the implications of a data breach is critical for comms pros, and AI tools, incident response teams, and detection and response technology are just a few levers they can pull to keep data safe.
- New tools = more data to protect: As communications professionals incorporate strategic point solutions to make their day-to-day work more efficient and strategic, questions around how that technology treats the data it houses becomes increasingly troubling. Additionally, creating modular tech stacks requires more efficient and strategic, questions around how that technology treats the data it houses becomes increasingly troubling. Additionally, creating modular tech stacks requires more
91% of comms professionals agree that it is an ethical responsibility for companies to handle data storage properly. (The Harris Poll)
84% of comms professionals expressed concern that their data privacy could be compromised if they onboard new tools. (The Harris Poll)
50% of the organizations that operationalize AI transparency will see an improvement in terms of adoption, business goals, and user acceptance by 2026. (Gartner)
Tie it in a bow
At the end of the day, the smart implementation of technology with the highest security standards is one of the best ways to make sure data is properly held. Data storage and management systems, secure communications software, and proper consent management processes are just a few tools at your disposal. Pairing an intentional tech stack with knowledge around changing privacy laws will give communications pros the best defense for protecting their data and others’.
Setting the stage
The influencer marketing industry is notorious for paying creators unfairly.
A study by MSL and The Influencer League found a 35% pay gap between white and Black influencers, and a slightly smaller 29% pay discrepancy between white and BIPOC influencers. One of the main contributors here, according to the study, is the fact that white influencers are almost two times more likely than Black influencers to become macro influencers and amass a following of over 50,000 people.
Influencer pay is often calculated by a creator’s reach and their follower count, but if creators of color aren’t being considered as often as their white counterparts for opportunities, their following counts may not grow as rapidly, in turn affecting their pay. The uneven playing field widens when BIPOC influencers post on issues of race: 59% of Black influencers reported being negatively impacted financially when speaking out about race on their platforms.
The industry needs to find new ways to report on and measure influencer pay to increase transparency across the creator economy.
Why you should care
- It’s a major issue in the industry: FYPM is just one company working to improve the current state of influencer equity. Their tagline, “Your bank would never accept ‘exposure’ as payment. Neither should you.” is a rally cry for creators everywhere to stand up for themselves and fight for fair pay. FYPM*, which stands for f*** you pay me, crowdsources information from influencers and their managers around their experiences working with a variety of brands. In each review, influencers are asked to rate their overall experience, compensation received, scope of project, and any qualitative feedback they may have. This information is then aggregated to create a brand score that can help influencers choose partnerships with more confidence.
- When working with creators, it’s on you: Without your deliberate attention and advocacy for benchmarking, the current state of influencer and creator compensation will remain opaque. Take it upon yourself to do the right thing and institute clear guidelines around what and how influencers are paid at your organization.
- The best brands to work with get to hire the best talent: What do the best brands for influencer partnerships have in common? They don’t just pay creators equitably, fairly and on time. They also prioritize creating long-lasting partnerships with creators, have professional and organized teams, think about how they can help influencers grow with the brand, and give influencers creative freedom to execute on projects. This gives them access to a greater talent pool. Jackson from Lululemon sees influencer collaborations as true partnerships: “From a brand perspective, we’re looking to work with people who have a real talent of storytelling,” says Jackson. “If you find the right people, you can give them a much more open-ended creative brief. That’s really nice for us, as opposed to someone who just likes to run so we give them a pair of running shoes.”
- You can create a market for the kinds of tools that will help solve this problem: This is a call to action for social media management platforms to implement features that will increase pay transparency. The single most effective way to affect change is to empower creators with the information they need to advocate for themselves. “The absence of a pay standard disadvantages BIPOC influencers at every turn,” says Brittany Bright, founder of The Influencer League.
The pay gap between white and Black influencers was measured at 35% in 2021. (MSL and The Influencer League)
Influencers with a following of 50,000 and up see significantly larger earnings. (MSL and The Influencer League)
59% of Black creators report being negatively impacted when they speak out about race on their platform. (MSL and The Influencer League)
Tie it in a bow
Equity-focused tech solutions can make a huge impact on the issue of pay inequality in the influencer space. Software companies creating the tools where creators and brands collaborate have a lot of power to protect influencers and hold brands accountable for their payment practices.
This report was produced by Stagwell Marketing Cloud in an effort to educate communications professionals about the rapidly developing technology landscape changing their industry. If you have any questions or feedback on this report, do not hesitate to reach out firstname.lastname@example.org