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Five predictions for B2B PR for 2020

Often consumer PR takes the centre stage… but what’s on the horizon for B2B PR? With 2020 fast approaching, here are my top five predictions for PR in the B2B space.

1. Pressure on PROs to become the brand

Particularly agency-side, PROs must be able to remain flexible, jump in and out of each client’s persona, speaking their language and echoing the mantras. However, I predict there will be increased pressure on PR professionals to be even more absorbed by the brands they work with, no longer “just” an extension. The reason being many companies cultivate their own tone, feel, language and messaging, which they require their PR team to be able to emulate well and convincingly. It’s becoming more important to companies and their brands to be iconic and recognised by the way they are, their personality. Gone are the days when brands relied on the brand logo and colour for recognition, today it’s how they communicate, on what platform, in what way, reactive or proactive, sense of humour, controversy, visually, audibly, both, neither?

I think this is trickling through from the consumer side, but arguably it’s harder for B2B companies to cut through with a voice because business is business, right? Wrong. B2B doesn’t have to be boring and there’s no reason why a company’s voice in this space should be lost amongst others. B2B PROs are going to have to work harder not only to “become the brand” because of internal pressures, but also externally in their media relations as competitors become hungrier for this sort of recognition too. More B2B PROs will need to take on this B2C thinking and build the brand in a way that’s more consumer-y, but that still targets the right customer in the right domain.

2. Value in thought leadership and authentic content

Not a revelation, but something that will continue to have significance in 2020. Thought leadership positions the company and its experts as the authoritative voice on a subject matter or industry through high quality content. Not product-y, not commercial. The challenge is that in B2B, PR and marketing run parallel to sales, meaning there’s a great emphasis on the company’s product and service offering. It’s up to us PROs to educate brands on the importance of being a thought leader, focusing on industry issues and creating discussion rather than going in with the hard sell. Save that for your advertising spend.

This sort of content doesn’t resonate with readers, even if they are a potential customer. Audiences are active thinkers and are wise to salesy and inauthentic content that’s only intent is to sell, sell, sell. Unless that individual is looking for your exact product or service at that exact time, this approach will not be successful and will actually turn off audiences – not to mention the media won’t be best pleased with this style of writing and will most likely charge you for it as advertorial. PROs should continue to educate clients on the value of this educational, aspirational content as opposed to selling in collateral that will do more harm than good. Raise the company’s profile through quality content and you raise the bar of good PR.

3. Shorter target lists, more meaningful PR

It’s no secret there’s been a decline in UK journalism. We’ve seen a staggering drop in print media circulation, consequently the closure of many beloved magazines, and a rise in skeleton staffing putting strain on editorial teams. As a result, we will see a shift towards more niche sites and publications, and PR relevance and accuracy will be key. There will be fewer options for us PROs, and more for journalists who will inevitably be inundated with contribution pieces and opportunities. Journalists feel that more than 75% of pitches and press releases they receive are irrelevant to them and their publication according to Cision research– poor practice from the PR community. Lack of resources means our journo friends are overwhelmed and overworked. We need to be doing our best not only to help them out by being relevant and targeted, but in order to stand out and put our best foot forward on behalf of our clients. In 2020, a more focused approach towards media pitching ensuring relevance and suitability will very much determine success.

4. Growing importance of demonstrating ROI

It continues to be a stumbling block for PROs and agencies. How do we show there’s real value in what we are doing? That the client is actually getting something out of our efforts? Arguably, there are no demonstrable figures that you can wholly pin against PR like you can with advertising or marketing. In these fields you have leads and quantifiable metrics that you can flaunt to showcase your ability and the client’s return on their investment. For PR, measuring success is less tangible.

Today, there are so many elements to PR and it’s a long game that doesn’t always generate immediate results. Hitting a KPI of 20 pieces of coverage per month just isn’t possible anymore – there is too much competition, not enough media. It’s a long game, but it can no longer be purely a numbers game. In PR, there’s a lot that goes on in the background that won’t necessarily result directly in coverage – social media management, strategic planning and trend research, analyst briefings (for those in the tech and finance space). Even with content generation, whitepaper writing, the outcomes from a roundtable event, this takes time before you’d be able to see that coverage number rise, but it doesn’t mean your PR team has been sitting there twiddling their thumbs.

Businesses need to understand this and it’s up to the PROs to educate and demonstrate their value in new ways. It may be a case of employing custom metrics for each client or campaign, depending on your activity and what would measure the results most effectively. Whether it’s brand sentiment, share of voice, message quality (definitely not AVE), PROs must remain flexible and innovative in the way in which they report back to clients.

5. Competitive edge through social media importance

There’s no point in creating social media channels for your brand if you are not then willing to build your online profile and invest in a comprehensive strategy. B2B businesses often question the point of having social media, does it matter in B2B? Yes! Of course, not all platforms will make sense for you. Typically, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook are the top three social networks in B2B, particularly LinkedIn for its discussion group function and the fact you can share long-form content on the channel. For B2B businesses, active feeds and a strong social media strategy builds credibility and is an extension of their sales and marketing to promote their products and services.

A lot of B2B companies are not yet tapping into the full marketing potential of social media, however, in 2020 we expect to see a shift with more businesses investing in their social media strategy. An integrated approach combining an organic and paid-for strategy will see businesses earn the best results, encouraging authentic engagement as well as extending social reach and growing followers. For too long many businesses have been relying on an organic-only approach, expecting gigantic results. Unfortunately, this is unrealistic and will not allow businesses to reach beyond the confines of their existing followers. Again, it’s up to us, the PROs, to educate businesses and emphasise how this will only go so far – and will take longer for the brand to achieve its desired results.

In 2020, social media will become come increasingly competitive (yet again) and businesses must consider increasing spend if they want to grow their online presence and stand out from their competitors.

So, there you have it. 2020 won’t require PROs to reinvent the wheel, however, we will need to become more targeted, more consultative and more strategic to remain successful.

Written by Michael Bartley, deputy managing director at PR agency C8 Consulting

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