14 PR trends to watch out for in 2014

The positive mood among people I have already met this year makes me certain that 2014 could be a very good year. Companies are more open to the idea of PR and it really feels like the recession we have all endured in the last five years has finally lifted. I feel incredibly optimistic and can’t wait to see what changes and challenges lie in store for the PR industry.

Here are my predictions for the year ahead:

1. Economic recovery

As I mentioned, all signs are pointing to 2014 being the year the UK economy gets back on track. This will only have a positive effect on the PR industry. We will see business confidence increasing and more investment in PR, marketing and advertising services to demonstrate this confidence. In a recession, these budgets are often deemed ‘discretionary spend’, but in more confident times they are seen as essential. Budgets cut by large businesses at the beginning of the recession are already begin reinstated, proved by the IPA Bellwether report, which found that British companies increased their advertising and marketing budgets for the fifth quarter in a row at the end of 2013.

2. Commercially focused PR

Despite the testing times they bring to most organisations, recessions make business leaders think differently and often shake things up in a good way: after all, necessity is the mother of invention. Yet PR still needs to work on its status in the business hierachy. Commercial creativity will need to be the driving force of any PR and communications plan, ensuring all campaigns and ongoing activity are enhancing business value and generating leads.

3. Measurement

Measuring PR has always been difficult, but things are changing. Sponsored content allows us to directly compare a placed article with a paid-for piece; website analytics allow us to track when people move straight from an article to a company website, and clever use of research has led directly to sales meetings. PR can now be very realistically measured and demonstrated to clients, meaning we can be more accountable. This will go a long way to securing the confidence of clients and prospects as we prove the value PR can add with a quantifiable ROI figure.

4. Research and insight

Research and insight are becoming the twin pillars on which many businesses are built, and they will also be a huge part of our activity in 2014. Astonishingly, according to IBM, 90% of the world’s data has been collected over the last two years and businesses are gradually understanding how to make the most of it. They are now not only employing insight to use this information to become thought leaders in their field, they are using research to help validate a story and make what they are saying more reputable when approaching the media.

Research and insight also helps businesses target their customers by providing increased understanding of what they need and what they want, and will help them make smarter decisions faster.

5. Client-led agency integration

In-house PR no longer acts as a separate function to the rest of a business; PR activity already sits alongside corporate communications, sales, marketing, HR, client services, events and even legal departments. I see 2014 being the year that businesses follow suit with their agencies and begin to integrate PR, marketing and advertising to create seamless strategies that complement each other and help businesses head off their rivals by reaping the insights of that co-operation.

6. The end of unpaid internships

For years, internships have been the route into a PR career. Unfortunately these are often low or even unpaid roles, meaning the industry had limited itself to only a minority of people who could afford to do them. In 2013, PR Week and the PRCA drew attention to unfair treatment of interns in the PR industry, and the tax man issued warnings that HMRC will carry out targeted checks – including office visits – to make sure all interns are paid the National Minimum Wage.

I hope 2014 will be the year that sees the end of unpaid internships altogether.

7. The rise of Google+

Since its launch in 2011, Google+’s impact on the world has been distinctly muted. It has struggled to find its purpose, and therefore failed to make much a mark on the social media landscape. But Google+ hangouts have the ability to become a great PR tool to bring throught leaders together to discuss industry topics, and broadcast to wider relevent circles. This might just be the year when Google+ comes into its own.

8. Social Social Social

I have touched on the growth of Google+ this year, but I do not see that as being to the detriment of the other social networks. Twitter will continue to grow, as will Pinterest, as PR’s increase the value they put on the power of an image. I hope 2014 may also see the emergence of a new social media the PR world can utilise.

2013 brought us more examples of how social media is becoming more central in determining PR success and failure and how to use social media and brand personality to manage a potential PR crisis – think O2 and its incredible communications plan during their network failure. 2014 will see the growth of this beyond consumer PR to B2B, with businesses communicating with one another, not just the consumer.

 9. The Power of pictures

In 1911 Arthur Brisbane, editor of the New York Times, said: “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.”– This is as true in 2014 as it was in 1911. With the popularity of picture-sharing sites like Pinterest and Instagram, alongside YouTube, Vimeo and Vine, 2014 will be the year of visual communication.

The Sunday People has already cut the majority of text from its home page, instead telling stories through pictures. While we won’t be seeing GIFs and video replacing the written word in the broadsheets just yet, we will notice more imagery embedded within our news.

PR needs to follow the media’s lead, and ensure releases are as visually pleasing as the stories they support by including infographics, images and video when sending out client collateral.

10. SEO –  Pandas and Penguins have changed the world

For years, great SEO has thrived on quantity of keywords. Google’s Panda and Penguin initatives in 2013, much to our delight, finally throw the focus on valuing high-quality, original content. While this is a challenge to many, it’s a minor shift for the PR industry which has been generating this kind of content for decades.

