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Weber Shandwick’s chief reputation strategist Leslie Gaines-Ross defines the new ‘PR’

As the global economy slowly recovers and companies and organisations regain their footing, marketing and communications professionals are trying to answer the question – what will be our new 'normal'? How can we position our companies and brands in this decade? What will the new environment look like for marketers and corporate communicators when consumers rule, disruptive technologies and social media reign, media is transforming itself, every stakeholder matters and crises prevail?

After visiting seven Weber Shandwick markets in Europe and the UK to discuss what to expect in our next decade, I realised there is a “new normal“. This new normal summarises several observations and predictions that surfaced: no company is immune from recession fatigue; local and online news is increasingly driving global news; clients are eager to measure the return on social media and better balance their investment in traditional and new media; three-year plans are quickly turning into 36-hour plans; face-to-face still counts; and employees may just be your best advocates when crisis strikes.

I believe there are several key trends that mark the new normality:

1.The new consumerMarketing and communications professionals must adapt to a new consumer nation where consumers rule and public opinion carries more weight. There are shifts from:

Conspicuous consumption to conspicuous frugality
Thrift is permanent. Generic store brands are in. Loyalty is out. May the best price win!

Information overload to information on demand
Consumers like being in the driver’s seat and getting information when and how they want it.

2. The new mediaAs the number of new online media sites and new technologies emerge and are adopted, communicators need to adapt and experiment. Here we see shifts from:

Balanced press to pro-conflict media
Conflict now drives conversation. Polarisation is in. Companies and brands will increasingly find themselves on the firing line.

Old media dinosaurs to digital Darwinism
Companies with superior skills of adaptation, such as social media expertise and the ability to ignite the online advocacy of fans and followers, are positioned to flourish. Companies are bypassing old media with their own content.

Press release to 140 characters or less
Communicators must learn how to make important announcements and respond to issues within the Twitter “what’s happening” box or risk being late to the party or labelled antisocial.

3. The new PRCommunicators must fully integrate messages to diverse stakeholders using a vast array of media. They must be consistent, authentic and transparent. PR is shifting from:

Corporate messengers to corporate communications advisors
Communications officers will be more influential. Many now work side-by-side with CEOs (58 per cent report to the CEO according to Weber Shandwick in 2009, up from 48 per cent) as crises erupt suddenly and media stays turned on continuously.

Sleight of hand to visible hand of government
Government’s previously faint hand is playing a more visible role in business affairs. The extended, and visible, arm of government everywhere is our new normal.

4. The new reputationLike never before, communicators are required to steady their company reputations and calm stakeholders. Reputation control is shifting from:

Google as a search engine to Google as reputation manager
When only 8 per cent of online users read past the third page of search results, communications professionals need to understand that online presence and search engine optimisation are critical tools.

CEO stand-by to CEO “reset“
The reputation of CEOs needs recalibrating or “resetting“. An encouraging sign that CEOs are in reset mode is that CEO participation at top global forums increased 96 per cent from 2007 to 2009.

Reputation camouflage to naked reputation
Brands can no longer hide behind marketing messages. Reputations are see-through and require daily monitoring and attention to early warning signs.
Halo effect to a pitchfork effect. The reputational tide can turn on companies and executives overnight. A beloved brand or CEO can go from hero to zero in no time. Reputation protection is critical.

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