Earlier this month, we spent two jam-packed days at Digital Summit Portland catching up on the latest trends and innovations in digital communications.

Our goal? Track down the best new tools to help clients to solve their most complicated messaging challenges.

As we rubbed elbows with industry leaders and the smartest minds shaping the rapidly evolving digital landscape, we honed-in on three key lessons.

Here’s what we learned.

#1: If you’re not leaning in hard on digital, you’re dying.

Look around the public relations industry and you’ll see a bevy of firms who still believe that a really sharp op-ed is the answer to whatever ails their clients. Not anymore.

Digital strategies are THE answer to complicated messaging challenges. For just about every tactic in the toolbox of traditional PA and PR firms, there’s a digital equivalent that works better, faster, smarter.

Social listening, automation, geofencing, voice tech—the firms that get good at adapting tried and true principles to these powerful new technologies will own the future of our industry and eat the lunch of dinosaurs stuck on editorial pages and press releases.

Summary: If you’re not working on your own digital transformation, you are already way behind.

#2: Gone are the days of “Content is King.” Now it’s all about the experience.

For a good long time there, you were doing great if your brand was cranking out highly relevant content with back links galore. Say goodbye to those days.

Now, a revolutionary trend is sweeping the communications and advertising industries and, more than likely, there’s no going back. It’s called experience marketing, and it’s achieved through cultivating communities, feelings, and a sense of purpose or collective goal—all with a heavy reliance on digital platforms to give audiences the opportunity to participate in the story.

This trend is a reflection of the digital native generation’s desire not to passively watch or read content, but to actually create and participate in the content, ala hashtagging or TikTok. Take the new advertisements for Facebook Groups, for instance. This campaign is significant for two reasons.

For starters, this is really the first time Facebook has conducted its own brand advertising. But perhaps more importantly, it reflects Facebook’s new vision for consumer marketing on the platform. The social network has embarked on a long-term shift away from the news feed and toward group-based communications that give their market the feeling of being a part of the whole.

What this means for public relations is that we have to start getting creative. It’s not about words anymore, it’s about creating an experience or a community where the message can gain a life of its own through audience participation.

We’ll need to carefully coordinate and tailor communications to maximize participation through every channel. We’ll need to focus on building relationships through high-quality opportunities for consistent, rapid engagement if we want to be seen and heard.

Is content still important? Of course—you must still offer valuable, relevant content to attract and engage your target audience. But community experience is the oxygen your brand needs to thrive.

#3: Overwhelmed? Don’t worry. There’s an app for that.

Getting into the digital space is definitely a leveling-up in terms of strategy. But it doesn’t have to mean tanking your team’s resources. The good news is that advancements in artificial intelligence and automation can help fill in a lot of the gaps.

Just about every digital channel—email, website, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Google and more—all now have artificial intelligence and automation elements built in, allowing users to get more from these platforms than ever before.

On Facebook and Instagram, for example, smart brands have set up a chatbot to hold a conversation with users by programming it to engage on FAQs and/or redirect to other content on the web.

On your website, you can create an automated journey that begins with collection of a user’s email and IP address via chatbot or pop-up box that never ends, leading them down new paths tailored directly for them based on their choices and behaviors.

New digital campaign management tools such as Marketo (recently acquired by Adobe) and Dot Digital make this a snap, offering intuitive interfaces that allow even the most inexperienced digital marketers to create content and plot the user journey out for months.

For instance, once email and IP addresses are acquired a person gets a welcome email, followed up by an ad on Facebook, followed by a quiz via email, the answers to which determine the next step in the journey. Endless engagement all plotted out through automation.

Going forward, AI and automation will play an even more important role in planning, development and deployment of 5G, a new generation of cell network technology that promises to blur the lines between community and culture and the technology that connects us all.

THE SUMMARY: This is all good.

Here’s the reality:

Soon there will be more mobile devices than people on the planet, giving marketers and PR professionals more power than ever before to move our audiences through digital strategies. Those in our industry who do not get on this train will be left in the dust.

At Hubbell, we’re harnessing these tools, giving our clients unparalleled relevance in the rapidly changing communications ecosystem and the resources to tell their story in ways they’ve never imagined.