Episode 1

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Published on:

12th Jan 2023

PR Trends for 2023 with David Fuscus of Xenophon Strategies

ESG, AI and innovation are three major trends that will shape 2023 for communications professionals, says David Fuscus, CEO of Xenophon Strategies.

In this episode, David Fuscus discusses the importance of ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) programs, which are becoming an increased focus for corporations across the globe. Fuscus emphasizes the need for corporations to be transparent and honest about their environmental and social responsibility in order to maintain credibility with the public. The United States is lagging behind in this area, but big changes are coming in terms of regulation and requirements. It is important for companies to not just focus on the environmental part of ESG, but also the social and governance parts as well. Abbie Fink emphasizes that ESG is not just about creating a spreadsheet, but about taking a stand on particular issues and being vocal about it. David advises businesses to take advantage of opportunities to improve their ESG rating in order to attract more investors.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has generated many headlines in recent weeks, and the public is starting to realize the ways that AI generated content can be used in everyday life. PR firms need to produce a variety of content, and AI can help with that. However, skilled PR professionals are still needed to create compelling stories that capture people's attention. In today's communications landscape, it is important for PR agencies to be able to produce a many different types of content in order to run successful campaigns. One way to accomplish this is by driving down the cost of content production -- which can actually increase the importance of the strategy and thinking behind the PR campaigns.

David Fuscus is the 2022-23 President of the Public Relations Global Network and CEO of PRGN's Washington, DC member agency, Xenophon Strategies. Previous to founding Xenophon in 2000 after a career in politics. He started on Capital Hill and worked for President George H.W. Bush. He was also the chief spokesman for the airline industry and conducted over 6,000 media interviews during his tenure at the Air Transport Association.

Your host for this episode of PRGN Presents is Abbie Fink, vice president/general manager of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. Her marketing communications background includes skills in media relations, digital communications, social media strategies, special event management, crisis communications, community relations, issues management, and marketing promotions for both the private and public sectors, including such industries as healthcare, financial services, professional services, government affairs and tribal affairs, as well as not-for-profit organizations.

PRGN Presents is brought to you by Public Relations Global Network, the world’s local public relations agency. With PR leaders embedded into the fabric of the communities we service, clients hire our agencies for the local knowledge, expertise and connections in markets spanning six continents. PRGN provides customized communication solutions that combine the scale and stature of an international PR firm with the deep insights and hands-on, senior-level service of a local agency. This offers our clients a unique competitive edge. Learn more at https://prgn.com/

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Transcript
Adrian McIntyre:

From the Public Relations Global Network, this is PRGN Presents. I'm Adrian McIntyre.

Abbie Fink:

And I'm Abbie Fink, vice president/general manager of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. With public relations leaders embedded into the fabric of the communities we serve, clients hire our agencies for the local knowledge, expertise, and connections in markets spanning six continents across the world.

Adrian McIntyre:

Our guests on this biweekly podcast series are all members of the Public Relations Global Network. They discuss such topics as the importance of sustainability and Environmental, Social and Governance programs, crisis communications, content marketing, reputation management, and outside-of-the-box thinking for growing your business.

Abbie Fink:

For more information about PRGN and our members, please visit prgn.com. And now, let's meet our guest for this episode.

David Fuscus:

Hi, I'm David Fuscus. I'm the President of Xenophon Strategies in Washington, D.C. and I'm also the 2022-2023 President of PRGN.

Abbie Fink:

Ethics and transparency, artificial intelligence and innovation, ESG, climate change, my goodness, there's a lot of things settling in on communications professionals in the coming year. David, you and I are going to talk a little bit about what's shaping 2023 for communications professionals and what we are advising our clients and organizations that we work with as it relates to these outside forces that are impacting our work and how are we managing the things within our industry that's going to guide how we counsel our clients for the coming year.

David Fuscus:

There is an awful lot going on out there and just seems to be a disruption in our industry. The changes in the PR industry just seems to be accelerating.

Abbie Fink:

One of the things that resonates across the globe at this point is the idea around ESG and what companies need to be thinking about, large and small, regarding their social responsibility, how they are making an impact on their communities and really across the entire supply chain, across their entire business model, the impact that those things are going to have. I know you're very involved with that concept and how it's impacting, so talk a little bit about what that's going to look like as we head into the new year and what businesses need to be thinking about.

