2019 has been a particularly interesting year for PR. From ethical question marks, the struggle with diversity, tech disruptions and battling the unrelenting flow of Brexit headlines.
As we get approach 2020, what does the next year hold for us?
Reputation will become part of organisations’ strategic intent
Reputation has always been important to corporate boards, but there’s an increasing understanding that it will become a competitive advantage and a key ingredient to success next year. In this particularly unpredictable climate, reputation continues to work its way up business agendas, as the board has identified it as a new strategic risk.
With more instant communication channels available than ever before, it’s almost impossible to hide. This combined with changes in society, the battle for talent and increased regulation has further highlighted the importance of business reputation and crisis management. Many are starting to view reputation as a vital part of their growth strategy, rather than an added bonus.
Purpose-driven organisations will triumph
The focus on reputation brings us nicely onto purpose beyond profit. In a recent PwC survey, 79 per cent of business leaders believe purpose is critical to success. However, in the same survey, 68 per cent stated that their purpose is not used to make decisions within their business. This is set to change in 2020 as organisations’ words are held to account.
The media’s role is still to hold businesses to account and ensure they really are putting their money where their mouth is. A good example of this is #FearlessGirl. State Street Global Advisors, a financial services company, created Fearless Girl in an initiative to encourage gender parity and encourage more women onto boards. However, The Guardian reported that State Street had previously opposed shareholders’ proposals for equality. The company was also scrutinised by regulators following claims women there endured pay discrimination.
This sent out a clear message to any brand pushing purpose that they need to be authentic. There’s opportunity for those that do deliver on their purpose promise. Customers want to buy from purpose-driven brands, talent wants to work for purpose-driven brands and so it’s a virtuous circle. We’ll see more brands succeed at this in 2020.
Storytelling will always be critical, but you need the right approach to succeed
We’ve noticed a storytelling drop from PR’s own narratives, but storytelling will always be critical to the success of a brand’s awareness and growth. However, telling a good brand story is as important today as it has ever been. Making your story heard in this era of constant content isn’t always easy. Brands are churning out reams of content, but to cut above the noise your storytelling needs to be authentic, insightful, helpful. You need to place your audience at the heart of your story and speak directly to them as people, not simply consumers.
The PR skills required for success will change
Public relations, marketing, advertising – they’re all extensions of each other. With ever-squeezed budgets, marketing managers and in-house PR comms professionals will be under even more pressure to deliver with less.
Ultimately, brands need to sell their services and/or products to survive. The way people buy has changed dramatically in the last few years: the buyer now has all the power. As the storytellers of the marketing profession, PR is well-placed to cater to the new era of sales, driving impact down the marketing funnel from awareness, to interest, to creating super-fans in existing customers.
PR knows how to write content that motivates and engages – we’ve been doing it since the beginning of PR time. Journalists are great at pushing us to continually evolve and become better at doing this.
With this built-in ability to create compelling and meaningful brand stories, combined with being the guardians of reputation – a risk the board will be taking more seriously in 2020 – we now need to level-up the business conversations using hard metrics. With a mass of data at our fingertips, it is easier than ever to take a data-driven approach to measurement, ensuring we both deliver and prove our value.
Successful PR will combine data science, creativity and customer-centricity
Following on from the data skills we need to demonstrate value and creeate impactful campaigns, as PRs we also need to use data that tells our stories in a way the media likes. Some of our most successful campaigns have been based on analysing primary research and open data to create headlines that cut above the noise. These campaigns have led to national and tier one trade and vertical press. Moreover, these campaigns cut through the marketing funnel and drive direct sales.
We’re fascinated by data, and our accumulation of data is set to increase even further in 2020. PR agencies need to analyse this, they need to own it, and they need to create compelling stories from it.
The industry must hold itself to account for ethical practice
2018 brought about a series of question-marks over ethics in our industry, from Facebook to Bell Pottinger, from Cambridge Analytica to Brexit. As people, we expect better. As an industry, we need to do more to safeguard society from the profound changes unethical practice can bring.
As Francis Ingham, the Director General of the PRCA, stated earlier this year in a PR Week article:
“Our industry’s focus on ethics is here to stay. The issues we face of trust; of self-regulation; of fake news; of speaking truth to power, are truly common; truly international; and definitely best addressed collectively.”