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2011 will see PR return to being all about the idea

When will the pace of change in communications let up? Well not in 2011, according to PR heads speaking to PRmoment. You need to stay on your toes to keep up with technological innovations and fragmenting audiences. Plus, according to Anna Haslam, associate director at communications agency Fishburn Hedges, consumers are now more sceptical, critical and distracted. Haslam adds: “Mass advertising does not cut through any more and communication is increasingly about joining or creating a conversation. To engage audiences in this way you need to involve them.”

Everyone agrees that there has been a dramatic shift in levels of digital expertise in PR, and Haslam, for one, believes this will continue, with the most effective companies recognising its potential beyond promoting special offers: “It's about engaging with customers in their own space and often on their own terms. As a result, agencies will need not only to advise the comms or marketing director, but to win the trust of customer service directors too.”

As well as PROs becoming more comfortable using social media for media relations and building brand advocacy, Paul Stallard, director at agency Berkeley PR, thinks there will be a growth in companies delivering social media monitoring services. This should encourage clients to focus more on social media and online coverage. Stallard explains: “It can be a challenge to convince clients – even in the tech space – of the value of online hits, but I think this will become less of an issue as the digital comms world continues to develop at a rapid pace”.

To engage people you need brilliant content. And video, in particular, looks set to grow in popularity. Toby Brown, account manager at PR agency Man Bites Dog, says that as numbers of staff journalists dwindle, and editorial budgets shrink, there will be increasing demand for exciting content – which is good news for PROs. He explains: "This is a huge opportunity for PR to fill the void with rich content in the form of videos, images, info-graphics and audio that help to tell client stories in more ways, increasing the opportunities to get in front of, and engage audiences.“ Brown believes the focus on video is also fuelled by consumers who don’t have time to decipher wordy documents: “People can't cope with the sea of information they need to digest to do their jobs, so gaining cut through will be increasingly hard. PR in 2011 will be about grabbing attention and conveying client messages in more dimensions than ever before."

Fishburn Hedges’ Haslam agrees, saying that creating appealing content is a priority for next year: “The traditional agency boundaries have really shifted and PR agencies have a huge opportunity to drive the big creative campaigns that were previously the preserve of the ad guys."

Ad guys aren’t the only competitors. As they increase their focus on digital PR, PR firms will have to contend with other agencies keen to claim the digital arena. Graham Goodkind, founder of consultancy Frank PR, expects that in 2011 the top PR agencies will be fighting for business with top agencies from other silos as much as against each other. He concludes: “The dynamics of the industry are changing, quickly. Great thinking will win out. In 2011, it is not so much about which type of media channel is the most important, it is about content and which idea is best.”


What will you be doing differently in 2011?

Lise Colyer, associate director at PR and marketing communications company Tannissan Mae:
"We will strive to make face-to-face contact. Everyone’s so stretched these days, it almost sounds retro to suggest this, but putting clients and reporters together in person is almost a lost art. It can be difficult as journalists are under a lot of time pressure. But whenever it’s possible, and the meeting is connected to some great news, this is such a useful, and of course pleasant, way to connect and tell your story.”

Paul Sutton, head of social communications at agency Bottle PR:
“2011 means focusing even more on social media. The evolution of the web and the increasing importance of information sharing through social media is shaking the industry up, and that’s a good thing in my view. New consumer behaviours are challenging PROs to think through what they’re doing in both creative and targeting terms, which is creating a new generation of PROs who have a different and arguably more dynamic skill set.”

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