David Fuscus:

ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) issues are really a subset of credibility and communications, and certainly for corporations credibility in them dealing not just with the public, but with their stakeholders. It was launched into the forefront of the public consciousness 10, 11 years ago by Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock, the enormous trillion-dollar plus asset management fund. But it is becoming increasingly important for corporate managers, for corporations across the globe with varying degrees. Now, one of the great things about being president of the Public Relations Global Network is I get to talk a lot to our members all over the globe. And so you've got various levels of this. You've got Europe, which is the most advanced in ESG reporting and ESG regulations, less so in Asia, and the United States is firmly bringing up the rear in this area. But big changes are coming in the United States in terms of regulation and requirements, and it's absolutely something that companies need to focus on, not just doing it and doing the reporting, but also figuring out how they're going to communicate it to their stakeholders and their investors.

Abbie Fink:

I'd like to expand on that a little bit because I think so much of ESG is looking at your systems and looking at your processes and what are you doing and who are you doing it with, and hundreds of factors that go into creating that ESG framework. But how you talk about it, how you bring that to life within your own organization and how you bring that external and what we are all seeing, my expectation of the brands that I do business with is that they are living this concept in a much bigger way than I might've expected before. I want them to take a stand on particular issues. I want them to be vocal, and there's a risk involved in that certainly. But this idea is not just about creating a beautiful spreadsheet and checking the boxes off. You really have to be out in front and sharing in a very public way how you are living this ESG concept and what you're doing internally and externally to demonstrate that you're continuing to do that.

David Fuscus:

Well, it has become an increased focus for corporations, certainly starting with larger runs with even smaller mid-caps and small caps that are out there. And a lot of corporations start out by looking at the E, right? When you look at ESG, all the letters are the same size, but the reality of it is, it's like when you were at first grade, at least Abbie and I were in first grade, learning how to write, you had the two lines and you'd make the capital ones with two lines, and then the other ones on the second line, is in the reality that's really the relative importance of this, even if corporations don't admit it. The trick for them is not just to focus on the environmental part, but focus on the social and the governance part as well. A lot of companies are starting on the environmental and pushing the other two off, and they really need to be doing all three of them simultaneously.

Abbie Fink:

One of the other trends that we're seeing or looking forward is a bit more reliance on artificial intelligence. Certainly technology continues to alter and disrupt and change the way that we do it, but we're starting to see bots are writing content and we're getting conversations with computers in a different way than we might have before. And it's certainly going to impact the way those of us that rely on words and the creation of content when we have AI out there potentially doing the same kind of wok that we're doing.

David Fuscus:

We know the technology world has been working on AI-generated content for quite some time, but it's really jumped into the public consciousness. We have a staff member here at the Xenophon Strategies. He is a technology manager. Part of his job is keeping up on technology for us and among others, keeping me focused on technology. Just a few days ago, he submitted to me a blog post for our blog, and I read it. My comment back to him was, "This is a good start. You're about 75% of the way there." And then he told me that an AI, the chat to the GPT wrote it. And I was just amazed. Even if you're not now using fully formed content that's coming out of it, you can go in, you can use AI to get a good start on it to get 50% of the way there, 75% of the way there, which gives firms the ability to produce more content more quickly. Let's face this, anybody in public relations knows the amount of work that it takes to produce 700, 800, 1,000 finished words for a good piece of longer content. Takes a lot of work. I write and I publish a lot of columns. For me to do 800 words takes me about four hours beginning to end to get it polished and all of that. And AI is going to help cut down that development process, cut down the cost process for PR firms, and it's going to lead to a lot more content out there. But it's astounding stuff. It's absolutely astounding stuff.

Abbie Fink:

So what do we say to a new business prospect that has a little bit of tech background and says, "Well, why do I need you when I can just talk to a little machine and tell them, 'Write me a story about my new product.' And if it's 75% accurate or 75% of the way there, I can finish it up. Why do I need a PR strategist?"

David Fuscus:

The answer to that is that, listen, everybody in the PR industry, every firm that's out there, one way or another communicates by telling stories, and that's one of the things that we're very good at. And the process of going through, coming up with a good solid narrative that tells a story that has a beginning, a middle and end, and has those little things in it which are the memory hooks, the things that stick in people's minds, that takes people skilled at storytelling and takes PR people. You can go pick a company out of the air, JLG Lifts, which is a small cap company about a few hours north of Washington D.C. I don't know them, but if they're going to write about their new latest lift that's out there and just plug in what they know from their standpoint of building and selling these things, they're not going to tell a very compelling story on it. And that's what we're good at, at PR.

