The world of public relations is changing; of course it is, because the business and social landscape is constantly evolving at a greater pace than most of us can keep abreast of. Yet there are certain PR developments that are already taking place that all brands need to be aware of if they are to survive and thrive in this ever-more complex business and social environment. The key is to see this is an exciting challenge, and one which can elevate your brand into a new era of success, rather than looking at it as something daunting and awash with barriers.
But what are these challenges? How will PR look in the next year, or even five years? While nothing can ever be said for certain, there are developing trends which tell us much about where this business space is headed, and by reading the signs carefully, we can ascertain that these are the most significant areas of evolution for brands to consider:
#1. PR will be ever-more important in establishing trust
Fake news. It has been the buzz word of the past couple of years and it permeates every aspect of modern life, from politics to celebrity gossip. But what does this mean for PR, exactly? It means that your brand’s PR team must be at the very forefront of not only managing what is true about your brand, but also staying totally on the ball with regards what is not, but is out there anyway. Because it’s just so easy to do: put a fake story out there in the right channels and watch it grow. Trust has never been so absent between the public and the institutions that it requires to operate. Brands are part of the fabric, and must establish and maintain rust as much as politicians and community leaders.
#2. Your PR and marketing approach must tell a story
This is an evolution that has already taken place in PR and marketing circles, and this trend is not going away any time soon. Joe Public does not want one-off, standalone messages that don’t form part of the bigger picture.
“You must engage though storytelling, using authentic sources where possible and always speaking to the right audience – your target audience,” points out Micahel Novochak, a business writer.
#3. Ethics will be highly valued
In a world where it may sometimes seem that the behavior of those in the public eye is getting worse, in the world of brand PR, ethics will be valued more highly than ever before. Organic products and products that are made from responsible manufacturing and farming methods are a already highly valued, but audiences will continue to seek out brands that show morals in a plethora of ways. Communications experts will be drafted in to ensure brands are on point with their ethical approaches.
#4. Diversity and the gender pay-gap are huge topics
Related to ethics is the way that companies and brands recruit and target, and the key word here is inclusiveness. Diversity is already highly valued and as other high-profile movements such as those pushing for the closure of the gender pay-gap continue at pace, brands that openly address these issues and promote inclusiveness will win the hearts and minds of the increasing number of users who value such matters.
#5. Maintaining your reputation, and managing crises, matter
Reputation will always matter: without that there really is no PR industry. Social media channels mean that scandals – both of the brand’s own making and from external sources – can brew and disseminate quickly, so managing these inevitable crises effectively will be a contingency plan that all brands and organizations will have to deal with effectively. Training in this field directed at PR staff has been a growing trend for some time.
#6. Successful PR will blend data science with creativity
Analytics are already a huge part of marketing and PR circles, and this will only increase in importance as time passes. Raw data tells a brand how its audience engages, and it is this understanding that will drive future engagements and marketing strategies.
“Creativity will always be a highly-prized commodity in the marketing ad PR space, but only creativity performed in close conjunction with carefully considered analytics will win the day,” points out Tammy Rogers, a communication manager.
#7. AI is coming, but no one really knows when or how
AI is the big buzzword in tech circles, and we know that these developments will permeate every aspect of life eventually, PR included. But the big question is how? At this moment, there is no clear understanding of what AI’s impact will be, but all the face of the communications industry is bound to change unrecognizably in due course. What it will look like, and how long it will be until it happens is anyone’s guess.
#8. Influencer marketing will continue to rule
Influencers are all the rage, and despite reports that influencer marketing has peaked, the reality is that this approach shows no sign of slowing. Influencers have a major impact on brands, and choosing the right one should be a meticulous process that could make or break your campaigns. It is likely that your brand already takes this approach, but ramping up efforts in ever-more creative ways is likely to be the trend over the short-term a least.
#8. Live connections will continue to grow in importance
Brand channels are a growing trend and live connections performed over those brand channels, as well as through other resources such as Facebook Live, YouTube Live and Instagram Live, will mean that brands can connect with target audiences in real time. Tweeting from live events is another central theme and one that any savvy PR approach should already be incorporating. This is a trend that is here to stay.
#9. Using social media to generate good PR
Increasingly journalists are turning to brands’ own social media channels to pick up stories in relations to brand developments and other PR-focused developments which then hit the media. Certainly, from a brand perspective, your own social media channels are a fantastic way to own the process to a large extent, including the type of content you generate and disseminate.
Of course, you are not in control of everything and people will respond – the comments sections are also increasingly used to pick up on stories and the public’s reaction to events. The trolls cannot all be contained by any means, but if there is a groundswell of public opinion based on user comments, that is enough to make a story and effect your brand’s PR, so make sure you keep your finger on the pulse here and try to address issues that arise. Responding to customer complains directly on the comments sections (or at least engaging to then take the discussion private) is good PR for brands and is an important source for dealing with potential PR disasters. Neglect social media channels at your peril is the moral here.
#10. Video will continue to be king
Video is the current royalty of PR-based content: modern attention spans and stimuli mean that people are looking for short, sharp, memorable pieces of content that that are bitesize in nature and stand out from the crowd. In an ever-more crowded marketplace, video is often a brand’s one shot, especially at targeting the millennial audience. Get it wrong and it quickly gets buried; get it right and a viral sensation can work wonders for your brand. Overlook video to your brand’s detriment, but it should still be delivered as part of a diverse and eclectic content marketing strategy which utilizes other mediums such as blogs and memes to get the traction you are looking for.
#11. A socially responsible voice
The vast majority of audiences are now looking for socially responsible lifestyle brands that care about the things that they care about. Nike and Colin Kaepernick, the NFL star whose failure to stand for the national anthem began a debate that culminated in the President getting involved, are a prime example. Nike’s close alignment with Kaepernick in terms of a civil rights stand ended up winning the brand’s ad campaign – ‘Dream Crazy’ – a creative Emmy award, and although something as polarizing as this particular issue will obviously see a backlash too, Nike took a risk and judged its audience well, and reaped the rewards of this socially aware alignment. This will no doubt start more of the same in the future, and there will be spectacular successes and failures in this space. We watch with interest.
As this list reveals, despite some shifts which have already been felt over the past few years, the evolution of PR in terms of branding and brands will not inhabit unfamiliar spaces: at least not yet. More of the same is expected, which means that if your brand is not yet successfully tackling these approaches, then the risk is that you will get further left behind in the battle for hearts and minds.
The real takeaway is that the public consciousness is now more tapped in, political and socially responsible than ever before, so brands that flout their responsibilities will no longer wash. Clothing brands that continue to exploit poor workers in far-away lands, brands that align themselves with the wrong horse politically, and brands that care not about their green footprint will quickly be dropped like a hot potato. Similarly, brands that fail to respond to groundswells on social media channels will suffer huge consequences.
The key is to develop a clear voice and stance that resonates with your target audience, always staying up top of social media debate and driving ad campaigns that tell stories and connect with your users. There will no doubt be surprises along the way, and we still await to see the impact of AI, machine learning and other technological advancements, but as PR evolves for brands, how will you evolve with it?
About the Author!
Business expert Micahel Dehoyos is usually found assisting organizations in their digital marketing strategies. He is an editor at PhD Kingdom and Next Coursework and a regular contributor to many other sites and publications.