Predicting the future (accurately) is notoriously difficult; radio didn’t signal the death of newspapers; TV didn’t either, and although the internet may be signalling, it’s probably safe to assume that The FT, The Times, The Daily Mail and even The Guardian aren’t about to fold any time soon. However, in the next five years one or more may become web only, like The Independent, and more Christmas shopping will be on line this year than last, as has been the case every year for many years. In the last two decades the internet has changed marketing for ever.
Amongst other trends, the internet has seen the rise of content production by amateurs. Anyone and everyone can write copy and upload it with pictures – sometimes to professional standards… more often not. That doesn’t make the profession of journalist redundant; indeed reporting and commenting on social media – and interacting with it – has become part of the journalist’s role – and part of the role of PR. Drafting blog posts, responding to Twitter storms, creating content for Facebook pages, search engine optimisation and smoothing the customer’s digital journey may not fall within the traditional definition of PR – but they are all concerned with relationships with the media and the public.
In the future, maybe there will be a shift in the balance between the written and spoken word: video and virtual reality or augmented reality will become less clunky; this is just one more area where marketing and technology will coalesce a little. IT may get more creative, marketing and PR will get more IT orientated. But PR professionals will still be wordsmiths, concerned with eliciting desired response from target audiences.
There’s currently a lot of talk- in the media and even in pubs – about political correctness. Certainly we live in more censorious, perhaps even puritanical times. This means that the danger of any comment or any behaviour being seen (and labelled) as controversial and/or offensive has increased. So has the danger of reputational damage being serious and long-lasting. That means, at a tactical level, a need for vigilance in drafting copy. At a more strategic level it means an increased need for anticipating “what could possibly go wrong” with every organisational event, behaviour or communication. If that fails, as occasionally it inevitably will – the importance of effective crisis management is greater than ever before. With today’s 24-hour rolling news cycle, high speed of response is critical when things have gone wrong.
PR like all of marketing is increasingly subject to measurement – but beware spurious metrics, in the digital world especially: “clicks” may be robots not human readers, and a two second “view” of a video isn’t much of a view…
PR is increasingly subject to regulation too. To take one example, Changeworks have discussed General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) elsewhere but in summary it requires that the data controller provide the data subject with information about his/her personal data processing in a concise, transparent and intelligible manner, which is easily accessible, distinct from other undertakings between the controller and the data subject, using clear and plain language.
Perhaps the key word here is “transparent” – and that’s an increasing requirement of corporate behaviour generally – which leads on the growing importance of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). This an ethical approach to management, contributing to sustainable development by delivering economic, social and environmental benefits for all stakeholders, over and above simply being legally complaint. CSR becoming a more important consideration is good for society, good for business but probably good for PR in particular.
In 2017, there’s an issue that can’t be ignored: “fake news” deliberate misinformation, which undermines the truth; undermines trust in journalists, trust in the media – and trust in anyone who has a legitimate message to get across. The terminology is new(ish), some of the means of transmission are new(ish), but the concept of propaganda containing outright lies and half-truths is old. There’s no panacea in combating fake news but honest, truthful messages, delivered with clear language, and which are transparent about attribution and source can help. So in a nutshell, the future of PR? It’s transparent.