As methods of communications develop as quickly as James Arthur’s career declines, it’s practically impossible to predict what trends will dominate PR in 2014.
We say: impossibility be damned! Let’s try to envisage what might take place in the PR world of 2014. And, naturally, let’s caveat the following suggestions with this note of caution: there’s every chance we might be wrong, and we may fail to anticipate the arrival in June 2014 of a herd of PR unicorns, improbably gifted at social media planning, crisis communications, hay-munching and PR sentiment measurement.
To kick-off, let’s go online. Indeed, next year, it’s very probable that every PR professional planning a campaign has to think ‘to kick off, let’s go online’. The industry’s mentality has had to shift in this direction anyway in the last 18 months or so, but next year the shift will be almost complete: do we need to ensure PR collateral is internet-ready in the first instance rather than print-ready? Rather than writing a 250 word press release with a snappy headline at the top and enquiry details at the bottom, do we need to think in terms of ‘how do we package stories for our clients in pictures and video, ahead of text?’ And, if that’s increasingly the case, how do we do this quickly, cost-effectively, and of a sufficient quality? And is internet-ready enough? Should we be thinking mobile-ready?
It’s probably still too early to say 2014 will mark the death of the press release – the question is whether its status as PR’s first form of communication to journalists still holds.
Text isn’t as important as it used to be to some newspapers: look at the ambitious, well-received rebrand for the Sunday People. Its subtitle says ‘News Without The Boring Bits’ – judging by the picture-heavy homepage, the ‘boring bits’ appear to refer to ‘words’. If you look at the articles themselves, images dominate throughout: this X-Factor comment piece is brought to life as much by Gifs, pics and embedded YouTube clips as it is by witty copy (though to be fair, the copy is pretty good too).
Going back to the Sunday People homepage, and you notice another trend that will almost certainly take root next year: online news being instantly judged, even before context is absorbed. On the homepage, visitors can give the thumbs up or thumbs down purely on the basis of the picture and the headline. A culture of immediate appraisal makes a PR person’s job even more challenging: more and more journalists will insist on only publishing immediately engaging pics and copy, lest their readers promptly display their contempt for all to see.
The previous point hints at the rising power of the people – they’re the ones telling the PRs and the journalists what stories they’re interested in reading, and they can tell us without hesitation. The public now have such influence, they’re even commissioning the content they want their favourite brands and people to deliver. Sounds ridiculous, but that’s what Kickstarter, er, kickstarted in recent months. Through Kickstarter, fans of music, TV shows, celebrities etc are invited to contribute dosh to see the creation of the content they want. It worked for the team behind cult (but cancelled) US TV show ‘Veronica Mars’ – with the encouragement of a group of diehard fans calling for its return, the series creator Rob Thomas used Kickstarter to ask for a little help in bringing his detective character back to life. $5 million later, the Veronica Mars film went into production.
We head into 2014 with the knowledge that Abba (that’s ‘multi-gazillionaires’ Abba) have asked fans to contribute to their next release and Downton Abbey actress Elizabeth McGovern has offered 15 minutes Skype chats at £50-a-pop to support a new album by her band. In an age where the internet has made access to famous brand names easier and cheaper than ever (it’s not that hard to get tweeted back by Kanye or Gaga – and I’m still chuffed to have been @’d by Steph from BBC Breakfast), it’s interesting to see some are more willing to pay for content if a) it’s good enough b) fans feel they’ve helped create it c) it means they’re more likely to have exclusive content that their stingier peers won’t have. The cash should be there to make this happen more regularly, if general prosperity (and presumably, people’s level of disposable income) really is back on the rise. PR people should bear this in mind when planning their campaigns and wondering how they can achieve deeper brand engagement.
So that’s us finished looking into our balls (crystal balls, that is). In 2014 PRs will, we think, need to think more about online (or mobile) ready content, they must be aware the public is increasingly empowered to instantly dismiss content not worthy of them, but PRs should also remember the public are prepared to pay for content if it’s a strong enough proposition.
But, in summary, PR still fundamentally remains all about quality of content. Which it probably did back in 1914, never mind 2014. Plus ca change.