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2020 VISION: PR PRedictions for the Next Decade

By JUDY LEWIS, CO-FOUNDER & PARTNER, STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES

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Happy New Year! It is my belief that this new decade has tremendous potential to change perceptions of the PR industry and for public relations to play a greater role in marketing plans than ever before. Welcome to the Roaring 20s, 2.0.

PR practitioners around the world have been soul searching for the last decade, debating whether we should call our agencies PR or Communications firms, playing tug of war with advertising agencies over the value of traditional advertising, challenging old perceptions of public relations and becoming digital strategists, content producers, influencer specialists, creators of awesome experiences and generally proving our value through a variety of new opportunities well beyond media relations.

The 2000s were spent fighting for our place in the marketing universe and we have clearly now earned it. We are at the dawning of a new age where clients now recognize the need to explore and embrace new ways to connect with their customers, staff and consumers. I believe we are heading into a new golden era for public relations that offers much to those who dare to imagine the possibilities and are ready to grab the brass ring. It is time to redefine the essential and expansive role of public relations and do what we do best: lead strategy; develop creative, relevant marketing solutions; bring innovation and purpose to business leaders and brands to advance their market success; and enrich reputation, nurture relationships, and rebuild consumer trust in 2020 and beyond.

Media Relations = Digital Relations

Public relations is the house that media relations built. Our role is still to educate and inform media gatekeepers. The media is still key to earned influence. However, the gates are now wide open for PRs to connect directly with consumers. Our role has expanded to develop, manage and influence direct relationships with consumers. Our business has moved from being exclusively print and broadcast media-centric to digital-first. Our new role is also to create valuable social proof, to emotionally excite consumers, and get authentic information to audiences through multiple channels to result in action and business results.

The PR strategist of today and tomorrow must measure each tactic for its role in creating digital content and how it will build real and social relationships with consumers. Each tactic must be evaluated for how it will positively reflect on the reputation of not just the product, but the brand and its parent organization. Will it be meaningful? Will it be honest? Will it be memorable?

Of course media relations are still essential in an effective communications strategy. However, how we reach media, and where information is placed to connect with stakeholders, is changing. People still want news and recommendations. In fact, they want more information and more reviews with greater transparency, and within relevant context to the world around them and their personal interests. My PRediction is that brand PR will now focus on effectively influencing through a digital-first experience to capture the most attention with highly-targeted audiences.

Consumer Liberation from Gatekeepers

Media is now in the hands of the consumer. The popularity of mobile and wearable tech is just one example. But most important for the PR industry is that the 24-hour news cycle is ‘the new normal,’ and anyone can become a media outlet and news distributor - credible or not.

Consumers have taken what matters into their own hands and are not afraid to share their opinions on literally everything, keep receipts and cash them in at a moment’s notice. Authenticity is the new currency as consumers have become more and more distrustful. And how couldn’t they with fake news, fake meat, fake reality shows and even fake sunshine and unicorns on Instagram.

My PR vision for 2020 is to help brands and organizations assert their relevance and purpose to enhance trust. This will drive brand value and consumer preference and align brands with what consumers are demanding: positive social change, and new ideas. Brands will be front and centre, evaluated, measured and expected to take a stand.

Brands can potentially connect with millions of advocates and critics through social platforms, in just one day. This is just one good reason why PRs with strategic messaging experience will be even more important in the decade ahead. Reputation management is paramount when cyber attacks, revelations and even untruths spread like wildfire. It is the PR consultant who is best equipped to protect and enhance the good name of a brand and organization.

The PR team is there in good times and bad. Advertising teams have rarely been responsible for managing reputational issues, and it will continue to be the PR practitioner who is ultimately responsible for a brand’s wellbeing and crisis management. The PR team with 2020 vision is best positioned to provide the creative thinking and strategic insights necessary to manage reputational issues.

In the past, traditional media would write an article about a company, and then the corporate communications team would have time for internal discussion, response planning and then “appropriate time” for C-suite approvals. Now, with news or corporate issues being revealed through a single Tweet, the PR leader has new strategic purpose and responsibility. Immediate analysis and action at lightning speed are often just as important as the content of the message.

My PRediction is that brands will take this reality much more seriously in this decade. Brands and organizations will ferry the waters of this new frontier by effectively working with PR professionals to anticipate and safeguard against the worst, while making even stronger direct connections with consumers. I believe that the most successful brands will humanize themselves and articulate their true, authentic character and purpose.

Micro Influence: Small but Mighty

In discussing trends and PRedictions with my peers, a single theme did emerge: The rise of micro influence. Who we consider to be an influencer is changing dramatically. With mostly everyone on social platforms and so many building vibrant active communities, no longer will marketers only look at sector-specific influencers. Influencer involvement and effectiveness will be constantly measured, and what will be interesting is whether consumers will continue to show that they don’t really care if their favourite influencer is paid, or not, for their review or brand endorsement. The credibility-factor of the influencer will be the determinant of authenticity and credibility.

My Strategic Objectives partner and co-founder, Deborah Weinstein, has no doubt that social media platforms will continue to proliferate into the future, presenting niche playgrounds for niche players and socialites. But within this, micro-communities are starting to develop and populate these platforms, forming small, and powerful vocal groups of micro and nano-influencers with a mission and purpose beyond socializing.

Stacie Keenan, Director of External Communications at Groupe Marcelle, Canada’s largest cosmetics manufacturer, furthers the PRediction that the power of influence will shift with the rise of micro influencers, who hold the key to unlock smaller online communities that are highly engaged in the social sphere. Powerful word of mouth means positioning your brand within this hyper-connected online community to elevate your next PR program.

2020 Vision – Let’s Go!

With streaming now dominating and appointment viewing of conventional TV being the norm, marketers are looking for creative ways to engage with consumers on their own terms. 2020 vision offers a PR revolution of change and opportunity to provide creative solutions and strategies to inspire consumers and build brand connections through meaningful relationships, experiences and strategic communications innovation. It takes leadership and courage to help brands and organizations adopt the new imperative of focussing on what builds trust, is authentic, credible, creative and effectively moves the needle. This is exciting and a fresh future for our industry in 2020 and beyond.

No matter what a brand or client’s purpose, stance in the marketplace, or position in its lifecycle, there’s no doubt that this next decade holds unlimited, untapped possibilities, and I believe the future is now.

Please let us know how Strategic Objectives can help you with your 2020 vision, contact us.

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