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10 PR predictions for a happier 2021

The new year may not have got off to a good start, but these PR professionals are upbeat about how 2021 could pan out, from people having a better home/work balance to the industry riding the wave of an economic recovery.  

There will be a healthier gender balance
Angela Oakes, co-founder and joint president, GWPR (Global Women in PR): “2020 was a challenging year for women in the PR industry. There are clear indications that the slow progress towards gender equality has now become even slower – more job losses for women and an increasing gender pay gap have been highlighted by recent industry research. So what will this year bring? I believe there is a silver lining in the Covid cloud, as the pandemic has accelerated the trend towards remote working.

“Our GWPR research reveals that two-thirds of PR professionals believe flexible working allows more women to have a family, or caring responsibilities and still progress in their career.

“In a global industry that is two-thirds female this will allow us to address the gender imbalance in the boardroom, where men still far outnumber women at the senior levels.

“Ultimately, retaining female talent in PR and creating more women leaders will benefit not just women but the global PR industry as a whole.”

Some good PR habits will replace bad ones
Mike Robb, managing director of advertising, marketing and PR agency Boldspace: “We founded Boldspace less than a month before the UK went into its first lockdown, but from ominous beginnings came an incredible year in launching and establishing the agency. So we look to 2021 with immense excitement.

“My hope for PR next year is that as the world goes back to normal, we as an industry do not. We have a unique opportunity to banish some of the old habits and ways-of-working that frustrated so many working in this space. Most importantly, technology must not be seen as a thing of lockdown – its benefits at every level of the PR industry’s work must be championed and embedded in more ‘normal’ times. I suspect, however, that many – and certainly the largest agencies – will look very much like they did in January 2020 by the time we get to the end of 2021.”

There will be greater focus on ethical campaigns
Cheryl Morris, founder of PR and copywriting service Creative Word PR: “PR will never be more important for businesses as we try to traverse the next few years and overcome the recession.

“Positive brand image and community spirit will play a major role in driving businesses forward and I predict will play a large part in campaigns for 2021. Greater focus on ethical, environmental and community involvement will showcase businesses working together for a greater good and dominate media campaigns looking to win the hearts and minds of customers.

“As we shift to a virtual world, I also see more emphasis on businesses using PR to improve SEO and backlinks as they look to top Google rankings and improve their reach.

“So, many challenges and opportunities for PR professionals, but an exciting year to adapt and deliver campaigns with real drive and passion.”

More clients will have a climate action plan
Tricia Doyle, VP and business strategist at Canadian PR agency CASACOM: “The confluence of a Covid-19 vaccine and the Biden victory in the US will put climate change back on the front burner. The US will re-rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, and companies will increasingly come under pressure to communicate what they are doing to alleviate or reduce their carbon footprint. This will matter to employees who increasingly are looking and examining their employers’ purpose and if it aligns with their own personal values and purpose.”

Enterprise tech communicators will drive even more sales
Lucie Bickerdike, head of enterprise technology at PR agency Diffusion: “There’s no doubt that enterprise technology companies have kept the wheels of global business turning last year. But the industry’s relative buoyancy through the tumult hasn’t kept it from undertaking some serious soul-searching when it comes to the way it communicates. In the coming year, expect to see enterprise tech communicators redouble their efforts in driving sales outcomes through PR and marketing.

“Industry leaders we surveyed recently highlighted sales enablement as number one priority for additional marcomms investment in 2021. PR and sales leaders agreed that their organisations perform weaker when it comes to driving sales leads than any other communications metric, suggesting that whilst lead generation is becoming a higher priority, there is work to be done to drive tangible results.

“As lines between B2B and B2C technology continue to blur and home-bound business audiences’ expectations and perspectives become ever more consumerised, effective collaboration and integration between PR, marketing and sales will be key to enterprise tech’s ongoing survival and success in 2021.”

PR will ride the wave of recovery
Jason Madeley, managing director of agency Hatch Communications: “Notwithstanding a bumpy start, the new year is full of promise for PR. I am not getting carried away. but I feel confident that the modern PR agency with digital story telling at its heart will be well placed to vitally support brands to engage and connect with the consumer in 2021, from Lockdown Part 3 to a return to the new normal!  

“My view is marketers will be smart and innovative and will invest in a cost-effective ROI model and in this vein, PR can move quickly to match the consumer mood and economic reality.    

“There are many opportunities to align PR strategy to the ‘return to normal celebration’ from engaging content to inspire the new digitally engaged consumer and of course, directly via experiential when the vaccine works its magic!   

“As a sector, if we can catch the mood, deliver across the new media landscape and make our campaigns relevant, PR should prosper and ride the wave of recovery.   

“I say bring it on – at Hatch we have a Rugby League World Cup 2021 to deliver and you’re all invited #RLWC2021.”

Brands will have an experiential mindset
Adnan Bashir, senior manager for global corporate communications at firm Hansen Technologies: "With the current state of global affairs and ongoing technological innovation, the best way forward for brands is an experiential-first mindset. There are three motivating factors behind this.

“First from China, South Korea and India, to the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, there is a rising uptake in 5G technology across the world – which enables more video, as well as more AR/VR-native content to be rolled out. This can open the door to garnering more audience engagement.

“Second, the prolonged impact of Covid-19, ie, physical distancing, working from home and increased e-commerce means a large section of the populace is not only sedentary, but also online on their favourite apps and social networks. Brands would be well-advised to capitalise on this.

“Third, following on from the above, physical distancing brought about by Covid-19 means that brands can’t engage customers through traditional event sponsorships, live stunts or mall activations. Thus, using a digital-centric approach is the only viable touchpoint available to them at the moment."

There will be a greater thirst for ‘real’ experiences  
Christopher Baldwin, CEO of US agency True Digital Communications:Whether it’s hearing a musician at your local bar or splurging on a dream vacation that once seemed too indulgent, the post-Covid era is going to see a bigger shift to focus on experiences. Whilst personal budgets vary, many will be willing to pay more than pre-Covid times for memorable experiences; companies, cities, entertainment venues and others will be discovering ways to market and deliver on those expectations while balancing safety.”  

Academics will continue as key spokes people  
Stephanie Mullins, associate director at specialist PR consultancy BlueSky Education: “2020 was a year of adaptation, learning and growth. I’m looking forward to seeing what 2021 brings but, as I work in education PR, I still believe that academics and experts will be as valued by the media as they have been last year – helping the public to understand the pandemic and its impact on all the different aspects of our lives. I genuinely believe that sharing their insights have helped so many people and will continue to do so.”

Over in China…  

Sally Maier-Yip, founder and managing director of marketing agency 11K Consulting gives a China PR perspective for her two predictions: 

Trust-driven communications will rule
“With the impact of Covid and Brexit, more Western brands will look to diversify their business internationally, including the still-booming China market. To win the China market, brands will need to be seen to be trustworthy and purposeful. A recent Edelman’s Trust Barometer Report revealed that 69% of Chinese consumers feel brand trust is more important today than in the past.”   

There will be a rise of ‘real’ spokespeople
We will see a rise of KOL (key opinion leaders) or KOC (key opinion consumers) marketing in 2021, as Chinese consumers (as well as in the West) demand for human interactions and endorsements from real people, rather than from celebrities. We will see more “day-to-day” people becoming KOL or KOC and act as brand ambassadors to drive brand reputation and influence consumers’ behaviours.” 

Forget the current news and concentrate on the future. Looks like 2021 could (eventually) be a happy and prosperous year for those working in PR.


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