PR makes some punchy predictions for 2020

Good news! PR is set for a fabulous new year according to these predictions. It will be more diverse, campaigns will have more of a social conscience and everyone will trust influencers more. Those are just three positive predictions, and there are plenty more.

PR will be more diverse

Sharon Flaherty, CEO of agency BrandContent, says: “The PR and communications industry isn’t very diverse. It’s female dominated and 80% white British.

“Until now, the conversation around diversity has largely been focused on black, Asian and minority ethnic employees but what about those who have a disability? Whether it’s visible or hidden, the PR industry isn’t setting a good example.

“Only 4% of PR professionals self-identify as having a disability, yet more than 20% of the UK population are recorded as having one whether that’s physical or mental. But in 2020 we expect this to begin to change.

“We expect the PR industry to start shifting its focus towards better representation of those with disabilities in its recruitment, but also in its campaigns. Slowly, we’re seeing some big brands starting to understand disabilities in their own workplaces and the PR industry will too. We’ll see changes in recruitment processes and in the campaigns produced so they truly represent the make-up of the UK.”

‘Purpose’ will evolve

Three contributors are passionate about how brands will step up and make a difference, rather than just say they make a difference.

Peter Burling, client services director of PR agency Brazen says: “The impact of the ‘Attenborough Effect’, the unofficial driver of our national social conscience, will only intensify as we reflect on entering into a new decade and our war on plastic intensifies. Our eyes will be opened to, and we will be shocked to, learn about the hidden plastics within the everyday products we use and, the plastic waste generated within the supply chain.

“The pressure will be on for clients to be seen to be making a ‘real’ difference rather than paying lip service to small changes. There will be no more sitting on the fence, the British public will want to see action taken on their behalf with brands paying more attention to the holy trinity – Reduction, Recycle, Re-Use. Cue campaigns to first educate/shock consumers followed by socially responsible solutions.”

Myriam Khan, account director at creative content agency TVC, says: “In 2018, we saw the term ‘purpose’ grace almost every industry panel. In 2019, it joined the ranks of meaningless jargon or ‘fluff’ – because as the life cycle of buzzwords goes, it was used and abused at leisure.

“In 2020, expect to see a rebirth of ‘corporate purpose’ in a way that is more connected to PR and communications than ever. The global challenges that threaten our very existence will continue to shift consumer perceptions and choices, as well as corporate decision-making, and this will be reflected across brands' communications on all levels. Corporate purpose will be reimagined as an essential part of a brand's persona, and instead of wrongly being bundled with (or often, discussed interchangeably with) corporate social responsibility. As more and more people identify themselves as global citizens and digital nomads, businesses will be forced to see how they're being good global citizens and for PR experts, the opportunity to effectively communicate that to target audiences – and prevent ‘purpose’ from retreating back into the jargon dictionary, will be immense.”

Neil Foster, vice president of consultancy, Guinness World Records, says: “Purpose is the underlying essence that makes a brand relevant and ultimately, believeable and its continued importance is evident – in 2018, Unilever saw its 28 sustainable living brands growing 69% faster than the rest of its business – all thanks to purpose-led initiatives.  

“We’ve also seen the purpose led trend reflected in our record applications – titles such as the ‘Most selfies taken in three minutes’ have declined in popularity – instead, brands want to break records for good, with the number of purpose-led applications soaring by 110% since 2018. 

“As we move into 2020, purpose will continue to be important, but we will see it growing, evolving and influencing the public in a different way – there will be a definite shift towards authentic messaging, long-term vision and brand activism.  

“Simple tactics which amplify a brand’s ‘for good’ ethos may no longer be enough. Instead, agencies will build on purpose led strategies, creating long-term, authentic campaigns with ‘activism’ at their heart – people want change. Campaigns which pull on the heart strings, put a brand in the spotlight and encourage consumers to get involved and help improve the world. If orchestrated well and underpinned by believable messaging, then these campaigns will only succeed in building advocacy and consumer loyalty for 2020 and beyond.” 

B2B campaigns will be funnier

Pete Hendrick, MD at marketing agency Octopus Group, says: In 2020, we hope to see more humour being used in B2B campaigns. Getting it right is no mean feat – but when humour hits the spot, it can cause a campaign to explode.

“We want to see more PR professionals loosen up around B2B, prioritising creative thinking and originality over tired language and tried and tested strategies.

“So how can you be chuckle-worthy without being cringeworthy? It’s a bit like when someone says: “Create a viral piece of content…”. It can be hard to pinpoint exactly what the magic ingredient is. One thing we do know: authenticity is key. People can smell disingenuity a mile off – and B2B brands are getting better at understanding that.

“There’s no need to leave funny to consumer brands. In 2020, let’s see more B2B campaigns go viral for all the right reasons. “ 

Influencers will be more trusted

William Soulier, CEO and co-founder of influencer marketing agency Talent Village explains: “Certainly, one of the biggest challenges the industry faced in 2019 were the vociferous headlines and editorial pieces forecasting the demise of influencer marketing. We predict 2020 will be about rebuilding trust in the industry, which can be achieved by working with true talent over and above influence. By adapting a talent-led approach, we are better able to solve growing concerns regarding fake followers, promote diversity and increase advocacy as we continue to focus on building long- term partnerships and deliver authentic and credible results."

