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.
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.