Time for Communicators to ...


I’ll be in Portland on April 12 talking at an IABC Oregon luncheon.

I plan to use the occasion to explore whether communicators are changing fast enough.

The velocity of change in today’s world can be unnerving. Cars that drive themselves. Bursts of 140-character missives that impact the Presidential election. A startup trying to invent the perfect no-meat hamburger, thanks to $182M in venture capital (not a typo). As Dennis Hopper once said: “It’s nutty out there.”

As communicators, we feel the change. Employees expect, no make that demand, transparency in communications. The internet has commoditized news announcements. Facebook has more to say about the reach of a news story than The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press … combined. Our bosses and clients want us to control the message in a world where everyone has access to a digital pulpit and the means to amplify.

But are we as communicators changing with a sense of a urgency, with a sense of purpose, to navigate the upheaval in today’s world?

That’s the question that Lou Hoffman will explore in this lunch talk.

To jump to the punch line, my answer is no.

This same question indirectly surfaced during a talk in San Francisco earlier this month. My colleague on stage, Shel Holtz, disagreed with me, pointing to areas ranging from chat bots to artificial intelligence as the proof points for change. From my vantage point, while technology holds promise for the communications industry, this latest stuff still falls under the shiny-objects category with the exception of platforms for tracking and making sense of social media noise.

When you look at the core fundamentals of communications in today’s companies, influence, content and engagement, I’m sorry, I don’t see the same radical change in the communications industry that’s reshaping the rest of the world. Take influence as one example. It’s easy enough to identify influencers who reach a gazillion people. But what about the individuals who influence thousands or even hundreds of people, but do it in a deeper and more meaningful way? Communicators have yet to respond to this fragmentation of influence. Our Salt & Straw ice cream spoonspaid media sisters/brothers have done a much better job in this area with approaches like gamification.

I’ll be talking about this and other areas ripe for change in Portland.

Of course, no trip to Portland is complete without a stop at the Salt & Straw serving up the best ice cream on the planet. Out of respect for the American Heart Association (and my arteries), I’ll be ordering a single scoop of the Almond Brittle with Salted Ganache.

If you’re in the Portland area, I hope to see you at the lunch.


  • Megan Armstrong

    I think this post brings up a very interesting debate. In PR, journalism and other media industries we are constantly touting the development of new communications methods and tactics. However, when you boil it down, Ishmael is correct. Communications and content haven’t really changed. Organizations are still telling the same types of stories. The only thing changing is the method we use to present that information. Social media and artificial intelligence are obviously technological improvements, but they are merely new packages for the same content. I think business communications is still virtually the same, but adapted for different platforms. Communications itself has not changed drastically because the objectives of companies also have not changed drastically. And communications will not change until company goals change. Do you think the objectives of companies will ever change enough to warrant a change in communications?

    Megan Armstrong

    • Lou Hoffman

      That’s a great question that has the makings of a book.

      More than changing objectives, you’re right, that companies need to change how they define success for communications. For example, figuring out competitive share-of-voice is fools gold. It rewards minor mentions when these same stories have zero impact on what counts, the perception of the target audience.

      I also think there’s an opportunity for communications to move beyond its traditional definition. At the IABC lunch last week, I discussed how every touch point with a given target audience is an opportunity for communications. Take the recruitment of talent. Touch points like job descriptions and the auto-reply email after submitting a resume often lack any semblance of humanity. Of course, that means playing in HR’s sandbox which can be fraught with peril.

      I could go on and on.

      Plenty of opportunity for the brave.


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