In recent years change has been a conspicuous and constant element of our lives and in all industries and the pace of that change has tangibly accelerated over the last few decades. Globalization, democratization of information, the global financial crisis and the rise of social media have all contributed to this shift and to rethinking existing concepts, values and objectives.
The impact on the communications industry has been considerable, altering the rules and framework conditions and moving us towards a hyper-dependant and hyper-connected world, in which the motto “survival of the fittest” gains new meaning.
The game-changers of today and tomorrow
As I work with clients and colleagues across the region and discuss different subjects, there’s one recurring topic I am asked about frequently: The future of our business and the direction in which the PR industry is and will be shifting – namely, trends.
While there have been many tools and instruments or even basic concepts of public relations that have falsely been called trends (15 years ago, we were talking about big events and events-driven PR; five years ago it was social media; three years ago the buzz word was content marketing and converged media), I tend to avoid using this wording.
Instead, to emphasize these long-term and fundamental game-changers that rapidly and measurably shift our behaviour in new directions, I will use the term “winds of change”. The most important ones can be assembled into a “Top 10” list.
1 The GLOCAL neighbourhood
Although communication is a global phenomenon (in a global village), clients and other stakeholders tend to look for support in their immediate neighbourhood. This is becoming more important, as grasping the geographical and cultural specifics of different countries is key to understanding the markets’ framework conditions. Presenting a global network to our clients won’t do the trick anymore. Although global reach is important, we need to demonstrate in-depth knowledge about specific and complex regions; and we need to be the glocal neighbour to our stakeholders and their businesses.
2 Client teams vs. NETWORK teams
This trend is closely connected to the previous one. While we had client teams in the past, there are network teams today – key account leads sitting in different countries and directing separate campaigns, with the urgent need to share all knowledge with each other, to create an effective, integrated approach for all stakeholders. Once you’ve shown them that your network team is making their lives easier, you are going to become very useful.
While this is more or less a routine for agency networks, single agencies are forced to work together and liaise with competitors, for the sake of their joint clients. This requires rethinking all issues we might have with our local competitors.
3 FLEXIBILITY is the name of the game
PR agencies are facing tough competition. The digital shift opened the market for small and agile digital agencies that do not need many resources and are very skilled in social media; the financial crisis has put pressure on clients and on PR budgets, so retainer contracts are infrequent and there is a lot of project business, which does not allow a solid financial projection; good consultants have gotten very expensive for hiring etc. Another driver:
It has been known for many years that PR professionals benefit from having combined knowledge in different areas and that it is not necessary to have specific education in Public Relations to be good at this job. However, as clients are getting increasingly demanding, they expect PR experts to know all about their businesses. This challenges agencies to invest in educating their PR staff or finding the right consultants with specific knowledge. All of these developments have made it necessary for PR agencies to be flexible in every possible way.
4 The OMNICHANNEL company
In recent years, the proliferation of digital channels has precipitated seismic shifts in consumer behavior. We don’t sit down that often to read a newspaper and have a cup of coffee; we rather consume so many things whilst on the move: we read news online, watch videos and movies on our smart phones, order food or groceries via tablets, book and check in flights via the internet, connect with others through social media, and our lifestyles have come to revolve around having this flexible and constant access through many channels.
An omnichannel man demands a seamless customer experience across all channels, at all times. He is even ready to give up brand loyalty, if there is brand that is committed and more convenient. He goes to bed with his smartphone and has breakfast in the company of his tablet (who earlier that morning prepared that same breakfast by ordering it from the restaurant across the street). For us and our clients, this means a wholehearted commitment to being a truly omnichannel company.
5 The era of VIDEO PR
It was shocking (but somewhat true), when media gurus announced a few years ago that the traditional press release was dead. Today, we could say that even its successor – the social media release (SMR) – is on its deathbed. As millions of banners popping out add to the daily din of information stimuli, causing information overload, we tend to focus only on content that is appealing and interesting. And if we look back at the viral campaigns of the past years, we can see that most of them were visual, and presented in form of videos.
To just name one example: I am sure you’ve heard about the “World’s Toughest job”, that has been released just a few days ago and already has over 12 million views. Another indicator of this new development is the growing number of video production and video marketing companies.
6 RESULTS as the only sustainable drivers of our business
PR efforts are measured against circulation, impressions and advertising equivalencies – for a long time, and even today. The bottom line is: the more, the merrier. We are all aware that this is a convention we agreed upon with our clients and stakeholders, as we were bad in measuring what PR can do (this has several reasons).
But it’s just not enough and this is why we keep losing some of our valuable clients, who want to see results and who want to feel that their business is growing. Agencies that adopt a higher level of measurement are going to profit, as clients started questioning this convention a long time ago and have learned there are new ways of keeping an eye on the success rate. It is not by chance that communications and PR awards very thoroughly look at the outcomes and the results of communication campaigns. And PR without results is like throwing your money out the window.
7 HYPER-tailored information
Years ago, when companies started with direct mailings and addressing people personally, they had quite some success. So did hotels with personalization for their guests (name cards on bed, greeting message on the TV screen, connection to own calendar through computer screen in the room etc.); and so did airlines with personalized services for their first and business class. They had discovered a great way of approaching two important things inside of every individual: their ego (just think of how popular the selfie is) and their emotions.
There are many known examples of this individualising technique, such as Coke’s personalized bottles, Apple’s engravings, and one of the latest and most impactful examples – Google’s Art, Copy & Code project, which creates videos using real-time data. It is up to PR professionals to advise clients on how to use these new approaches to shift from traditional channels to more engaging tactics.
8 Metaphor of a CONNECTED world
Undoubtedly, we live in a connected world. Through technology and the internet, we are always connected to each other, irrespective of the geographies or time zones we live in. But what does this mean for us and our clients? It emphasizes the importance of having one face and telling one story through different channels; it underlines the importance of staying alert in case of a crisis, as news can swap over countries and continents very quickly; and it highlights that we need to give up full control of our brands’ story if we want to be successful.
9 Thought LEADERSHIP drives brands
A company can only be as good as its leader and its company or brand strategy – a direct link we see very often when looking at companies listed on the stock exchange. After major announcements or after an interview with the CEO, their stocks either sink or jump prominently. It is similar with brands, which need to tell their stories in an engaging way and communicate with their audiences directly, while motivating them to become brand ambassadors and share the story. A good example is the WestJet Airlines Christmas Story, which has over 35 million views and made the stocks jump around Christmas 2013, after it was launched.
10 SMART Data
We have all been talking about big data, which can consist of numbers, emails, videos, statistics etc. Although it is a fact that some of us joined PR because we’re bad at math, we need to cope with this changing demand and learn how to interpret different loads of data. Turning big data into smart data is the trick, as it shows us what can be done with this information and how we can turn it into insights. And this can help us when working with media and other target groups, who love analytics, statistics, infographs and similar data showing correlations and hard facts.
This “Top 10” list captures some of the main tendencies of the changes that are and will be blowing through the comms industry of today and tomorrow – on both regional and global level. However, given the pace of new developments, PR professionals need to watch closely and analyze the shift, to be able to stay on top of the game and catch the new winds in their sails.
Boris Beker is managing partner of Chapter 4, which is based in Austria and has operations in Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia.