The PR lessons 2014 should take from 2013

The beginning of a new year is a time to take stock, to consolidate lessons learnt from the last year and determine how to move onwards and upwards. We asked senior PROs to share what inspired or depressed them in the news last year and how they think this will affect 2014.

For Ked Mather, communications manager UK& I at technology company MasterCard, one news story highlighted how social media use can get out of control: "The Boston Marathon bombing in April was a horrific story which for me brought back memories of 9/11 and London terrorists bombings back in July 2005. However, the difference here was the graphic detail of the story which was openly promoted by certain social media users. It is the sign of the times (and unfortunately a sad time at that), that a select number of people who were present were placing more importance in taking and sharing explicit images of casualties of the attack, than helping those same people who were in need and in danger of losing their lives.”

“Social media is a channel associated with convenience and speed and 2013 has certainly seen this channel used for positive means also, but for 2014, there is a job to do in the UK to educate people on the ramifications of using social media in explicit and controversial ways."

Tweet success

Mark Perkins, creative director at agency MHP Brand, agrees that a key lesson from 2013 is the importance of social media: “I think we’ll be looking more and more at social media channels to secure national coverage. As a recent PR example, in December we put out a stunt for GAME called Christmas Tinner to nationals first, genuinely thought we had a hit and ... tumbleweed. It merited one piece of national coverage. That was until we pressed the button on Twitter and seeded images. Then all hell broke loose: it went viral within hours and by the end of the day every online national covered the story in full. The story hadn’t changed, but the public ‘got it’. The response on social media gave it a validation that couldn’t be ignored, meaning the mainstream media was playing catch-up.”

“From a personal perspective I’m rather keen in 2014 not to be the next Justine Sacco. Although it is a distant memory, for a while, her offensive tweet about AIDS and Africa was one of the last big international stories of 2013. What that unsavoury incident highlighted is that the moment you send a tweet, irrespective of whether you have 10 followers or 10,000, you are a public figure. No different from a CEO, politician, sports personality or Dappy. With that comes responsibilities, respect and the realisation that if you tweet something irresponsible or stupid enough to go viral you are a) the news and b) toast.”

Product power

2014 could be the year that PR allows the product to do the talking says Lottë Jones, co-founder of brand communications agency Surname & Surname: “When Jay Z launched Magna Carta last year, it created such a deafening crescendo of coverage it felt like it couldn’t be topped. Then Beyonce brought out her inner Sasha Fierce with a strangely silent launch of her self-titled album. So silent, it was artful. There are few people who could promote a product by doing sod all. I love the fact it so self-consciously bucks the industry norm and totally proves that everything she touches turns to gold without a PR machine cranking away in the foreground.”

“While it takes a certain kind of star to pull this off, it could well set a precedent for high-grossing acts to take a back seat and increasingly let the product do the talking rather than invest their energies in elaborate stunts which distract (or detract) from the calibre of what they’re selling”

Jo Hartley, PR director at PR agency Hills Balfour, says that 2013 helped put the UK on the map, and there must be more to follow in 2014: “2013 was a great year for the UK internationally, and stories such as the birth of Prince George over the summer were a textbook case of how a story has global appeal. Capitalising quickly on worldwide stories of this nature and trying to derive positive PR from them is a question of timing, relevance and creating aspirational stories that motivate consumers.”

Little news

Pippa Strutt, director at communications consultancy Hill and Knowlton Strategies, agrees that the birth of Prince George has positive ramifications for 2014: “From the birth of a royal baby, to mud-slinging court battles (Saatchi vs Lawson, anyone?), to the sight of Joey Essex learning to tell the time in the jungle, 2013 was filled with memorable events.”

“The royal birth was particularly notable as it seemed to last for months. Reporters camped outside the hospital with no news to share. A nation waited. Camera crews filmed coiffed presenters filling time with updates about the weather, possible names (Wayne, Chardonnay) and the anticipated weight of the New Baby. For hours, maybe even weeks, nothing happened. Seldom has so little grabbed so much media attention.”

“So what did this tell us? Well, aside from births being lengthy (and having had two children myself I kind of knew that already), it was how our (usually more cynical) media clung to a piece of 'good news' and stretched it out for as long as possible. As we head into 2014 and the potential gloom of deepest winter, it got me thinking. Is there anything wrong with clinging on to joy for longer than might be considered appropriate? We know that bad news makes news, but don’t we all need something to lift us through the economic gloom, bad weather, dark nights, heating bills and alarming bank statements that are about to come through our letter boxes?”

“It’s so easy to be cynical, but perhaps 2014 offers an opportunity for a braver approach. My hunch is that brands who deliver joy and give us reasons to celebrate and be silly are the ones who could really cut through in this New Year. My mission for 2014 is to wring as much joy as possible from every moment. Who’s in?”

Written by Daney Parker

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