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Will 2017 be a bad year for PR?

What is the point of being negative? Well for one thing, focusing on the positive all the time means that you are not prepared for the worst. So here are six PR predictions for 2017 that you may rather not hear, but which could help you stay one step ahead.

1. The big four will nibble at PR’s lunch

John Brown, group head of engagement at PR firm Hotwire, warns:  “2017 will be the year we’re about to have another cluster of organisations start nibbling at our lunch, and these guys have big appetites. Deloitte, KPMG, Ernst and Young, and PWC have already made some serious plays for the communications industry. Deloitte snapped up advertising and digital agency Heat, earlier in 2016 and Accenture (although not a big four, still bloody big) shelled out for creative agency, Karmarama.

“Whilst these are not direct acquisitions into the PR world, no one should be breathing a sigh of relief, and here’s why. These ‘suits’ have one thing that PROs crave: the attention of the board. To them, negotiating a communications overhaul is merely a footnote in a larger discussion around turning a big brand around. In-house teams risk being shoved aside as the ‘men in black’ overhaul comms teams and PR agencies will be left with the scraps as the creative and strategic elements of a programme are set in stone before agencies start.

“What can we do about this? Get serious about business. It will be more important than ever to ensure that in 2017 PR teams link their planning and measurement directly to the business needs and shake off crap metrics and irrelevant creative.”

2. PR could become sidelined

More bad news comes from Simon Turton, founder of Opera PR, who is concerned that the PR industry is likely to be under increasing pressure from digital and marketing agencies: “My prediction is that unless we stake our claim for delivering joined-up communications campaigns then PR is at risk from being sidelined. This is not because I see that there is less value in the power of PR, but because the perceptions of a company are based on interactions online, on the phone and in person. PR can influence how a company is perceived by managing effective media relations campaigns, but if we want to really add value then we need to be the go-to discipline, irrespective of whether clients want websites, email campaigns, logos, brochures, photographs and videos. As I have said before, we should also be influencing training and development strategies.

“Businesses and organisations are not generally operate in a fragmented or disjointed manner, so why should their approach to publicity, communications and marketing?”

3. The press release will die

Alison Weir, founder of agency Wonderland Communications says that unless you have a decent amount of statistical and/or technical information to get across then you should ditch the press release. Weir adds: “A succinct synopsis and/or super-tight media pitch will do. Don’t waste your time, your clients’ time (and money) or journalists’ time on creating releases just for the sake of it. Here at Wonderland we can count the amount of releases we have written this year on one hand. Unless you feel it’s 100% necessary then get rid and spend your time on generating results instead.”

4. PR will have to deliver sales

Another prediction from Weir is that PR can’t be precious about focusing on comms. She says that 2017 is the year the industry needs to stop telling clients that PR can’t deliver sales as it can. “You just need to work hard with the client team to understand what metrics are possible and available. It’s not always easy, but the best things never are. Let’s put it like this: you wouldn’t walk into a shop, hand over a tenner, leave, then sit and cross your fingers that something arrives in the post.”

5. It will be harder to join in conversations online

Roz Sheldon, head of client services at marketing agency Igniyte, describes how it will be harder to get through to consumers on social media: “Social media used to be all about transparency and visibility; providing platforms where brands could enjoy meaningful conversations with customers and maintain and protect their online reputations. But 2016 saw a significant shift in the way we all use social, with a move towards greater privacy in terms of data and messaging and the expansion of traditional platforms like Facebook into ‘live’ user-generated content, all making it harder for brands to control and be part of communications

“The rise of ‘dark’ or hidden social and a desire to keep data private – chatting via messaging services and less visible sub-sites and a drive towards tighter privacy settings – are all muddying the waters. Services like Facebook Live are giving consumers a strong voice, but cutting out brand responses altogether. It is becoming trickier for marketing and PR professionals to identify, join and monitor what is being said about them.

“Burying our heads in the sand isn’t an option and investing in and paying more attention to these trends is something the industry must be prepared to do in 2017. Finding new ways to work with sites, search engines, forums and publishers to manage reviews will be essential.”

6. PR professionals without a broad range of skills will struggle

Chris Wilson, account director at agency The PR Office, believes that the only safe prediction you can make at this time of year, is that you’ll be reading the same predictions again next year! However, he still predicts the importance of having a wide range of skills, albeit with a caveat: “It’s true that with new media, the importance of search, the evolution of media relations and the diminishing editorial opportunities, a PR professional that is flexible and well-versed in all will do well. However, there is and always will be a need for specialists. If you’re black-book of media contacts is your main asset – use it. If you’re a top-notch writer – write more. If you’re analytical and data-driven – deliver more research. A good agency or PR department builds teams of different skill sets relevant to their clients and doesn’t need everyone to be the same. Stop ‘predicting’ those that don’t fit the mould will fall down.”

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