The PR world is ever-evolving and changing quickly. It is an exciting industry, with new products being developed and new trends always emerging. When I took my first agency job 20 some years ago, we got excited about 8-colour printing presses.
Today, the trends in the media and public relations are completely different. When I talk with PR students, I encourage them to stay on top of the latest software and communications tech.
So why are PR trends important? They show us what’s ahead and what to avoid when it comes to strategies and best practices. It allows us to ask – where is PR headed? And how can we stay on top of trends to deliver the best results to our clients?
We have the opportunity to work with a variety of clients from large manufacturers such as Ford of Canada to small adventure tourism outfits such as Frontiers North Adventures. This gives us a unique perspective on what kinds of communications strategies people are pursuing and why.
Here are our top 5 PR and communications trends as we see them unfolding in our work.
1. Mainstream media continues to shrink
November 27th was a sad day in Canada as more than 40 publications were closed down in the wake of the a business deal between Postmedia and Torstar. The trend is undeniable: there are fewer newsrooms than ever before and the ones that remain have fewer reporters.
Meanwhile, the New York Times (NYT) is ramping up to become a supranational daily. As Wired reported in 2017, the NYT is pushing hard into the digital space in an attempt to become a local paper for the world. It now offers localized news for markets such as Canada and is growing its international subscriber base. The Guardian out of the UK is also investing heavily to become a global news organization, as is The Economist.
It is possible that we could be heading towards a cluster of only a few major news organizations serving the entire planet. Then there will be all the rest scrapping it out for online subscriptions and display ads that are a fraction of the old ad dollar, though there is hope for some (see trend #2).
For brands, that doesn’t mean giving up on earned media, but it means changing how we approach it while also looking for new ways to reach our target audiences.
2. Niche publications target narrow audiences
The economics of online publishing rewards small, low cost publications. Those kinds of publications tend to be highly targeted with narrowly defined audiences and specialized content. In the old days, we’d describe this kind of publication as a ‘trade publication’. While trades still exist, the number of small e-newsletters and blogs continues to explode.
It takes extra work to pitch these publications, but it’s often worth it. PR agencies today need to be able to deliver on this kind of earned media as well as the big outlets.
The same principle applies to social media influencers and influencer marketing. As an agency, we spend more time than ever identifying people who command the attention of significant audiences on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. It’s important to work with influencers that can authentically advocate for your clients’ brands and connect with their target audiences.
It’s not just about the number of followers they have, but also how much audience engagement do they get? What kind of content do they bring to the table?
3. Social media continues to gain ground
As fast as traditional media seems to be losing ground, social media is gaining it. Facebook reached 23 million users in Canada last year. And if our usage is anything like the US, the average Canadian is spending more than 40 minutes on Facebook every day.
Facebook also reports that Instagram has 8.5 million monthly users in Canada, uploading an average of 2 million photos a day.
Over at LinkedIn, now owned by Microsoft, there are 500 million users. About half of those are active monthly and some 40 per cent use it daily. The platform’s newsfeed is becoming much better too as it is learning how to bring users back more frequently by using email and mobile updates.
The more the social media grows, the easier it will be to talk directly to your audiences. It is already a trusted source with some 42 per cent of Canadians now saying they get their news through social media. If you’re not there, engaging with your customers and your stakeholders, you’re likely missing out.
PR pros especially need to keep honing their skills in this area. We need to know how to build a community, talk to it and listen to it.
4. This puts pressure on organizations to be their own newsrooms
We’ve been saying this for years: if you have a website, you are a publisher and that means you need to publish regularly. It keeps getting truer every year. As great as social media is, your corporate website is still the anchor for most communications strategies.
It’s not enough to have a site that looks pretty, it needs to function well and your publishing strategy needs to be effective and sustainable. For companies that seek to be thought leaders in their spaces, brand journalism works increasingly well. If you can’t get your story into earned media any longer, then why not write the story yourself? Technology gives us the ability to package our stories up professionally and serve them up to our target audiences with a fair amount of precision and ease.
Find the stories in your organization that your customers, employees and other stakeholders care about. What’s interesting? What’s newsworthy for those audiences? The better you can prepare your own news, the better you’ll be able to engage your audiences on your own site and through social media. Robust, valuable content also helps you build email subscription lists that are highly effective.
And, ironically, if you package your news up professionally and credibly, we find the media takes a greater interest in it too.
5. Digital marketing is not just for marketers
Public relations agencies can’t ignore digital marketing tools. The changes that are sweeping our industry and others require us to embrace tactics that allow us to communicate credibly to our target audiences.
As communications consultants, we have built a strong understanding of how to build websites that effectively draw in traffic. We do that with solid content strategies that deliver on corporate objectives and fit corporate budgets. You can’t plan a content strategy for the web without giving careful consideration to developing strong social media presences. And if aim is to reach and influence your audience, you need to know how to optimize for both paid and organic search results.
That means you need to understand and be able to implement strategies that use:
- Search advertising
- Online display (programmatic) advertising
- Paid social
- Landing pages
- Email/content marketing
- User-generated content
- SMS messaging tools
We’ve added to our capacity as an agency, bringing many of these skills in house. When we don’t have them ourselves, we’ve allied ourselves with experts in our market to ensure our clients benefit.
It’s a long way from the time when I had to figure out why an eight-colour press was a big deal.
About the author
Adam Dooley has more than 25 years of public relations and corporate communications experience. He’s developed and executed regional, national and international PR campaigns. He’s also called in regularly to help clients through crises.