Living in San Francisco, one of my favorite places to visit is the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in Chinatown. You walk down a non-descript side alley off Grant Ave and a small sign directs you inside, where a half-dozen women are folding fortunes by hand into freshly-baked cookies. It’s a popular destination, partly because we all are interested in what the future holds.
As PR professionals, the same holds true. What does our crystal ball predict for 2018? Our industry pundits started foretelling what to expect beginning last December. Before January comes to a close, I thought I’d add my own personal list.
According to Statista, the statistics portal, 58% of respondents in a 2017 survey thought mainstream media outlets reported fake news either “most of the time” or “sometimes.” Obviously, this represents a huge increase. Social media has only leveraged the power of non-edited claims. As we continue through 2018, the question for PR professionals will be, “How do you combat fake news?” especially on behalf of your clients. We believe this is provides communicators with an opportunity to parlay credible subject matter experts (SMEs) who can document verified data. Will social media evolve to filter out fake news? There are baby steps in that direction, but only time will tell.
Faster news cycle
In the old days (say 5 years ago), we used to teach our clients that you had time to respond to a crisis and getting your ducks in a row was the first order of business. Nowadays, with the 24/7 news cycle, that simply isn’t the case. One must always be ready to tackle an issue—be it a media opportunity or challenge—at any given moment. What does this mean for PR pros? Media training—especially highlighting social media insights and tips—is ever more important. The good news about this? News doesn’t live as long. If it’s bad, sometimes you can batten down the hatches and ride it out: the news media will be onto the latest and greatest scandal the next day—or hour.
Artificial Intelligence and Voice Search
Why? Artificial intelligence will re-define how consumers research and buy; and voice search will replace the desktop Google search as a more convenient method to get there. Communicators will need to anticipate this. We need to be ahead of the curve and help our clients provide a customer experience that will take advantage of this new technology. Plus, we need to make sure our clients are found via these new search modes.
What role will PR professionals play in the coming year?
For communicators, the days of just providing media relations, crisis communications and media training are long over. PR professionals are evolving to be content creators as well as such services as digital marketing, analytics, influencer marketing and more. This integration of marketing communications services will only continue to grow. To continue to be competitive, PR professionals will need to continue to expand their expertise and knowledge base to offer a vast array of services.
Will “public relations” continue to define the industry?
The integration of marketing communications services begs the question: does “public relations” accurately define our industry? Fred Cook at Golin recently said, “It’s getting harder to define what a PR agency is. We had a lot of discussion about whether we’d call ourselves a PR agency anymore, but our philosophy was we’d rather reinvent PR than build a new category.” Because of the integration of marketing communications service offerings—and the traditional PR agency’s response to provide them—“public relations” is certainly part but not all of what we as professionals do. I predict that this will continue to be a source of contention for the industry. While I’m in favor of re-defining the industry more broadly, I fear that I am in the minority.
Metrics, metrics, metrics
Perhaps it’s just because our agency is located in the San Francisco Bay Area (with its plethora of tech-savvy startups), but the single biggest message I hear from our clients is: what is the return on my PR investment? Metrics are not going away. They are here to stay. I for one believe this is a good move for our industry. The more we can justify PR’s return-on-investment (ROI) for a company, the more credible we become as service providers. Whether it be click-throughs that support a client’s sales, message pull-through or UTM verification that our story was read far and wide, ROI is a must-have with every PR campaign.
Net Neutrality is dead
Finally, what will the recent move by the FCC to end net neutrality have on our industry? Already, some say big companies such as AT&T and Comcast will hike prices for faster service. And we will need to advise our own clients (and our agencies) about the need to invest in (and pay for) high speed internet service for our customers and clients. Additionally, what does this development mean for how we as PR pros get information to consumers who may no longer have access to rich media? It will require a dual-pronged approach that requires potentially different campaign approaches.