If we want to know the next-generation trends in the media and public relations, we could consult famous prognosticators and psychics via Ouija boards, telekinetic thoughts, emails or laying of hands.

  Or we could do it the right way by contacting our friendly neighborhood PR professional.

Reaching out via the spiritual universe, I spoke to some of the best minds in PR today to find out what’s coming next.  Unlike other columns about the future with predictions based on 2016 giving us insights about trends that are already here — People are using social media? No way! — I asked these Seers of Spin to look towards 2018, and beyond.  Many of these PR pros responded directly to me, and others with unique expertise were found on the web.  From Artificial Intelligence to Fake News, content marketing to client communications, here’s what the futurists predict for the communications industry.

Media fragmentation and loss of trust

“Our biggest challenge is info-tribalism and the loss of respect for national media ‘experts.’ Major media has been dealt a million social media blows, and our biggest challenge (and opportunity) is to establish our own credibility on the long tail.” — David Wenger, Director of Communications, McCombs School of Business.

Selling the value of PR

“The biggest issue is that people who work with or use digital marketing or social media marketing thinking it can replace PR. CEOs and CMOs are looking for quick marketing growth hacks and don’t realize that third-party validation and strong press are the only true way to get your company’s story told. PR Pros need to really step up their game when it comes to educating clients or potential clients about this while trying to land more solid results so fewer clients are disappointed and feel like they have to rely on digital marketing to move the needle.”—  Nicole Rodrigues, CEO, @NRPRGroup, Beverly Hills, CA

“In the hyper-competitive marketplace with a PR shop on every corner and young millennials graduating from communications schools hanging out a shingle every day, pressure on fees and deliverables has become tremendous.  We are finding that clients more and more are asking for the same amount of work, at 20% less the budget. The silver lining is that folks that have been around and have long-standing relationships with media and influencers still command top dollar.” — Seth Jacobson, JCI PR, Santa Monica, CA

Paid vs. earned

“One of the issues I’m watching is the blurring of the lines between editorial content and advertising. While the paid placement approach seems to be picking up steam for many reasons, there’s been a debate about whether it’s an opportunity for the PR industry because some resist this change.  As one of the cornerstones of the PR profession is writing and practitioners are already skilled at capturing the client’s voice, it might be viewed as a positive for public relations pros and agencies. However, there are some who believe PR should equal only earned media. That’s where the conflict lies.” — Michelle Garrett, @PRisUs, Columbus, Ohio

Getting noticed in growing media

“Ever-expanding communications channels – from traditional media to what I call, ‘Dark Media’ writing in the voices of our clients on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more.  In the growing cacophony of niche outlets carving for business and consumer attention, finding a way to break out and get noticed for the tier two and tier three stories, which are critical for our organization’s survival.” — Bob Gold, @BobGoldPR, Redondo Beach, CA

Influencer marketing evolution

“Influencer marketing will undergo a period of normalization in the next 12-18 months. It’s grown wildly the last few years, but it has brought with it an unhealthy blurring of money and influence that unfortunately rewards checkbooks over the merits of an idea. From FTC enforcement to the ratcheting down of algorithms in the social media pursuit of revenue, there’s an emerging imperative for brands to get back to the fundamentals of relationship building, trust, and transparency in communications. They should look no further than to their existing PR professionals who, I might add, have in essence been doing influencer marketing before influencer marketing was cool and on a shoe-string budget. The fundamental problem with advertising is credibility; it’s a paid placement. That’s what influencer marketing has become as well.” — @Frank_Strong, Founder & President, Sword and the Script Media, LLC, Atlanta, GA

“Unfortunately, I find myself in the position to say “I told you so” quite a bit these days. Back in “Social Media is Bullsh*t”, which came out in 2012, I pointed out how influencer (and even micro-influencer) marketing is a terrible way to spend your money without any real strategy beyond paying them to promote your link. A lot of agencies and firms today haven’t made the appropriate course correction they needed to here, and so we’re still flushing money down the toilet on influencer campaigns that generate little to no results.” —  @BJMendelson, Author, New York City

Artificial intelligence

Beyond the obvious, such as media monitoring, basic research, and other mundane chores, AI has the potential to automate some of the most important PR functions. Here’s what the next-gen thinkers have to say about 2018 and beyond.

“Every industry will need data scientists; every company will need access to data scientists or data science tools in order to remain competitive. As a simple example, predictive analytics tell businesses what they need, when, and where. A company with excellent predictive analytics will have a significant advantage in cost reduction and customer service over a company which guesses at when demand will be highest … Data science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence should make public relations easier for most companies, from predicting when customer interest will be highest to identifying potential crises and mitigating them before they explode.” —  Christopher Penn, @SHIFTcomm

“Intelligent chatbots may even assume a major role in media relations. Going forward, PR must focus more on developing and implementing creative strategies and programs to create awareness, protect and improve reputation, and produce revenues. Doing what machines can’t will elevate the profession. — William J. Comcowich founder of @CyberAlert, the predecessor of @GleanTeam

Chatbots are what they sound like, computer-generated conversations between computer programs and people.  “A chatbot is a service, powered by rules and sometimes artificial intelligence, that you interact with via a chat interface. The service could be any number of things, ranging from functional to fun, and it could live in any major chat product (Slack, Telegram, Text Messages, etc.).” notes Chatbot magazine.