Cortney Stapleton (L) & Sally Slater
Cortney Stapleton (L) and Sally Slater co-authored this article.

Technology is rapidly transforming the way we support clients. The rise of generative AI, powerful tools for advanced measurement and attribution and the newfound prominence of social media platforms like TikTok have pushed companies to rethink and refactor their marketing and communications strategies. Understanding these trends can help CCOs and CMOs stay ahead of the game.

Here are four emerging trends changing the marketing and communications landscape:

From one-size-fits-all to custom analytics

The marcomms industry has historically relied on off-the-shelf analytics tools. While these tools have their place, the growing maturity of analytics functions within PR agencies is giving rise to new, highly customized use cases.

For example, we maintain a database of all our “successful” pitches—those that secured reporter interest—and apply analytics to understand what reporters want. An illustrative insight: In our analysis of survey-related pitches, we discovered subject lines with stats in the form of percentages performed best.

Other emerging examples of custom analytics include:

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Customized sentiment analysis. Instead of relying on out-of-the-box sentiment monitoring tools, we can train custom models that account for brand-specific nuances. This is particularly helpful for companies like law firms, whose thought leadership may appear in articles about litigation or regulatory violations—themes that would trigger a “negative” rating from traditional sentiment monitoring tools.

Custom categorization. We can augment the automated topical analysis in social listening tools with our own custom tags. For example, when we analyze social post-performance, we like to categorize content based on the 3 Cs: cultivated, curated and created posts.

The big takeaways:

  • Evaluate your current analytics tools: Are they meeting your specific needs, or are you relying on generic metrics?
  • Explore custom analytics solutions.
  • Manage your data: You only get out what you put in. If your data isn’t clean and well-structured, there's only so much analytics can do.

No more spin on PR ROI

Every public relations professional has been asked by leadership, “What’s the ROI?” And for years, we’ve danced around the issue with indirect and qualitative metrics. However, with the emergence of new technology platforms available to PR pros, we can report more meaningful metrics that shed light on the true impact of earned media. Memo, for example, provides article readership through publisher partnerships so you know exactly how many people have read your coverage.

Methods to use to accurately report PR ROI: Real article readership, through platforms like Memo, SimilarWeb and SEMRush; traffic and conversions from your target audience; regression analysis to correlate the impact of earned media on sales.

Methods for reporting ROI that you should scrap: Unique visitors per month for the entire outlet; pageviews for the sake of pageviews, with sky-high bounce rates; saying “you can’t quantify the monetary value of PR.”

The big takeaways:

  • Revisit your KPIs. Determine which “new” metrics make sense to bring into your reporting.
  • Partner with marketing. You’ll need access to Google Analytics to be able to report on metrics like referral traffic and conversions from that referral traffic.
  • Prepare internal messaging. If executives are used to seeing millions in impressions, reporting that an article “only” received 1,000 pageviews may come as a shock. Education will be critical to put these new numbers into perspective.

Gen AI changes the game

Gen AI is arguably the most significant development for our industry since social media. Savvy communicators leverage gen AI as a brainstorming and research assistant, data analysis tool and countless other use cases that save time and effort.

Both Google and Bing have incorporated gen AI models into their search algorithms, including Google’s Search Generative Experience and Bing’s new AI-powered search experience. Every SGE result generates an answer box that summarizes data from multiple sources, which appear in a scannable source panel. Unlike traditional search results, which just include a list of links, AI-generated search results may include pros, cons and key considerations. Users can ask follow-up questions and go deeper without ever clicking on a website.

Can gen AI replace your best writer or graphic designer? We’d argue no—especially considering Google’s March 2024 “helpful content update” that penalizes low-quality AI-generated content. Can it accelerate the creative process and expedite content production? Absolutely.

While gen AI holds significant upside, it also poses new risks and ethical quandaries. Private GPT sandboxes will resolve many of users’ privacy concerns, but not the IP and copyright issues in the data on which these models are trained. Other questions abound: Should we disclose the use of gen AI in every instance? Are we amplifying existing biases? Are we perpetuating falsehoods?

The big takeaways:

  • Develop a gen AI policy that clearly outlines acceptable and unacceptable use.
  • Adopt gen AI tools that can be “walled off” so you can experiment without worrying about improper data disclosure.
  • Generative search takes a lot of raw computing energy, so Google will prioritize lightweight, structured content.
  • Google’s SGE is still experimental—even the most sophisticated SEO marketers don’t yet know a surefire way to impact what shows up in the answer box and source panel.

Search goes social

Social media is the go-to news source for millions of Americans. It has become the top product discovery channel for Millennials and Gen Z and 31 percent of all consumers use social media to find out answers to their questions. Further, social media has become the new WebMD with a third of Gen Z turning to TikTok for health advice and 44 percent turning to YouTube before visiting a doctor.

The big takeaways:

  • Listen to how people are talking about your brand—and your competitors’ brands—on social media to understand how you should be showing up for your audience.
  • Prioritize authentic educational content to be rewarded by social media algorithms.
  • Be authentic. To be a trusted resource on social media, don’t hop on the trends for the sake of it. Participate in conversations relevant to your brand and industry.
  • Prioritize engagement with your target audience and their influencers over broad engagement. “Going viral” isn’t a win if it’s with the wrong people.

Technology is reshaping the marketing and communications landscape, a trend that will only accelerate as companies integrate new tools and processes into their everyday activities. Marcomms leaders must get ahead of these developments—or risk getting left behind.


Cortney Stapleton is CEO of The Bliss Group. Sally Slater is Executive Vice President and Head of Innovation at The Bliss Group.