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Your PR Predictions for 2019

What will Brexit mean for PR? Will AI change everything? And is technology going to continue to dominate how we work, rest and play? All these questions are answered by our PR gurus who predict what 2019 has in store. If you are looking for good news, and are sick about hearing about Brexit, maybe you should start reading from prediction number two…

1. Look forward to a bumpy ride thanks to Brexit

Ruth Kieran, managing director of PR agency CIrkle, says: “My prediction for 2019 is, predictably, to expect the unpredictable. With the ‘big B’ looming large, brands, businesses and the agencies serving them, are set for what can only be described as a bumpy year.

“Whilst the Brexit deadline reminds me of Y2K – when we fully expected to be plunged into Armageddon the minute the clock struck twelve, only for nothing to happen – this time we can’t expect the outcome to be quite so benign.

“With PR often the first budget to be cut when times are tough, consumer campaign spend may feel the impact of Brexit more than most, as brands retract to focus on core marketing which they perceive to offer ‘guaranteed’ return. However corporate reputation and crisis communications will remain critical in an increasingly more accountable world where a business’s fortunes can be severely impacted by a leadership fail or consumer backlash against an apparent lack of corporate responsibility.”

Elena Davidson, CEO of agency Liberty Comms, agrees with Kieran that Brexit could mean squeezed budgets: “There will inevitably be much discussion around Brexit - what it will look like and mean and the impact it will have on us all. Traditional media will play a pivotal role in providing a balanced and informed view to help us all make the right decisions. I think our sector will remain strong, but it will no doubt cause uncertainty and that uncertainty may translate into squeezed budgets. As an industry we need to continue to demonstrate our value by running trackable, measureable campaigns that deliver positive business outcomes as well as outputs. Whilst it will also provide an important opportunity to explore new markets and territories, we should also not forget to continue to strengthen our relationships with our European partners and build on the foundations we have laid with them.”

2. There will be more focus on earned media

Patricia McDonald, managing director, strategy and insight at PR firm Weber Shandwick, says: “Despite the complexities of the coming year, it will be a tremendously exciting one for the PR industry. In an age of ad blockers, the democratising of influence, and radical corporate transparency our expertise in earning attention and managing reputation is more vital than ever before. When we ally those core skills to new capabilities in precision targeting, digital products and platforms and data-driven strategies we can impact our clients’ business like never before.”

3. The editor will beat the algorithm

McDonald says: “In reaction to ‘clickbait’ culture, fake news and AI influencers, we will see a resurgence in trusted editorial control. Emerging platforms such as Tortoise and The Correspondent, celebrate the virtues of slow, ‘unbreaking’ news and carefully considered opinion. The wider industry will remember the importance of context, not just content, and begin to bake it in to its programmatic platforms more effectively.

4. 2019 will be the year of moral purpose

Larry Weber, CEO of communications agency Racepoint Global, says: “Throughout 2018, we have seen the rise of brands fulfilling the needs of their key stakeholders (customers, prospects, employees and job candidates) by becoming a company driven by moral purpose.

“Having great products, stellar services and a strong balance sheet are no longer enough for companies to attract today’s audiences and deliver long-term, sustainable value. The clarion call of today is that every company in every industry must have a corporate purpose. Unlike traditional CSR programs, this purpose should be something intrinsic in a company’s DNA – a natural extension of the core business that contributes to a larger societal cause, such as developing sustainable products that help the environment or donating products/services to the underprivileged.

“Companies embracing this approach will deliver a more authentic form of marketing, as meaningful narratives around their purpose will naturally appeal to the values of their audiences. This has particular appeal to millennials, who have the most spending power of any generation and choose to work for and buy from companies that strive to have a positive impact on the world.”

5. We will use AI more effectively

Laura Crimmons, founder of PR agency Silverthorn, says: “I think we’re going to start to see more understanding of how we can apply AI within the PR industry. Currently journalism is ahead in terms of their implementation with projects like RADAR which uses AI to create localised news articles for the PA and Full Fact which is trying to tackle the fake news issue.

“These types of projects have largely been possible thanks to Google’s Digital News Innovation Fund, which the big media players have taken advantage of with numerous projects.

“Although AI is used within some PR tools such as social listening platforms, I think we’ll start to see platform providers think about other ways they can embed AI to start saving PROs time or helping in their roles. I think we’ll then start to see more sophisticated uses being made available to the industry. 

“I’m not buying into the ‘AI taking over and replacing our jobs’ hysteria, but I think there’s a number of valuable ways it could benefit the industry and 2019 may be the year we start to see that come to fruition.”

6. PROs and SEOs will learn to love each other

Olivia Wiltshire, senior consultant at marketing agency Builtvisible, says: “In 2019 I anticipate PR teams being far more receptive and willing to work alongside SEO or content marketing teams and vice versa. Although this is hot off the tails of the #linkgate fallout which certainly affirmed the tension between PR and SEO, I conversely think relations will improve and that the two sectors will begin to really capitalise on the mutual benefits of working with one another. 

“In spite of PROs and SEOs differing opinions on matters (again, note #linkgate), I have over the years noticed PR teams being far more involved and interested in what SEO and content marketers do when there is an end goal to promote content. Whether that be PROs being involved in the creative production process or reviewing media lists for that content’s promotion, the PR presence couldn’t be more evident, and I don’t see this letting up any time soon.

“Ultimately, everyone – PROs, SEOs, content marketers, all have the challenge to aptly demonstrate the value of their work to the powers that be and without that there will be trouble. I would argue that it’s particularly hard to tie the impact of an unlinked brand mention in a top publication to a tangible data point, however, if that mention is converted into a linked mention then that’s a different ball game. This is not to say that PR teams can’t demonstrate the value of a brand mention, but similarly if SEO teams or content marketers really understood PR team’s messaging in this instance, then surely everyone would benefit? With this in mind, I think the future could be bright for SEOs and PR teams in 2019.”

