How Gen Z is changing PR
Every generation is different. They all live through and endure distinct circumstances that uniquely shape their shared outlook and experiences. As generations grow up and enter the workplace, they bring new ideas and generate changes that profoundly impact the way organizations function.
When Millennials reached adulthood, it was avocado toast, Buzzfeed, selfies, and the death of the shopping mall. Millennials, having internet nearly their entire life, also brought with them a culture that revolved around technology and social media. This culture not only transformed organizations, but also created an entirely new landscape for the next generation, Gen Z, to grow up in.
Gen Zers grew up with social media fully formed, the internet a regular feature in their childhood, and Myspace long gone. This reality gave them unlimited, nearly unrestricted access to information. They grew up seeing live protests on their cell phones, having Siri Google anything, and observing their friends post candidly about their mental health.
Now that Gen Zers are beginning their journeys as young adults, they are inspiring changes informed by their shared experiences. Changes like transparency about mental health and a demand for representation and inclusion. Changes that are being increasingly pushed in the workplace.
Public relations is not only an industry affected by Gen Z’s cultural change, it is an industry engulfed by it. Gen Zers have already made it clear that they are cause-oriented, tech-savvy, and independent. As a result of this generation’s characteristics, many organizations have had to adapt and make changes to their communication styles, branding, and image.
“There is a call from Gen Z for more transparency,” says Rowena Winkler, an Agent Marketing Manager at TSL Marketing. This is because Gen Z wants to know what a company or brand is doing behind closed doors. With this cultural push of social justice by Gen Z, brands have to do more than make a quick social media post about a topic. They also have to prove there are actions behind those words.
Elizabeth Pecsi, a professor at San Diego State University who works with Gen Z public relations students, says that Gen Zers are bringing respect back to the workplace. Because of Gen Z's ability to honor hard conversations and their high levels of compassion and acceptance, Pecsi believes that as Gen Zers grow and assume leadership positions, the industry will be better than before.
It is also clear that social media and technology are a permanent part of what it means to work in public relations. The change started by Millennials was cemented by Gen Z. Nowadays, you can wake up to your name plastered across social media saying you are “canceled.” Cancel culture is not a new phenomenon, but an increasingly important one in public relations.
The rise of technology and social media has made gratification and consequences instant. If you or your brand does something wrong, social media will say something. Immediately. In the past, an organization could initially remain quiet and had the time to form a well put together response to the controversy. Today, social media demands a nearly instantaneous response. Nowadays, “silence translates to indifference and not caring, and that’s going to translate to a reputation fiasco,” says Winkler.
These changes bring concerns about the future of the industry and the practices and organization of PR companies. The independent nature of Gen Z is increasing the relevance of boutique PR firms as opposed to major firms. And the increased blending of PR, marketing, media, and communications calls into question the need for PR to stand alone.
Going into the future, “ethics will be more challenging for public relations,” says Pecsi. Given the changing nature of PR, practitioners will need to take more things into account and address more opinions than ever before.
One thing that won’t change, however, is the necessity of good writing.“Good writing is as critical today as it was in the past,” says Pecsi.
By Zac Strater
Zac was born in Chicago, Illinois but currently resides in San Diego, California. Zac is a third-year Journalism-Public Relations major with a minor in TV, Film, and Media. After graduation, he hopes to move to Los Angeles and start a career in creative writing and content creation.