The world of business communications is suffering something of an identity crisis.
As information delivery speeds up and communicators and audiences become more digitally connected, lines continually blur between advertising and public relations, and internal and external communications. The changes also leave many organizations questioning how a marketer's role should be defined.
The Minnesota chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators and the University of Minnesota's School of Journalism and Mass Communication on Monday decided to tackle the subject with their "convergence summit," exploring the trends as messages, audiences and channels continue to collide.
"The reason this convergence thing is even a discussion is because it is crazy out there," said Matt Kucharski, executive vice president of PadillaCRT. "There are a lot of different elements, a lot of swirl causing that."
PadillaCRT's roots are in public relations, but the Minneapolis agency has transitioned into "an integrated communications firm" by investing in areas like research and insights as well as digital and social resources.
Kucharski, who sat on the summit's closing keynote panel, said his company's "identity challenge" is reflective of what's going on throughout the industry as he stressed that more emphasis should be placed on how audiences are reached.
"If the past five years were all about content, I think the next five years are going to be all about connectivity," he said. "We've got all this beautiful content being developed and posted on YouTube and posted on Facebook and LinkedIn and all these different channels and you know what? Nobody is looking at it."
Companies are no longer controlling the message, said Tami Wendt, principal of Lexica Communications, which offers creative and consulting services.
"There has been a lot of change in our industry in the last decade," Wendt said. "There used to be you had a newsletter or you had a video. You as the communicator were the mouthpiece of the organization. But now there has been a convergence, and your audiences are also the mouthpiece of your organization."
To help professional communicators make sense of the flux, organizers included both communication professors' research on the changes and what's happening in the industry, said Wendt, who served as the planning committee chair for the summit.
The one-day event's topics ranged from lessons learned about audience engagement during a Cargill case study on benefits communications to research on consumers' trust of messages sent on social media, also called "electronic word-of-mouth."
For Wojciech Kotas, marketing director at Bloomington-based Monroe Moxness Berg law firm, the summit was an avenue to learn more about communication trends that he should anticipate in his work.
Kotas, who used to be an English teacher, said he was encouraged to learn from the different sessions that despite all the changes, the ability to be a great storyteller was still a valuable asset.
"It's great to know that that stuff will not die," he said.