Although “digital” is still considered by many in the public relations and communication industry worldwide as the “Holy Grail” of everything related to our activities, it hardly is.
I am bemused that so much of what we hear today is “digital” this and “digital” that, “automate” this and buy/subscribe to a “tool” for that.
If our activities are largely entrapped by quantitative means (tools) or channels (digital), we are facing a very serious danger of becoming obsolete, with almost nothing valuable to give back to our clients or employers.
I am still to see a job description, pitch or industry event which includes the word “strategic” and, actually, provide an accurate description/rendering of what that “strategy” in Public Relations actually means!
If we digitize and automate pretty much everything we do (and we certainly should do that), how do we secure the “thinking” part of translating into practice what the tools have indicated the numbers want?
How do we verify that the “digital” has actually changed a behaviour or led to a reaction on the ground, in the shop, round the boardroom table, on the stock market or in the heart of the government?
This being said, I was asked by the lovely people of the Centre for Strategic Communication Excellence to provide them with my predictions for PR in 2019 (you also have a downloadable infographic here).
I’m not the Oracle of Delphi but I do believe that the 5 trends below will pretty much define the landscape of Public Relations not just in 2019, but in the near future too.
A significant rift between the relevance of public relations work in-house and agency will occur.
The former will see in-house activities (for both private and public organisations) significantly more able to their impact measured, while agencies will continue to pay an increased importance to automation and media relations.
We’ll see a lot of smaller agencies going under due to a boom in the number and availability of digital tools that can be easily used by in-house teams, thus no longer justifying the need to use a PR agency.
We’ll also witness several takeovers of mid to large agencies – the relevance of the agency model is diminishing, and clickbait, stunts and headlines will have to be directly linked to organisational objectives. Not many overhead-heavy agencies can do that.
The most successful agencies will be those who are there for the entire project journey, not just for a part of it.
Demonstrating vision and displaying strategy skills, including an almost perfect understanding of the wider business environment a client operates in (including that potential client’s business) will be part of the winning combination.
For those colleagues or practices specialised in issues management and crisis communication, there is a new form of expertise required for their teams, one they should rapidly bring onboard: cyber security and deep fakes expertise.
These experts have a specialised skill set which, in my view, would be crucial to bring in early in any large national, international or public affairs / government project.
The threats today are no longer just GDPR or data breaches and passwords thefts – with the right knowledge and appropriate software, a lot of damage can be done to any organisation anywhere. The battle for anyone’s image and reputation is as much in the actions as it is in the “software and algorithms”.
Public Relations will find a new business line in social activism and begin to tackle “big” issues in the search for a social and/or higher purpose.
We may witness the creation of solely “ethical” agencies, those who wish to differentiate themselves from the “same old”.
These new “ethical agencies” are likely to cause a significant epidemic in the world of PR practitioners and agencies, since those who may not follow suit would automatically be labelled as “dark”.
Artificial intelligence and automation will have a dramatic, highly likely negative impact, on the PR academic curricula across the world since the “jobs” junior practitioners are usually tasked to do are, pretty much, becoming automated.
Consequently, the formal academic teaching will need to refocus its offering on the complexities of strategy, leadership, ethics, business acumen, international relations, geopolitics and so on, of the public relations curriculum.
What used to be very prescriptive and “boxed in” is likely to become more and more fluid, with a heightened degree of fluidity and flexibility built in.
Where there are threats, there are also opportunities: junior account executives who land their first job in PR straight out of university will have some serious business and practice scenarios to contend with – those that require much more “thinking” rather than just “doing”.
Very interesting times ahead – to paraphrase Darwin, the most adaptable species will survive. Can PR do it without repurposing itself?