Top 10 PR trends following the end of lockdown

The PR industry has faced a number of challenges in the last year, and we’ve all had to adapt quickly to the changing environment and throw out campaigns at the drop of a hat.

Arguably, the PR environment will never return to the way it was prior to March 2020. Hybrid working has impacted not only our working patterns, but also industry events and pitching times. Brands have faced more scrutiny than ever before, and whilst the demand for news has increased, newsroom head counts have decreased.

Here the folks at digital PR agency TANK reveal what they think will happen in the PR landscape in the next six months:

Martyn Gettings, head of PR - Events will never be the same again

“Whole industries that once relied on the event calendar as the heart and soul of their planned marketing activity have taken a giant digital leap forward in the 18 months since the pandemic began. The question... are you going to x event... is no longer the main question as online content-led alternatives have more than filled the gap. This was already happening, but we've seen a major acceleration in this process as swathes of budget, once set aside to pay hefty event exhibition costs, became available for all manner of other online activities.

“Content and in-bound marketing, SEO, digital PR and paid programmes have all been the winners and I would argue that the businesses deploying these tactics have been too. The brand building and generation of sales leads no longer depend on the whims of delegates or the placement of the exhibition stand, “near the lunch buffet, not the toilets please." These changes are here for the long run and are only going to mature and develop as businesses measure the success of these tactics. Sure, there will always be time for events - but I can’t see them being such a prominent part of the annual marketing calendar for the foreseeable.”

Matthew Dunkling, senior PR account manager - You need to be smarter with data

“One of the most interesting and biggest challenges will be around data. We use reports and insights for news hooks, often cross comparing the last few years to show a trend being bucked or a new one forming. The pandemic is essentially an anomaly and comparing data from 2019 with 2020, or comparing 2022 with 2020 and 2021, is only going to tell you a story of ultimately two different ways of life. A narrative which I think will quickly tire post-pandemic if obvious contrasting comparisons are regularly made.

“PRs will need to be smarter about how they use data - and many already are. We may see closer analysis of data becoming more common in PR campaigns, that don’t just tie in with time periods, but cross reference other datasets to give deeper insights into behaviours and habits.”

Georgie Duffield, PR account manager - Hybrid work means we need to get savvy with ‘schedule send’

“Pre-pandemic, pitching a story or feature idea was always a ‘first-thing’ job and while there was no exact science behind it, nine times out of ten, the earlier in the day you pitched, the more chance you had of success. But now, with journalists all working to different schedules and across different locations, has that changed? A recent survey by the Press Gazette found that time saved commuting and minimal distraction at home, led to many journalists logging on much earlier than pre-pandemic.

“Not only does this expand the window of opportunity for us PR people to pitch, it also means we need to get savvy with the ‘schedule send’, mindful that many might be clearing out their inbox early doors, then heading to the gym, out for a walk or doing the school run, before starting a day of work.”

Addie Kenogbon, PR account director - Events will no longer be about volume of attendees

“It may be tempting to think that after so many months spent indoors, everyone will be so desperate to go out that they'd be happy to attend the opening of an envelope. As a result, many events organisers may think that a scattergun approach to influencer outreach will suffice. However, they'd be wrong. The past year and a half has caused many to reassess what really matters to them and as a result, people have become particularly picky about how they choose to spend their time.

“Add to that the fact that many bars, restaurants and hospitality venues will no doubt be ramping up their events calendar to make up for lost time, and it's clear to see that a more targeted approach will be essential to catch the eye of key influencers. It'll no longer be about the volume of attendees to an event but rather the quality of those who attend and ensuring you work with the best contacts that are well aligned to your brand to form lasting brand advocates.”

Trevor Palmer, owner and director - Hybrid - where have you been?

"It’s frustrating that a hybrid home-office work model wasn’t already prevalent in our industry without the pandemic as a catalyst. Let’s face it - there is no more pointless waste of time, energy and resource than most people’s commute. It’s insane.

“It’s our own fault though, as for all of the talk, we’re terrified of change. The last year has taught us in PR that home working is actually effective with many benefits, and clients don’t sack you for doing it - and will continue not to sack you for doing it in peacetime.

