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Convergence: Same Difference

Published on April 17, 2019, at 12:20 p.m.
by Whitney Blalock.

As roles continue to converge in the public relations and marketing industries, many things stay the same.

The convergence of the public relations and marketing industries is not a new subject; however, new ideas and insights have continued to spark the discussion. As the discussion progresses, it seems many things still remain the same in a world of converging roles.

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Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist for Weber Shandwick, said she began seeing C-Suite titles change as long as six years ago, marking the beginning of the convergent change we see today. For example, chief marketing officers became chief communications and marketing officers, combining two “silos,” if you will. As CEOs and other leaders saw the benefit of combining communication departments, the trend rapidly caught on.

Keith Burton, principal and founder of Grayson Emmett Partners, shared in-depth knowledge pertaining to both student and professional opinions on the convergent model. His “Seven Truths” of convergence address patterns and trends affecting the converging industries. Being just average is officially unacceptable, traditional agency and corporate models are broken, the speed of disruption has drastically changed, and data at the center of everything the industry does are just a few of Burton’s “truths.”

So many changes. First, just graduating with a degree and an internship does not cut it anymore. Employers want the best, the go-getters, the above-and-beyond applicants. Leadership roles, involvement and experiences beyond the classroom setting are more important than ever.

Second, typical agency and corporate models are broken. One can’t expect to work just in the media relations department anymore; silos have been busted to create collaboration across departments.

Next, the speed at which work must be turned around or responded to has increased tremendously. Practitioners are no longer working 9-5 jobs; they are expected to rise at the crack of dawn for a video chat with partners in Hong Kong.

Also, as practitioners, we have to be able to back all of our claims by data. With convergent models, communications practitioners often answer to the CFO or CEO directly and responding with actionable results to validate campaigns or plans builds credibility.

Burton’s “Seven Truths” might emanate the usual feelings of panic and uncertainty that arise during times of change, but more things may continue to stay the same as others shift. It’s important to realize that although job roles and descriptions are altering, many things remain steadfast.

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This convergent model may lead people to believe that being specialized or distinct is the way to separate you from a combined communications workforce, but Burton argues being a generalist may benefit you in a world of convergence. “I’d say that the pendulum has really swung back from specialization into more generalization over the past few years, and we really have some [practitioners] that are just skilled in some specific things,” said Burton. Clients and companies require more bandwidth, calling on practitioners to have a general understanding of the PR and marketing world, no matter what their special interests may be.

Whether you are working in a traditional PR or marketing role, or within an agency or company actively using the convergent model, a few skills remain eternally necessary.

Both Gaines-Ross and Burton agreed writing is at the top of the necessary skills list. “If you cannot write, you cannot work in the business,” said Burton, with or without convergence. From using gathered research and data to draft reports to creating client materials to writing meeting minutes, being able to clearly articulate thoughts and ideas is vital. “You could be so smart, but if you just can’t communicate it correctly, it won’t work,” said Gaines-Ross.

Willingness to fail
Burton also argues that the “willingness to fail” is a skill all employers should search for. Especially in an age of uncertain roles with convergence, being able to fail and learn from your mistakes is crucial. Many address the “blurred line” when dealing with convergence, and often this “blurred line” leads to unclear expectations on who does what and how it gets done. Being able to know when you’ve failed and turn around to correct that mistake and learn from it is a sign of a valuable team member during the beginning convergent phases.

Good judgment
Along the lines of virtues, Gaines-Ross said any student or practitioner needs good judgment. Whether you were working in the industry two decades ago or just got hired out of college, good judgment and decision making are fundamental. Gaines-Ross said you need to be able to “align messaging with the times,” whether you are a PR practitioner or more marketing-based.

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As the shift to convergence continues, the extent varies. Burton weights heavier on the notion that the convergent model will dominate agencies and companies. He believes “convergence is the new ROI,” and many companies and agencies will make the decision to converge based on economic and functional gain. Gaines-Ross, on the other hand, believes convergence may be a trend that affects only 30 percent of companies or agencies. “I think it will depend more on a case by case, company by company basis,” said Gaines-Ross.

Regardless of how many agencies or companies the convergent model reaches, convergence is still a thing. While it is important to be aware of the changes this convergent model is calling to action, it is equally as vital to keep your eternal skills like writing, the willingness to fail and good judgment sharp.

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