PRSA NJ “Hot Topics” Experts Spotlight 2020 PR Trends

PR Pros, Students Learn What’s Hot/What’s Not at Johnson & Johnson HQ

The renovated Powerhouse Museum, the oldest structure at Johnson & Johnson’s global headquarters in New Brunswick, chronicles the company’s distinguished 130-year history as a leader in health care consumer goods, medical devices, and pharmaceuticals.

Even so, on the evening of October 1, the focus was squarely on the future as the building was filled with the hottest music, hottest fashion …..and hottest trends in public relations and communications.   A lively audience of PR professionals and students were on hand for PRSA NJ’s Hot Topics 2020, a gathering that featured expert panels on where technology and the PR industry are headed next.

All photos courtesy of Ron Wyatt


(A full-length video record of both panel discussions is available at: )


Shakira Johnson, Founder of Johnson PR & Events and a PRSA NJ Board Director, welcomed the crowd to this glimpse into the latest trends, made possible by J&J and the event’s sponsors: Talkwalker and PRSA’s Tri-State District, serving New Jersey, Connecticut, Westchester County and Manhattan.

Artificial Intelligence (AI), measuring communications effectiveness, and the importance of video were among the Hot Topics raised by the first panel, which was moderated by Danielle Devine, J&J’s Global Leader for Enterprise Strategy & Communications. She observed that today’s environment is the “hottest time to be communications and PR” where getting a brand’s message out effectively is “more valued and more essential than ever.”

The convergence between humans and technology was the most significant development seen by panelist Todd Grossman, CEO-Americas for Talkwalker, Inc. – a leading social media listening and analytics platform optimizing communications for more than 2,000 brands worldwide.

“The speed with which all this information is coming right now is just impossible to get a handle on without the use of technology and AI”, he said. “Whether you love [AI] or hate it, we have to embrace it because we’re all going to be working with it. You may be using it every day and may not even realizing it!”

Carrie Sloan, Vice President & Director of J&J’s Global Content Lab, suggested that another crucial issue in the current communications environment is getting more business clients to be proactive in telling their own story. “If corporations don’t stand up — and get on social media channels – and their stories, they can be taken down by one tweet”, she said, adding “They have to find their voice” in order to sell to increasingly diverse audiences of different ages and backgrounds.

Ms. Sloan stressed that stories which engage customers can be the key to identifying and expanding new markets. She recalled a J&J website channel that told personal stories about company employees working to find better ways to address customers’ health problems. It became the company’s most popular, high-performing web channel in terms of online visits and engagement.

Johnson & Johnson’s Danielle Devine (l) and Carrie Sloan (r) discuss Hot PR Topics for 2020 with Todd Grossman of Talkwalker, Inc.


Asked about other trends likely to emerge in the next few years, both Ms. Sloan and Mr. Grossman see a dramatic rise in the use of video for targeting and delivering messages.

Todd cited a study that found that it may take up to 1.8 million written words to engage and influence many viewers as much as a single 1-minute video. He added that young members of Generation Z — and perhaps future generations to come – will experience more emotional engagement with videos, and are already more likely to share videos they enjoy with others in their networks.

Carrie highlighted another study estimating that 80% of all online content will be video by 2021. It’s a major reason many corporations and agencies believe that a hot job for future hires will be the “preditor”: a single staff person who can both produce and edit content.

The panel concluded its discussion with predictions that LinkedIn’s ability to target key contacts and influencers and YouTube’s accessible learning content will keep them strong platforms going forward. Strong digital tools that help track, measure and analyze data will also in big demand among PR and communications professionals.

Speakers and moderators at PRSA NJ’s Hot Topics 2020 event included (L to R): Top: John Tintera (PRSA Tri-State Chapter); Todd Grossman (Talkwalker Inc); Shakira Johnson (Johnson PR & Events/ PRSA NJ Board); Danielle Devine (J&J); Carrie Sloan (J&J); Michael Lauer (J&J). Front: Stephanie Scott-Bradshaw (First and Last PR / PRSA NJ Board).


What’s Hot / What’s Not / What’s Next was the second panel of the evening, with Shakira Johnson serving as moderator. She was joined by Stephanie Scott-Bradshaw, CEO and Communicator-in-Chief of First and Last PR – specializing in beauty and health brands — as well as a PRSA NJ Board Director, and John Tintera, Chair of the PRSA Tri-State District and Senior Sales & Client Manager at Hay House publications.

What’s Not Hot?


Requests for Proposal (RFPs) – they are extremely time-consuming with no assurance that they will result in new work for the agency. There must be some alternative approach to determining which agencies are qualified to deliver PR services.


Trade Shows – many larger trade shows that have not changed much in recent years are no longer vibrant. There are fewer and fewer new people to meet at these events, so there’s little incentive to keep attending.

Advance Book Copies – rather than send out large numbers of copies of new publications to media lists, we spend far less by targeting select reporters who know and appreciate the topics we cover. We ask people we believe are interested already if they would welcome a copy.


There are a growing number of innovative event planners who are succeeding by hosting smaller, more intimate trade gatherings. Unlike the massive, multi-day events of the past, the new venues offer a more engaging experience for attendees – after parties, for example, where networking is enjoyable and more likely to lead to new business connections.


PRSA NJ members John Lonsdorf of R&J Strategic Communications (L) and Dennis Wilson Jr of RWJBarnabas Health (R) chat with PRSA NJ President Ilana Zalika (Resound Marketing) between Hot Topic panels.


What PR practices are hot?




Steer clear of all the spin and “fake news”. Work with your clients to tell their stories in a straight-forward – but more creative – way. Incorporating video is a new approach that can be more personal, and more effective, than old style promotions.


Targeting the right reporters and influencers who “get” what your clients’ stories are saying.

It also helps to do a personal “gut check” one last time before you make a pitch ….or launch the client’s story or campaign. Are you targeting the right person? Who can have the greatest impact delivering your message?

Clearly, PR today is more than communications. It is email AND social media AND video AND…

“It isn’t just one platform or one activity.”


Data is more important than ever. If you are trying to rethink an event, what data could you collect to help understand what your target audiences are looking for?

In between the Hot Topics 2020 panel discussions, PR students and PR professionals had the chance to network and explore the exhibits at Johnson and Johnson’s Powerhouse Museum.



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