“We’re a very sociable industry and our herd species would not fare well in the completely remote positions that some of the pure digital agencies are making a huge thing about. Whilst as a digital PR agency, we are very ‘digital’ in our particular business - we work best in real time sociable work environments. Basically, we like speaking to each other and clients, and it plays an enormous part in our success. That social activity often happens in an office. To that end, we invested £1 million in our own office building and work environment with studios, break out spaces and even its own actual working bar for clients and our team to be sociable in.

“Our response (and I suspect that of most of the better part of our industry) will be to give people the choice and see how they think they can work best, whilst ensuring that the team still works as effectively as before. Our office will become more hub-like, a space not comprising of little owned spaces, but a collectively owned fluid space.”

Dave Endsor, head of content - PRs will need to claw back originality

“There's no questioning the growth in digital PR in the last few years. As websites tick all the boxes from an SEO perspective, they need differentiators to help them rise up those all-important Google rankings. That comes down to quality, relevant links!

“Focus on the essence of quality PR - what makes it interesting? Why would a journalist use it? Does it appeal to a wider audience? Is it relatable? Copying ideas is not the problem, failing to find what made that campaign work is.”

Molly Bingham, PR account manager - Follow journalists’ Twitter rants

“Journalists are more easy to contact than ever, with many open to Twitter DMs, LinkedIn messages and - shock horror - email. With so many still working remotely, the face of the newsroom has changed significantly and journalists have had to adapt, just like us.

“Now, it’s all about getting to know your closest journalistic contacts; learning how they work, what day they tend to hunt for new stories, the best contact method and, importantly, working out what they hate. Check Twitter for recent PR rants and any successful testimonials, hit Instagram to learn if you’ve got any hobbies in common. You don’t have to go all-in with what you know about them, but it’s about finding some common ground and assuring them that your client has what they need and that you can deliver it in the way they want it.

“A bit like growing up, where you learn that you’ve just a handful of ‘best friends’ you can truly rely on - well, in the PR world, five - ten strong contacts is better than 20 weak contacts.”

Martin Stone, associate director - Fake news has increased consumers’ desire for authenticity

“The concept of fake news has increased consumers’ desire for authenticity over the past few years, but this has been dramatically accelerated by the pandemic.

“Consumers want truth, honesty and transparency, not just from news, but from the brands they choose to engage with too. We’ve all had more time to re-evaluate what’s important to us over the past 16 months and have had a lot more free time to research where and how we spend our money.

“Whereas authenticity should be front of mind for day-to-day brand activity, it’s especially important for those occasions where things go wrong too. There’s certainly been an uptick in negative brand reviews across all sectors - again a result of people having more time on their hands. On the whole, consumers seem to be in a less forgiving mood.

“Recovery from an incident or scandal will ultimately come down to the ownership you take and the way you decide to respond. ‘No comment’ is simply not in my PR vocab - it’s corporate, it’s empty and it’s disconnected. If you’ve messed up, be honest, say sorry if it really warrants it and explain how you’re going to avoid it happening again. You don’t need to offer chapter and verse - but say something.”

Rebecca Peel, PR account manager - We will be more reactive than ever before

“When Covid-19 hit, public relations executives across the globe had to ditch their meticulously planned 12-month forward features calendars, and think on their feet to get coverage. Those pivoting skills have been crucial, helping more of us learn how to avoid being tone deaf and how to stay on top of the news agenda. Nobody wanted to read about working in an office during the height of the lockdown, but they did suddenly need tips on creating a routine while working from home.

“I doubt that the PR industry will ever fully revert back to its old ways, now we have seen the benefits of being able to create stories on the back of the news agenda. Yes, you have to be quick in order to beat the other people trying to jump on top of the latest topic, but it’s often a lot less time-heavy than huge campaigns, with just as good a chance of getting a high number of pickups.”

Ed Sheldon, PR account director - Focus more on resources to help time-tight journalists

“The last year has only increased consumer demand for news, particularly online, and according to Reuters trust in news has grown by 6% globally in the wake of the pandemic. At the same time, the number of staff in newsrooms is declining and journalists are increasingly stretched for time. The need to turn more stories around as quickly as possible creates opportunities for PRs to develop relationships with journalists and generate outstanding coverage for their clients, by providing them with well-researched stories or comments.

“Whether it’s working on an original campaign or jumping on breaking news stories, providing journalists with everything they need to cover the story will result in great coverage. Ensuring you have a great asset, original data or genuinely expert insight can create win-win situations for clients and journalists alike.”