6 Essential PR Predictions for 2018

I recently took part in a webinar hosted by Cision where we examined some of the most critical challenges, trends and themes facing our industry in the year ahead. Topics ranged from the proliferation of fake news, to the increasing importance of brand integrity (and crisis management) in today’s hyper-connected, and scandal-laden, media landscape.

The skills, technology and workflow used in media and public relations are all converging and 2018, like its predecessor, should prove to be another watershed year for PR.

The brands that capitalize on these new and emerging trends stand to gain the most in the coming months. Here are a few of the most interesting bits from our discussion…

1. The professional status of public relations.
There’s a growing shift to public relations becoming recognized as a management discipline. The drum beat of professionalism in public relations has been getting louder over the past decade and has only accelerated.

My view is that 2018 will prove to be a breakthrough year for the professionalism of public relations, via a concerted effort on a number of different fronts, all anchored by the fact that the conversation around ethics will inevitably get louder in 2018.

The International Communications Consultancy Organization (ICCO), spearheaded by Francis Ingham, called on the international industry to stand by 10 principles of ethical behavior at its conference in Helsinki.

Sarah Hall also takes up her 12-month Presidency of the CIPR in the UK in 2018, which coincides with the organization’s 70th anniversary. Her vision is of a profession that is recognized and valued as a management discipline. It’s an issue that she’s sought to promote over the past two years through the #FuturePRoof community.

The international work of the Global Alliance to define capabilities and skills in public relations for managers and practitioners is being continued at the University of Huddersfield by a team led by Prof Anne Gregory and Dr Johanna Fawkes.

Continuing Professional Development (CPD), a hallmark of any profession, is increasingly acknowledged as critical in public relations to enable practitioners to keep at the forefront of practice.

Finally, there’s a growing community of practice between academics, teachers and practitioners around issues such as diversity, gender and fake news. A strong interchange between theory and practice is critical to the development of our profession.

Action: If you haven’t already, please consider starting your professional development journey in 2018.

2. All of life is shifting to the internet.
The quarterly data published by social media platforms tells the story.

4.3 of the world’s 7.6 billion population connected to the internet. By 2030 everyone on the planet will be connected.

Organizations need to communicate in the spaces where their publics do. It’s an obvious point but one that is often forgotten. Connectivity should improve inclusivity however the digital media environment is coalescing around a group of monopolies.

  • Facebook has a strong and growing platform of services including Instagram and WhatsApp.
  • LinkedIn, now owned by Microsoft, is pursuing an advocacy, content and learning strategy.
  • Pinterest has posted sustained growth in visual imaging.
  • Snap, once the darling of visual messaging, has had a tough year losing users to Instagram and its Stories product.
  • Two billion monthly Facebook users generate a huge amount of data. The platform has become a powerful planning tool.

But it’s not alone. Every post, click, like and comment that we leave on a social media platform leaves an audit trail.

Public relations and marketing practitioners use this data to discover and identify audiences and publics, and understand their motivation.

It’s a good place to start to understand the public.

Action: Investigate the changing media landscape in the market or sector in which you operate. Understand how publics are shifting to new forms of media thanks to the internet. Explore the native planning tools on platforms such as Google or Facebook as a means of characterizing and understanding a public.

3. A shift to newsroom workflows.

Public relations operations have become more like traditional media operations in the last decade. The simple fact is that public relations practitioners don’t have hours to respond to an issue. It’s difficult, and not always perfect, but the organizations that are sufficiently brave, win.

As mentioned, the skills, technology and workflow used in media and public relations are converging. Frequently people switch between the two disciplines. If there is a difference it’s the pace. Media works to 24-hour cycles whereas public relations typically works as quickly as an organization’s processes will allow.

But this too is also changing. Organizations are realizing that they need to work real-time if they want to be part of the conversation on the internet.

Action: Challenge your organisation to determine whether your current processes and workflow are fit for purposes for working in modern media.

4. Influencers: relationships versus reach.

Public relations in practice is evolving from media relations to influencer relations, and then from community management to social business.

Each new form of media from Snapchat to YouTube, and Instagram to Twitter, has given rise to a new breed of influencers. Media relations has shifted from pitching traditional media to working with these individuals across all forms of media.

Whether they are opinion leaders, experts, ambassadors, creators, celebrities, activists, or healthcare professionals, the goal remains the same. Influencers provide a means of building trust with specific communities through third party storytelling.

It’s put the public relations business on a collision course with marketing. The last five years have seen the emergence of paid influencers and creators. There’s a growing realization that influencers are best used for their ability to create relationships through compelling content, rather than their reach.

Public relations seeks to negotiate with influencers and build long term relationships, whereas marketing wants to buy access to audiences at scale in the same way you’d buy media space.

Action: Investigate the influencers in your market or sector, and the potential to build mutually beneficial relationships.

5. Leadership becomes social.

Executives that are serious about leading a modern organization will invest in their social media footprint in 2018. 10 years ago executive profiling meant targeting features in the broadsheet and trade media. Today’s modern executive is more likely to seek support in optimizing their social networks and content.

There’s a growing recognition of the opportunity to use the social web as a means of engaging directly with a variety of stakeholders including customers, employees, prospects, and suppliers. The catalyst for this shift has been the growth of LinkedIn, as both a professional network and content publishing platform. Its data shows clear return on investment in social media.

Action: Publish and share your ideas and thinking as a means of building your social capital. It’s the most powerful means of learning and development.

6. Artificial intelligence becomes normalized.

Artificial intelligence was the shiny new thing in public relations in 2017. I’ve been using artificial intelligence since I used WordPerfect 5.1 in the early 80s. In fact, it’s never been bettered as a word processor. But we’re starting to feel the impact of machines in at least three areas: content production; content publication and distribution; and workflow.

In public relations algorithms are now commonplace for searching and organizing how information is displayed. We increasingly use tools to make sense of conversations and content shared in networks. Algorithms crunch through huge amounts of data to identify influencers, networks and trending topics.

Public relations, like many other professions, is sleepwalking into the issue of artificial intelligence.

Action: No one has properly characterised its potential impact on our business. This needs to change. It’s an issue that I plan to explore in 2018.

About Stephen Waddington

Stephen is a Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University. Chairman of Future Proof policy unit and Past President, CIPR. Author of Brand Anarchy and #BrandVandals; and editor and contributor to Share This and Share This Too. Connect with him on Twitter: @wadds

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