We have all heard too many times from people that they can’t wait for 2020 to be over! But it’s not over yet: 2020 will be leaving a lasting impact on the public relations industry as we know it for a long time to come.
Though many parts of our industry suffered, the reality is that nimble agencies managed to navigate the terrible pandemic crisis quite well, and in some cases will actually emerge in a seemingly far better financial position than in previous years.
In 2021, we face three major trends that will converge to impact the industry
The first is the pandemic “spill-over.” Many of the issues and challenges our clients faced in 2020 will carry over into the new year, most likely until at least the third quarter, when vaccines will be more prevalent to the public at large. Some industries, such as entertainment, travel/tourism and brick-and-mortar retail will continue to be impacted. Similarly, our clients’ communications programs will be affected, with trade shows and conferences sidelined, and limitations on special events, in-person media tours and other ways of entertaining the media in person.
The way we conduct business has been permanently changed over the past year, leaving a lasting effect on our trade. This brings us to our second trend: the decline of traditional media. Unfortunately, I envision we will continue to see this decline, as more journalists face layoffs and publications go out of business. The opportunity for public relations professionals here is that the media will increasingly be reliant on us more than ever to provide them with news, well-written content and access to our clients. In this way, we become the new “newswires” for journalists, a quick and reliable source of information, something on which we can capitalize going into 2021. Of course, that means we have a greater responsibility to provide ethically sound and accurate information to the media.
The third trend I see is in the social media landscape. Stalwarts like Twitter and Facebook will face serious challenge from newcomers like TikTok and even Whatsapp, who continue to grow their audiences and influence around the world, Even before 2020, Twitter has been propelled by hate speech from our president and many other influential and controversial leaders. With a new administration, some of the testiness of the platform will diminish and people will gravitate to other news sources. Likewise, Facebook, which has been skewing to an older demographic for some time now, is suffering from a personality crisis. This “open platform” just cannot find the right medium between editing the comments of those too far to the right and left, and I believe that as they start imposing tighter controls on what can be posted, followers will move on. They have already crimped corporations by tightening their effectiveness to reach audiences without significant investment. Communications professionals should keep this mind when determining where to focus their energy for engaging followers in 2021.
Looking within the public relations business, agencies will benefit from reduced travel and entertainment expenses as we continue to stay grounded into some part of the new year. That will also alter how we search for new business prospects and pitch, as well as recruit and train new talent. Our technology will need to be better and nimbler—we have to do better than another Zoom meeting! A concern needs to be how we train and develop our younger team members. If people are not as close or not working from their offices because of the pandemic, and we can’t take our people into the field to interact with media and clients, this could stymie their growth. We need to be more creative in how we work to improve these functions in our organizations.
The bottom line is that I am quite bullish for the agency business in 2021. We see growth in all our business sectors and are focused on recruiting, training and developing our talented team of professionals to continue to serve our clients into the new year.