Adrian McIntyre:

One other perspective on this that I would love to get your response to, David, is specifically with regard to what you said about driving down the cost of production. In my view, that's a very good thing because it actually allows us to multiply the experiments that we do that allow us to create many different types of content, but it still increases, if you will, the importance of the strategy, the human strategy that is actually overseeing these campaigns. So if we drive down the cost of production of content, we can still maintain a value proposition as creative communications professionals in the way we're going to deploy a variety of different campaigns, and we can actually skew the balance of our billing towards our thinking and our strategy in a way from our doing and our implementation. What are your thoughts on that?

David Fuscus:

Well, I think that the driving down the cost of production of content, it's good for the clients, it's good for the firm, and it gives you the ability to create more out of there. Because in today's world, you need lots of different content. I remember back when I was 16 years old, I wrote my first press release for my parents' restaurant with no knowledge that this is what I would end up doing for a living. And since then, PR has moved from being 100% all earned media all the time to this variety of communications, that means the integrated campaign. And PR firms say, you need to be having all those components out there. You need the targeted advertising, the various types of content of video, all of that. You need the ability to produce a lot of stuff.

Abbie Fink:

Do you see any ethical challenges with AI? We regularly talk about the importance of authenticity and transparency, and we struggle against disinformation and misinformation and fake news, and now we've got artificial intelligence making its way into the common vernacular. So how do we discuss it from an ethical perspective? And how do we make sure it's transparent, that we understand that there was not a human behind that content?

David Fuscus:

Well, I think it's using AI as a tool in content creation. When I mentioned earlier about getting something 50% there or 75%, or even to get to that point, you've got to select and you've got to put in the inputs that the AI's going to use to write something. But there are, certainly, there's many ethical pitfalls here and it's something that we're going to have to figure out as we go along. I think the thing that should be the guiding force for PR agencies is what makes our work valuable for clients, is when it has credibility and it has authenticity, and every piece of content that you produce you've got to make sure is credible. But, yeah, we'll figure out the ethical pitfall or the ethical structure as we go along. You can project and say, "Well, it should be this or it should be that," but it's something that's going to get created as we go along. And by we I don't mean PR agencies, I mean society.

Abbie Fink:

Thinking about the year ahead and with all of the societal challenges that we're all facing, social justice, climate change, the impact that those are having, what's the biggest value PR people can bring to our organizations in the year ahead? Where do we go from here? What does it look like for communications professionals, and what does it look like for those that are considering bringing us professional counselors into their organization?

David Fuscus:

I think that the biggest strength of the PR industry is that we can bring two things to companies when they communicate. We can bring clarity to their communications and we can bring focus to it. With so much that's going on it's so easy to be out talking about this piece and that piece, having a social media campaign that is re-posting things here or there, where what really works is if you've got a set narrative that you're going out you're doing that all of your content comes back and points to and is part of an underlying narrative on it. It's easy just to go put pieces, parts out there. We just did an analysis for a perspective client in the social media, but I really wanted to write in the analysis an opening thing like, "Wow, I've very rarely seen social media worse than this," because it just was. They just had somebody out there reposting articles here, there, and you can tell, their engagement showed that they have almost no engagement. But PR at its best can bring clarity to messages, clarity to communications, and can really focus companies so they're not all over the board.

Adrian McIntyre:

Thanks for listening to this episode of PRGN Presents, brought to you by the Public Relations Global Network.

Abbie Fink:

We publish new episodes every other week, so follow PRGN Presents in your favorite podcast app. Episodes are also available on our website – along with more information about PRGN and our members – at prgn.com.

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About the Podcast

PRGN Presents: News & Views from the Public Relations Global Network
Leading a business effectively in today's fast-paced world requires expert guidance and a strong communications strategy. The Public Relations Global Network is here to help.
The PRGN Presents podcast features conversations about topics of interest to business leaders around the world from representatives of the Public Relations Global Network, "the world’s local public relations agency.” Is your message winning hearts and minds? With PR leaders embedded into the fabric of the communities we service, clients hire Public Relations Global Network member agencies for their local knowledge, expertise, and connections in markets spanning six continents. PRGN provides customized communication solutions that combine the scale and stature of an international PR firm with the deep insights and hands-on, senior-level service of a local agency.

About your host

Profile picture for Abbie S. Fink

Abbie S. Fink

Abbie S. Fink is vice president/general manager of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of the Public Relations Global Network. Her marketing communications background includes skills in media relations, digital communications, social media strategies, special event management, community relations, issues management, and marketing promotions for both the private and public sectors, including such industries as healthcare, financial services, professional services, government affairs and tribal affairs, as well as not-for-profit organizations. Abbie is often invited to present to a wide variety of business and civic organizations on such topics as media relations, social media and digital communications strategies, crisis communications, and special events management.