11. Content creation

The phrase came to the fore in 2013. But 2014’s challenge will be to stand out from the noisy content crowd. Taking into account our point about Pandas and Penguins, the PR industry is more than well versed to ensure this quality is business as usual.

12. Putting the Public back into Public Relations

2014 will see a major increase in the value of the face-to-face meeting. The explosive growth of online networking through a multitude of different digital channels has really changed the style and confidence with which some people communicate. It might be easy to forget, but as a business, and an individual, if you are able to develop rapport in both the online and the real world, you will be at a distinct advantage.  

13. The changing relationship between PR’s and Journalists

There has been a lot of debate about how digital will change our relationship with journalists. While these relationships are continuing to evolve and change, and journalists are still carving out their place in the digital landscape, ultimately there is still, and will be for a long time coming, value in a strong piece in a national or quality trade publication. At Limelight we do not see the relationship between PR’s and journalists becoming any less valuable over the coming year.

14. Power of the people

Social media and online content have given the reader more power than ever in deciding what they want to digest. Not only can they choose what they read, their opinions reflect the news other people see, be it on Buzzfeed which displays the most read stories on their home page, or Twitter, where retweeted news stories will be seen by more people. 2014 will see PR’s having to appeal to the reader with content that is more relevant and clever than ever before, or risk their stories being spiked before they see the light of day.

Christmas advertising is here – how have brands performed?

As Christmas nears, our TV screens are once again filled with festive-themed ads as brands clamour to draw in the all-important Christmas shoppers. From the sentimental to the downright brash, they are certainly a mixed bag this year. So who has left us feeling thoroughly festive and ready for a Christmas splurge?

Well we certainly can’t look past the success of John Lewis’ latest effort. ‘The Long Wait’, created by agency Adam & Eve, has really caught the imagination of consumers. The ad has been an instant hit, achieving the holy grail of good advertising: it’s got people talking. What’s the secret of its success? It creates suspense and tells a story viewers can relate to – one which, in short, realises every parent’s dream. This emotional resonance, captured in the tagline ‘for gifts you can’t wait to give’, goes a long way when nestled amongst a lot of other predictable, outdated and ever-so-slightly corny fare jostling for our screen space.

Promoting flamboyant spending is ill-advised in the current economic climate and Tesco has somewhat thoughtfully chosen to lead its advertising with the strap line ‘Keeping Christmas Special’, whilst focusing on low price festive goods. Angela Porter, Tesco’s senior marketing manager, explains: “Just because times are tough doesn’t mean that Christmas has to be less special.  Tesco understands this and wants to help keep Christmas special for the whole of Britain, no matter who you are or how you choose to celebrate.”

This festive season has also seen the swansong of Jamie Oliver’s time as Sainsbury’s brand ambassador. Sainsbury’s Christmas panto advert, starring the TV chef, debuted last week and, like John Lewis, aimed for the feel good factor – but falls a little short with a certain air of the predictable.

Coca-Cola’s latest ‘Holidays are coming’ revival and Marks & Spencer’s X Factor themed ad have both grabbed the headlines, but neither have been able to get close to the 200,000 online shares and over one million YouTube views achieved by the John Lewis ad. Annual tradition or not, we’ve all seen the Coca-Cola ad a hundred times before, and this year’s X Factor (staged infighting and rogue contestants aside) has so far failed to spark the public’s imagination.

Although the Christmas season poses a fantastic opportunity for brands, it’s easy for them to get lost in the tidal wave of themed ads.  John Lewis is currently emerging victorious in the battle of Christmas advertising, but the true brand winner will only be revealed once Christmas has passed and sales performance is reviewed. But for now we can sit back and enjoy the show…                                                                         

Ian Savage

Is the future looking bleak for advertising on TV?

There’s no doubt about it; the way we consume media on a daily basis is changing dramatically. From smartphones to tablets, consumers now demand television at the click of their fingers, no matter where they are. No longer is it a case of searching the TV listings and making sure your Saturday night is free for the X Factor, now we can view it online, on the move, or record it and catch up later.

Traditional TV is certainly facing stiff competition from its cousin online, and not just from viewers in search of ‘on-demand’ services. With online access to the latest news and headlines via smartphone apps (such as the BBC’s news app), viewers no longer have to wait for the six or ten o’clock bulletin, but can rather get it as soon as it breaks.

But what does the rise in digital TV mean for ad breaks? I certainly can’t recall a time I haven’t just fast forwarded through them in a recorded programme.

The internet offers diverse and unique ways for advertisers to reach their audience, and with more people moving online it’s no surprise that advertisers are increasing investment in it. ITV’s new ad format for its video-on-demand (VOD) service ITV Player is a perfect example. Allowing users to skip adverts if they correctly answer questions based on the advertised brand or product.