Cath McElroy, senior editor at Bottle PR, also has her fingers crossed that SEOs and PROs join forces more happily: “Clients have realised that PR and SEO are trying to do a similar job, so they’re pooling budgets together to maximise activity and results, whilst making efficiencies in terms of resource and assets.

“This year, we’ve seen the relationship between SEO, PR and journalists come under scrutiny. 2019 is the year we need to crack this. PR excels at the bit SEO has always struggled with and vice versa. Next year we’ll see the positive impact of using our strengths to complement one another; PR leading on audience-led content and storytelling through strong journalist relationships, partnered with technical SEOs to nail under the bonnet and on-site optimisation.

“Looking at PR activity through an SEO lens will help us demonstrate ROI more tangibly and hopefully end some of the debate around measurement in our industry. Or, 2019 could be the year links don’t even matter. We can but dream.”

7. Corporate influencers will be even bigger news

Brendon Craigie, co-founder and managing partner of agency Tyto PR, says: “As we look to 2019, I think we can expect to see two big trends emerge in relation to the rise of corporate influencers.

“First, the PR industry will play an instrumental role in forging strategic relationships with the most influential individuals in the space their clients operate in.

“What this means in practice is that PR professionals will need to know who’s most influential in a client’s sector, what makes them tick, how best to get on their radar and then do everything possible to forge relationships with them. Our Tech 500 for example, profiles the list of the key opinion formers on the UK tech scene. PR is no longer purely about generating profile for clients, but rather getting them in front of the people driving the conversation in their sector.

“Second, leaders themselves need to wake up to the importance of building their own platform of influence; one that isn’t wedded to the profile of their corporate brand. Doing so will undoubtedly mean enlisting the support of PR agencies and making better use of internal PR teams to help them be as prominent in their chosen industry as possible. Unless leaders can depict themselves as accessible and in touch, it’s naïve to think that their brand should be thought of any differently.”  

8. Brand stability will be key to brand success

Kate Hunter, head of UK B2B at PR agency Hotwire, says: “We’ve seen that many more clients and prospects are looking seriously at reputation management, including crisis communications, in light of today's landscape. Brexit, data hacks, cyrpto currencies, Facebook and Cambridge Analytica – all of these issues highlight uncertainty which means showcasing brand stability is key to success. We expect this trend to continue well into 2019 and beyond, long may it continue as this is a wise move from comms professionals.”

9. PR will step up its creativity

Michael Walbach, managing director of PR agency Central Media Group: “We’re at a stage where we have more agencies, more PR professionals and fewer independently owned media outlets. Creativity will need to be of the highest quality if PR professionals are to succeed in a year that’ll be the most competitive to date. We have already seen some exceptional creative ideas over recent years and I can’t wait to see what our industry is responsible for creating next year. It’ll be a case of digging deeper than ever before. Individuals working as individuals, not to a system. We find creativity comes with freedom, flexibility and self-motivation. With 2019 in mind, we have started flexible-location working. Staff have four different working locations to choose from – London office, Surrey office, home or on our boat office on the Thames. Our best ideas and angles come from the individuals working in a way that suits their personality. With our ultra-competitive industry, it’s vital we all start to think about getting the best out of staff. Our introverts create incredible ideas when working on their own or very small groups and our extroverts create when in large teams. We believe next year will see the PR industry’s best work yet with a spike in natural, endorsement-lead coverage.”

10. Technology will change how brands interact with consumers and help PR to prove its effectiveness

Suzanne Surridge, head of retail comms at PR agency Cirkle, says: “Retail this year has been about making physical stores and on-trade (restaurants, bars, clubs etc) outlets a destination where customers can have a unique experience that they can’t get at home. Technology continues to play a pivotal role in this with augmented reality and connected packaging bringing ever-more innovative concepts to the fore for brands. For 2019, I expect to see the PR industry proactively building this technology into proposals as an integral part of our campaigns.

“As an industry, we continually need to prove the effectiveness of our PR campaigns and the commercial impacts that they have on our clients’ businesses – especially to the C-Suite. The continued rise of ecommerce provides the opportunity to show trackable sales uplifts from relevant campaigns and I expect to see the PR industry building these metrics into KPIs at the start of each campaign.” 

11. PROs will produce better journalism and help fight fake news

Robyn Gravestock, senior executive at Builtvisible, says: “Arguably, there is no other industry that is scrutinised more widely than the media is. The rise of fake news has made journalists more conscious than ever about what they publish, but the ownership of ensuring stories are accurate shouldn’t fall solely on them.

“With the number of PR professionals catching up with the number of journalists, in 2019 it’s likely that PROs will be held more accountable for the stories that we generate – journalists and their readers won’t accept any old rubbish. We need to create high-quality, creative and reliable work that not only meets the needs of our clients, but also meets the standards and needs of editors.”

12. More people will take a digital detox

Natasha Holloway, head of marketing strategy services UK at Hotwire, asks: “Have social networks done themselves a disservice by innovating and expanding? Consumers are now making a conscious effort to reduce the amount of time they spend online and take a ‘digital detox. Age is an important and surprising factor, too. Generation Z and millennials are ahead in making a conscious effort to decrease time spent on social media, rather than the older age groups who are getting to know the networks at a slower pace in general. I think this will develop further in 2019, the platforms ought to be prepared.”

So on that note, what are you doing reading this on a screen when Christmas is just around the corner? You should be out there mixing and socialising, just like the old days in PR. All that is left for us to say is: have a good one!

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