How Gen Z is Catalyzing the Evolution of the PR Industry

In an era defined by rapid technological advancements and shifting cultural landscapes, Haley Norton’s presentation at PRSSA ICON this past October shed light on the profound impact that Gen Z is having on the public relations field. As an associate director of social & PR at Nebo, Norton offered invaluable insights, asserting that that the next generation has initiated the shaping of our culture and digital landscape, sparking a revolution in the public relations industry.

Transforming Content Discovery through Social Media

Norton’s observations emphasized the pivotal role of Gen Z in shaping the methods of content discovery. She stressed the dominance of platforms like TikTok and Instagram in dictating “where and how audiences discover and consume content.” An astonishing statistic revealed that nearly 40% of Gen Z individuals prefer TikTok and Instagram for searches, surpassing the conventional reliance on Google.

Furthermore, Norton noted that Gen Z has a natural tendency for collaboration, exemplified by the popularity of platforms like TikTok. This represents a marked departure from previous generations, and it stresses the need for PR professionals to adapt to these evolving dynamics.

Evolution of Media Consumption Patterns

Norton also brought to light the transformation in media consumption habits, particularly among the younger demographic. Traditional mediums like television, radio and print news are losing their grip on Gen Z. Norton supported this claim with data showing that 18-24-year-olds immediately turn to smartphones for news, while those aged 35 and above continue to heavily rely on television. “They’re not tuning in to Good Morning America,” she remarked. “They’re reaching for their smartphones to scroll through their newsfeed.”

Reimagining Public Relations Strategies 

With Gen Z groups gravitating towards digital platforms for information and engagement, Norton’s guidance resonates deeply with aspiring PR professionals like myself. She emphasized that our primary duty is to establish connections between brands and their target audiences. Importantly, this requires reaching out to these audiences where they are presently, rather than following the traditional PR approaches of the past.

Press releases alone are now insufficient to capture the attention of Gen Z. Norton advocates for an integrated marketing approach that blends paid, earned, shared and owned channels. While many of us have been taught that PR and marketing are distinct disciplines, Norton persuasively speculates that Gen Z naturally comprehends the increasing convergence of these fields.

This convergence carries great significance, as does the adoption of a genuinely audience-centric mindset. Norton’s statement is clear: “You cannot assume your audience is where you want them to be. You must go to where they are and meet them halfway.”

Championing Ethical Technology Adoption

Norton extends her challenge to students, urging us to become leaders of ethical technology usage within the PR industry. With our born familiarity with digital platforms, she states that Gen Z is uniquely positioned to guide the industry toward a more responsible future. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that AI and emerging technologies are connected ethically. While we acquire the skills to apply these powerful tools, we must also establish precautions to minimize the risks of bias and misinformation.

Norton urges Gen Z to hold brands accountable and “be a force for good.” We must speak up when we see brands misusing technologies or data unethically.  

Entering an Evolving Industry: A Call to Action

In summary, Norton’s presentation showed how monumental the shifts occurring in PR are. As a Gen Z student, I have been equipped with the knowledge and insights necessary to take on a leadership role in driving the adoption of more integrated, digitally driven strategies.

Public relations is evolving at a fast pace, shaped by the streams of digital innovation and cultural transformation. With a sense of purpose and determination, I stand ready to contribute to shaping the industry for the better in the 21st century and I’m ready to advocate for the empowering, ethical application of technology in PR.

Andrew is a senior at California State University, Fresno, majoring in mass communication and journalism with a focus on advertising and public relations. Joining PRSSA just last year, Andrew quickly became an integral part of the organization, taking on the role of the vice president of finances. Currently serving as the vice president of the Fresno State Chapter, he has participated in events such as the Leadership Assembly and ICON.

Andrew’s practical experience extends to his role as a communications intern at the American Red Cross Central California Region. In addition, he dedicates his time to a part-time position as an account coordinator at GoodPR, a reputable marketing and PR consultancy in Fresno, Calif.

Outside his professional endeavors, Andrew enjoys traveling, going to the beach, attending concerts and exploring new restaurants. Graduating in May 2024, he is prepared to embark on a full-time career in the dynamic fields of PR and marketing, equipped with a wealth of experiences and a passion for making a meaningful impact.

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