ITV’s managing director of commercial and online, Fru Hazlitt, explained “VOD advertising opens up massive commercial opportunities for broadcasters and advertisers….This shift (from TV to VOD and other online formats) is not about the car replacing the horse; it’s about complementary stuff.”

So can the two platforms go hand in hand? We certainly saw a good example of a successful campaign with Yeo Valley’s farmer rap last winter. The campaign paired an offline TV ad campaign with a Youtube Channel. However, a similar campaign this year featuring the farmer boy band The Churned and a karaoke Facebook page could not replicate that success.

It seems the jury is still out on this one.

Santa Claus is coming to town…already?

My friends might call me Scrooge, but come on, it’s mid July and 30 degrees out there – the festive season is the furthest thing from my mind.

But as Hamleys release their 2010 Christmas wish list and Cadbury unveils the first of its Christmas offerings, one could be forgiven for checking their calendar!

I’m not alone in my annual grumbles about early Christmas advertising. With more moans and groans this year then ever before, the Advertising Standard Authority (ASA) states on its website how it has been “receiving a steady flurry of complaints from irritated and disenchanted consumers objecting to the premature appearance of Christmas advertisements”. It seems there are a growing number of people getting fed up with the onset of Christmas advertising from about July onwards. So much so, one anti-early-Christmas campaigner calls for the ‘movement for the containment of Christmas’.

Perhaps though, the season of inappropriate advertising is a prerequisite to our ever expanding retail-driven society, with early advertising driving up demand and keeping prices reasonable by starting sales early. Or perhaps by tossing products into the public eye early, retailers are able to see what attracts the most attention.

Either way, it seems Christmas has arrived early, or, at least Christmas advertising has – and it gives everyone something to moan about.

Ideas and energy: Taking a different perspective

The marketing and advertising industry’s top brass have returned from a busy week of networking, events and for most, a bit of partying at Cannes. Joking aside, the event, which has been a contentious subject as agency belts are tightened, is still a brilliant opportunity to look at some of the best work created over the last year.

I was particularly pleased to see Sussex Safer Roads low budget road safety campaign ‘embrace life’, pick up a bronze lion. When D&AD blogged about this advert back in March, I loved it. It demonstrates that safety messages can be delivered in a positive emotive manner rather than always through scare tactics. I’m not the only one to feel this way either as the Facebook group ‘Embrace this’ has a growing fan base over 6,000 people and the Youtube video has almost 9.5 million views.

This week I also stumbled across VW’s brilliant fun theory project. The idea is based on the fact that there must be a more fun way to do things that are not always liked. So how do you get more people to take the stairs in the subway – you make it into a giant piano of course! Or what about how to get people to wipe their feet on the mat as they come in? Make it fun by turning it into a DJ deck with scratch noises.

Both the Sussex Safety advert and the Fun Theory project are successful and provoke a strong reaction because they disrupt what is expected. There is also an argument to be made that even the most negative people are drawn to positive representations of things. For example this week Gideon Spanier wrote his regular Evening Standard column on behavioural economics and referenced choice architecture which has essentially shown that presenting things in a different way can lead to real behaviour change.

It’s not just R&D for product development and advertising that can benefit from disruptive thinking. There is also a convincing argument that disruption in business models and strategy can also benefit your company. Just take a look at the buzz around Clay Shirky’s cognitive surplus book and the various columns that have looked at how this idea may change business (e.g. Julie Myers and this discussion on WSJ). So when you’re stuck puzzling over something this week see if you can turn the problem on its head and take a different perspective.

Brands capitalise on England defeat

What went wrong? I may not be an expert when it comes to football, but being crushed by a better side is certainly one of the dangers in football.

This was certainly the case yesterday after watching Germany crush England 4 – 1 in the World Cup. It’s being labelled as one of the darkest on-field hour’s English football has known and one which leaves many questions to be answered at every level of the game.

Meanwhile, as the nation mourns the end of England’s hopes in the World Cup, in the world of advertising some very smart brands are quickly attempting some speedy, tactical branding, and why not!  

Interestingly, car brand Kia has run an advertisement in The Times today paying tongue-in-cheek reference to England’s horrific World Cup defeat by Germany. “Oh well, at least our warranty beats the Germans” is the headline Kia has opted for, which promotes Kia’s seven-year warranty. Had England won the match, the ad placed in the paper would have read “Our warranty beats the German’s too.”

Elsewhere, Asda is also trying to get some mileage out of the England defeat, by craftily offering anyone with a Uruguayan passport a free eye test. The iconic supermarket issued the offer after the linesman in yesterday’s match, who was from Uruguay, disallowed Frank Lampard’s second goal. Immediately after the linesman’s decision, Asda Tweeted: “Free eye test for anyone with a Uruguayan passport after Lampard’s goal disallowed” via Twitter.

The Tweet was also quickly followed up with a blog on the supermarket’s website reinforcing the message that Asda provides cheap eye care.

All proof that placing advertising in advance means being ready for anything.