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Hughes blog post: What will PR look like in 2020?

17 March 2016    

What will public relations look like in the next five years?

I delivered a speech on this topic recently to the South Australian Marketing Summit, with my personal view being that a dominant place in the future marketing mix for the PR sector is ours to lose.

The re-shaped PR industry has the potential to ‘own’ strategic communication and reputation, and that means having significant influence over the work of advertising agencies, marketing agencies and digital agencies – possibly including taking some of their work from them.

I’ve formed this view because:

  • Our profession is trained to get to the point;
  • We are fleet of foot – that’s the nature of news and the nature of issues and crises;
  • We’re story tellers; and
  • We’re about more than marketing and play a key role in brand building. We know how to build and protect reputations.

As we say at Hughes, “we have the power to influence action and opinion”. Others say it in other ways but as an industry we have the ability to do it, and I believe, better than any other component of the marketing mix.

Not that we’re the be-all and end-all of marketing – yet! It’s just that we’re going to play an ever increasing role.

For the PR industry to realise its potential, I see five key areas we need to focus on:

1. Global industry positioning – we must earn the right to own responsibility for organisational reputation, and as part of this we must address the hoary chestnut of our industry: measuring value. As a profession, we haven’t been good at measuring the benefits we provide organisations, but as David Rockland – CEO of Ketchum Global Research & Analytics – said: “If we want a seat at the grown-ups table, we have to earn it via metrics.”

2. Technology – all the technology and social media platforms in the world are just toys – not tools – unless we can measure the significant positive contribution they make to business bottom lines: financial, social and environmental.

3. PR teams – what will PR agencies and in-house communications teams look like in the future? Will we limit ourselves to one geographic market? Will we specialise in an industry with universal needs around the globe? Will we have an office with a bunch of staff in it, or will we be networked to the best (or cheapest) talent the world has to offer, perhaps calling them in on a job by job basis? These are questions we need to answer.

4. PR people – who do we need in our profession in the future? A major part of our role is story telling so those who can do this will continue to be sought, as will those who can proactively identify issues; honestly appraise reputational risks; fearlessly advise on addressing those risks and effectively assist in neutralising or managing them to the benefit of an organisation.

5. Future services – my view is that the PR industry will be delivering the services it’s delivering now, including publicity, reputation management, publications, training, stakeholder relations, social media management, video production and graphic design. But we will have greater control over the strategy that drives them and the way in which they’re integrated with an organisation’s brand building and reputation protection strategy.

As for future trends to keep an eye on:

  • Mobile – we must think mobile and deliver our content to suit;
  • Virtual reality – these devices will soon become mainstream, so similar to mobile devices, we’ll need to deliver our content to suit; and
  • Big data – who owns data collection, interpretation and delivery? Big data is certainly not a toy – it’s a tool – and may require a specialist operator to serve the country’s PR players.

In summary, the PR industry is going to be increasingly responsible for developing and delivering business strategies. Our industry’s influence is set to grow, and while our core role and services won’t change in the immediate future, the tools and how we use them will.

- Tim Hughes