PR is facing a bright but challenging few years ahead. Though it used to be a neat split (advertising agency, PR agency, marketing agency), the divide has crumbled and a 2017 USC Annenberg Global Communications study revealed that 87% of professionals do not believe the term ‘public relations’ will describe the work they do in five years.
Like the modern British economy, the rich are getting richer, the middle-class is disappearing, and ‘poorer’ agencies must find creative new ways to get by. Budgets may be rising, but so are client expectations of what agencies should provide. Clients are more educated on things like social media, blogs, SEO and online content, too. They want a more complete solution.
Not enough professionals are spending sufficient time on emerging PR skills that should now be a vital part of professional practice. Hiring new talent and skills is one thing. Understanding how to deploy them effectively is quite another. Plus, those new talents want viable career paths. It’s time to strategise & get ahead of the curve. Many have been restructuring the agency model around more specialist areas, capitalizing on dramatic changes in the PR communications landscape, but while specialists remain fashionable for now, a new breed of PR generalists are becoming vital to agency success. To win pitches in 2018, PR firms will need to have a firm grasp on:
According to the ICCO World PR Report research study, there has been a 10% rise in the number of PR professionals spending most or some of their time on strategic planning. Now at 69%, making it the third most common PR task, behind content creation (81%) and media relations (73%). There’s a reason. Social media, for example – a lot of agencies and consultants offer social media services for their clients. They can tweet, but can they assist with optimised content creation? Can they find and suggest relevant people to follow, and relevant articles to share? Do they understand the true nature of influence, and can they put together an influencer strategy that helps you form fruitful, long-term relationships, and achieve your objectives as a business? Do they understand the different strategies required for B2B and B2C influencer marketing? There are incredible, cost-effective online opportunities that go beyond print, banner and 30 second ads and laser cut the demographic you are looking for, but many agencies just aren’t educated on them. We have these strategic conversations with all our clients so that we are working towards the same goals.
Monitoring & Measuring:
Utilising data-driven research can help us better understand consumers, stakeholders, industries and trends, and provide us with new interpretations of how clients’ products can leverage those trends. Data can help build consensus around business objectives and offer clear insights on how to achieve and measure them. It can shape strategies and enables hyper-targeted campaigns and storytelling. Data science, AI, machine learning and chatbots will make PR easier too, from predicting peaks in customer interest to highlighting and mitigating potential crises.
It may be a new vocabulary for most right now, but in a decade or so, all PR agencies will be ‘data scientists’. Storytelling will always be at the heart of PR, so it’s about finding that synergy, so that the data is supercharging your work. Those agencies that do will be the ones to survive; ones that use data to show the impact of their work across a client’s whole business, not just press clippings. Yet the ICCO World PR Report research study shows that alarmingly, ‘monitoring and evaluation’ is only looked for by 59% of employers when recruiting for senior PR roles. More worrying when 77% claim that ‘strategic management’ is a key skill they look for. How can a PR practitioner be strategic when they don’t understand how measurement, evaluation and data analysis can shape strategy?
The huge shift in media consumption (to online) is fragmenting audiences and affecting the way PR firms think about servicing clients and achieving impactful results. We must think mobile and deliver our content to suit. AR & VR that seem so ‘tech-show’ now will soon become mainstream and revolutionise communications, just as they are healthcare and banking. Companies like Innovid are already paving the way, with their personalised Channel 4 trailer. An Accenture Report found that 40% of customers want more digital interaction than they’re getting. These are tools, not toys – clients will expect agencies to control messages through the use of technology, and measure the significant positive contribution they make to the financial, social and environmental bottom lines of a business.
New marketing isn’t about banner ads or agency tweets on your behalf, it’s about content. Content that’s more personal, informed, relevant, and resonant than ever before. And it’s a great time to be writing it, with data and analytics advancements catalyzing the potential for more perceptive and focused work. Make data a primary ingredient in media materials; video content, visuals such as infographics, presentations, websites, collateral, etc. (another reason good data is priceless, it’s dynamic and multi-functional). It will help effectively gauge future developments and let you get ahead of conversations, and predict how they might evolve in time. Basic photo and video production should also already be a core skill. It’s just as integral to PR success as copywriting. Yet that same ICCO report shows that only 35% of practitioners spend some or most time on creation and editing, and a mere 22% of recruiters say this is a sought-after skill for a junior PR position. Even worse, only 9%, for a senior position.
Get ahead of the curve – find ways to disrupt and innovate internally, explore staff’s passions and develop skills in similar categories, create case studies to leverage during prospect and upselling discussions with clients. Get strategic, data-driven, and get to really know your customers.