Influencer marketing will be more sophisticated

Joanna Arnold, CEO of global media database Vuelio, says: “Influencer collaboration will define PR in 2020 from fashion to finance. Already, the most innovative PR teams in this space are looking beyond traditional influencers to achieve brand impact by engaging the micro and nanoinfluencers, kidfluencers and even the virtual ones (like Lil Miquela). It is a space that will only scale as brands gear up to spend $15 billion on influencer marketing by 2022, and Instagram, the natural home of the influencer, scales because of its skew to younger, more active social media audiences. The opportunity for the PR industry is huge, especially as influencer campaigns can deliver measurable ROI from content to address the perennial issue of evaluation. There will be challenges ahead, including around sustaining quality, creativity and audience authenticity, but if PROs do the research to understand ‘who’ is right and relevant for any campaign, they’ll deliver meaningful – and very measurable – brand engagement.”

Agencies will value themselves more

Stuart Skinner, divisional managing director at agency The PHA Group, says: “A real game changer would be for agency leaders to stop complaining about scope creep, helpless overservicing and inconsiderate clients who don't value their work properly.

“It's time to take control and stop playing the victim. Yes, there is a big issue with scope creep and overservicing. But the vast majority of this is self-imposed and the repercussions are not only commercial but also relate to employee morale and agency identity and culture. 

“With more definition in our value proposition and precision in measurement criteria up front, ground rules can be laid down and followed properly. Sensible clients who agree to these rules won't mind being reminded of them every so often, if necessary. “

Marketing will (continue to) break the fourth wall 

Sarah Evans, senior digital strategist at PR agency Bottle, says: “Native advertising will be taken to new heights – beyond advertorials and product placement. We’ve already seen some venture into the gaming world, like the Wendy’s avatar “saving Fortnite from frozen beef” and Burberry’s new online game to race a deer to the moon. Brands will continue to break the fourth wall to connect with audiences where they are spending time, continuing to infiltrate the consumer's every day. Product placement on streaming platforms will increase as they offset money lost through traditional TV advertising, and people seem to be more receptive to accepting products alongside a much-loved character than force-fed them in TV adverts. 

“2020 will see the introduction of the much-anticipated advertising on Whatsapp. Any communications channel, where it once may have been saved for personal communication, seems to be for the taking. Creative, irreverent and innovative use of these existing channels may earn forgiveness for crossing the line; like using Airdrop for a recruitment campaign.

“With all these opportunities within reach, brands must go beyond the excitement of new territory and ensure their presence is welcome and valued by their audiences – so think about why and how you have the right to be there – not just about the PR story you can tell about it afterwards. Remember, people have yet to forgive U2 for the automatic iTunes album ‘gift’.“ 

Measurement will improve

Giles Peddy, SVP EMEA at communications agency LEWIS, says: “2020 will be the year of outcome-centric measurement. Every marketing team is grappling with how to show value and business impact, and next year will see this rise to the top of the agenda. Indeed, the macro-conditions we expect experience next year will see more pressure applied to marketing spend and therefore we will see an acceleration in the use and application of data, analytics and measurement.”

PR agencies will expand expertise

Bethany Smith, account director at agency Eskenzi PR & Marketing, says: “As the internet expands and the importance of social media grows with it, PR professionals are no longer responsible for mere ‘media outreach’, and those that do continue to rely on this traditional approach risk being left behind. However, that isn’t to say that every agency must expand and make itself a one-stop shop. Rather, agencies should improve their knowledge in areas like SEO, digital marketing, social media, podcasts and video production so they can continue to work productively with, and meet the changing demands of, their clients’ in-house teams. This symbiosis will enable the agency and client to work together to create meaningful campaigns that resonate across all platforms and audiences and help the brand to grow.”

More PR campaigns will drive sales

Roberta Main-Millar, account director at communications consultancy The Hoffman Agency, says: “Organisations are increasingly measuring PR and wider marketing activities by their impact on driving sales. This could see a shift away from traditional retained press office activities to more project-based, integrated campaigns that focus on highly topical end-user issues. Being agile enough to create these fast-moving focused campaigns will help PROs meet the overall company’s business objectives and place communications as a pivotal part of driving revenue.”

The increasing power of stories

Extended Reality will become a reality

Candace Kuss, director of social media at PR firm Hill+Knowlton Strategies, says: “2020 is the year that communications directors embrace Extended Reality technologies as storytelling tools, rather than just the jazzy AR/VR embellishments used by their ad colleagues. XR is a proven method of increasing empathy and behaviour change, as well as a way to add memorable experiential magic to a press launch or event. Combining modern tech with messaging expertise has always been an unbeatable recipe for effective communication.”

Short-form videos will be more creative

Louise Chandler, founder of agency Soundbite Media, says: “It's great the companies want to hire production companies to create polished corporate videos, but platforms like Tik-Tok will lead the way to inspire short-form videos that will generate creativity and memorable story telling for PR campaigns.

“This will put a greater focus on user generated content from individuals to share stories from a unique perspective that can help videos to go viral on social media. Storytelling in this style will also plug in to other content such as websites, email newsletters for consistency and brand power.”

It is heartening that all these predictions are so upbeat, so one thing is for sure, PROs will be starting 2020 in an optimistic frame of mind. Long may it last!


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