This year is already shaping up to be one of uncertainty, both for businesses and the wider public at large. The huge question marks looming over Brexit and the implications of the various exit scenarios are already affecting many businesses, both large and small. What effect will this have on the PR industry? Will we see businesses reducing their PR budgets as they tighten their belts in a restricted market-place, or will targeted PR campaigns become ever more important as they reach out towards potential new customers? Will the uncertainties of the year ahead actually propel PR to the forefront of business strategies, with data-analytics, precision campaigns and a person-centred approach bringing tangible, positive results? Only time will tell…
I have been looking at some of the predictions for trends across the PR and communications industries for the coming year. I am particularly pleased to see that, alongside the increasing use of new technology, much importance continues to be placed on three recurring themes that have always been at the core of my business: storytelling, authenticity and social purpose.
Storytelling is my passion, and I firmly believe it to be at the heart of good PR. Every successful business has a story and it is the job of PR to tell that story in an empathetic way that will appeal to both new, and existing, customers. My approach to PR has always been person-centric and story-focused and I believe this to be a clearly-growing trend within the field. My prediction for 2019 is that businesses will continue to use story-telling to forge better, lasting, connections with their audience. This new wave of ‘personal’ PR will focus on the individuals behind the business, rather than the business itself and will be driven through the digital sphere, making the best possible use of the various platforms available. Of course, the caveat for storytelling is to keep it authentic, which brings us neatly on to…
Authenticity and new technologies
It is impossible to consider what lies ahead without considering the implications of new technologies.
Fake news and the manipulation of the media was one of the big stories of 2018. The backlash has led people to look for context as well as content and news from reliable sources demonstrating considered opinion, rather than the belligerence of loud headlines from questionable sources. To find real, verifiable, stories that resonate.
But any stories you tell must be genuine. Analytics play their part in helping you to focus your campaigns and target the right audience with appropriate messages but will, most likely, also highlight any spurious activity – now, more than ever, as this year will continue to see an increase in new technologies being used to verify authenticity. Blockchain (the technology behind bitcoin) is now being used to combat fake news. This technology makes it easier for journalists to analyse content and make sure data has come from legitimate sources.
Our demand for authentic content is already impacting on Influencer marketing. As a result of a recent investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) into ‘misleading’ online posts from top online influencers, sixteen celebrities, including Ellie Goulding, Rita Ora and Zoella, have agreed to clearly state in future if they have been paid to promote a brand or product in their online posts.
As with most industries, PR is set to become increasingly digitised, with much discussion within the industry about how AI will change our roles as PR professionals. Businesses using PR companies will have the means to measure, analyse and interpret data better than ever before, enabling them to understand what works and what doesn’t.
However, the increasing use of, and reliance on, technology does raise the question of whether we are gradually losing the ability to communicate with our customers with empathy and warmth. PR is not just about slick, targeted campaigns, content creation and data analysis. It is also about human connections, face-to-face interaction with your clients, building relationships and understanding your clients and customers well enough to be able to speak with their voice. To be able to tell their story to a wider audience with passion and compassion.
Consumers are placing an increasing amount of value on the ‘ethical credentials’ of a product or organisation. It is widely believed that Millennials, particularly, choose to support businesses with strong principles and a positive footprint. Corporate reputation is critical in such an atmosphere.
This means that it will be even more important in 2019 to demonstrate corporate transparency and a social purpose. The values and ethical principles which drive these must be at the core of the business, not just tacked on as an after-thought. A business’ success or failure can be severely impacted by negative publicity engendered by a belief that it has a lack of social responsibility.
Increasingly, media content is being produced by ‘thought leaders’ (specialists in any given profession), rather than journalists. These often tend to be opinion pieces discussing future trends, written by experts in their fields and I believe that this trend will continue in 2019.
Although perceived by many to be relatively new, podcasting has been around for almost 15 years now and has become a well-established and popular, though still-growing, medium. An Ofcom report in September 2018 < https://www.ofcom.org.uk/about-ofcom/latest/media/media-releases/2018/uk-podcast-listening-booms> found that 6 million adults listen to a podcast every week. The largest growth is in listeners aged 15 to 24; with one in five now listening to a podcast every week.
Their popularity will almost certainly continue to grow throughout 2019, as even more companies come to use them as part of their PR strategy.
How do you promote your business on LinkedIn? If Facebook is the chatty, community-focussed medium, LinkedIn is the more professional, business-to-business one. Using the two in combination with each other, alongside Twitter and Instagram, will help you to not only engage with your current customers but to reach out and make connections with new ones.
The importance of storytelling, authenticity, corporate morality, new technologies, data analytics and where Brexit will lead us. 2019 is already shaping up to be a big year. Let’s see where it leads us…