The future of PR isn't science fiction
By David Walker
Monday, 19 June 2017
What does the future hold for the PR industry? It’s a big question - and frankly one that also has significant potential for the kind of embarrassing predictions that will one day come back to haunt you.
As a species, we’ve proved ourselves in the past to be fairly bad at predicting some of the central tenets of modern life. For every tech Nostradamus outlining the basic concept of the iPhone way back in the 19th century, we’ve been woefully lacking in prescience, with the likes of Steve Jobs insisting that music streaming would never catch on, and Henry Ford stating in 1940 that flying cars were firmly on the way. You can’t always get it right.
We can barely manoeuvre cars on the ground, never mind in the air.
Nevertheless, when it comes to predicting the future of effective public relations, there are plenty of innovations and trends we can pinpoint with a degree of certainty - and no science fiction is required. It’s not so much looking into a crystal ball - but briefly glimpsing around the corner.
With that in mind, it’s fair to say that heightened speed of response will be high on the list of PR expectations in coming decades. As a society, we’re an ever-more impatient bunch, and PR will be no different as part of an increasingly 24/7 culture. The onset of even greater connectivity, and therefore greater mobile working, will mean that client needs will increasingly be serviced on-demand, whenever and wherever, feeding into the 24-hour rolling news cycle.
Of course, it’s been said many times that printed media will soon be a thing of the past, but what of the content producers in this all-bets-are-off media landscape? Even against the backdrop of a slow print death, demand for content in new forms will remain high – and therein lies a significant opportunity for PRs.
Perhaps then, we could be looking at the balance of content produced by journalists and PRs being turned on its head with the latter generating the bulk of material, and an elite few journalists retaining ownership of hard news.
There can surely be little doubt that the influence and importance of PR will only increase in the coming decades. Reputations are finely balanced in the modern world, and organisations are never far from a PR disaster when social media is involved – as brands like United Airlines and British Airways have discovered to their cost this year.
Every customer is now a potential reporter-in-waiting, and how companies adapt to that potentiality is vital to their fortunes, share price, and entire survival. With incidents effectively unfolding and being reported in real time, professional on-the-spot crisis management has never been of greater value to ensure a swift, appropriate, and consistent response that quickly lays the foundations for reversing the damage already caused.
In future decades, data will play an increasingly key role in progressive, proactive PR. We’re already in danger of being swamped by data insights, but how effectively we understand, manage and leverage them for better working practices and more detailed client reporting in future will decide the industry’s winners and losers. In turn, what was once an added option will become an immediate client expectation.
Likewise, those who fail to integrate their services and offer complete solutions will fall by the wayside – one-trick PR ponies will be things of the past in something of an ‘integrate or disintegrate’ scenario.
So what of PR itself? Well, just as we’re seeing the rise of individually targeted advertising based on web habits, public relations will likely be much more focused on communicating messages to individuals directly, rather than current blanket approaches. New technologies working in tandem with fresh data insights will help to ensure that campaigns are as pinpointed as possible, capable of tapping into very precise demographics at any given time.
In such an environment, publishing formats will likely matter less, as content will be instantly disseminated across multiple channels. We will simply expect that no one format will take precedence over another, as all will be equally valid, while bloggers will enjoy little separation from their journalistic peers in terms of reputation. Agencies will have to increasingly collaborate with the new influencers if they are to remain relevant.
In the near future, the definition of true success for PR will be to ask how strong a relationship with the public and its behaviours has been created across all channels as a direct result of your campaign.
Nevertheless, it should be kept in mind that many aspects of the industry will remain reassuringly similar at the centre of a more shareable, disruptive experience. Fundamentally, the need for strong journalistic instincts, a deep well of contacts, and the ability to deliver an authentic voice within a compelling story will still be pivotal to PR. There will also be no corner-cutting in terms of the quality of content, particularly when Google will remain the gatekeeper dictating your place in search rankings.
One of the most salient predictions for the future of the industry? That the term ‘PR’ will no longer be broad enough to adequately cover all of the aspects of the job, as it evolves to encompass so much more than what we currently understand the industry to be.
Where that shift takes us is anyone’s guess as we enter an exciting new era of public relations that’s replete with huge digital possibility.
Maybe that flying car will come in handy after all.