As we do at this time every year, my colleagues at Havas PR and I have spent the past few months preparing trend forecasts on everything from fashion and food to social responsibility and the Uberization of all aspects of life.
Now it’s time to use our virtual crystal balls as mirrors and find the trends that will take root in our industry. One way we work on them is by asking smart people we know for input. Those of us in the communications business know as well as anyone that these “idea viruses,” in the words of marketer Seth Godin, spread rapidly—and that the future headlines that might sound strange will be reality next month, if not tomorrow, if not 10 minutes from now.
And now that we’ve entered an era of created, earned and paid placements, media agencies—which include PR in my book—will be more important than ever. Writing on Forbes.com, agency search consultant Avi Dan explained: “[T]oday creativity is the currency of an effective media placement. Media agencies will be moving from being media-facing to consumer-facing…. [T]hey will become their clients’ key strategic partner, even more so than creative agencies, as big data and technology make ‘Math Men’ the most important asset of marketers.”
That means that we need to keep up—both to prove our value to those strategic partners and to stay afloat in this increasingly competitive creative sea. Here are some key trends to watch.
Borders Disappear Between B2B and B2C
Rob van Beek, CEO of Havas Worldwide Amsterdam, pointed this one out. It dovetails with Dan’s assertion that media agencies are moving from strictly media-facing to consumer-facing. Bigger distinctions are blurred, too. Now that we all see ourselves as brands, we’re all in business, even as we’re consumers. Stakeholders don’t fit neatly into boxes. What’s more important than the old distinctions is H2H: human to human.
We Need Something with Real Integrity in Order to Market It
Since we’re now foremost communicating with humans, who happen to be savvier and better informed than ever before, we can’t spin anything. When PR Newswire convened a roundtable of industry leaders to predict 2015 trends for marketing and PR, integrity was a big theme. “I think far too much attention today is being given to communications, and not enough to company behavior,” said Harold Burson of Burson-Marsteller. Similarly, Ketchum’s Ray Kotcher said, “The actions of the company are as important, if not more, than the words.” And as PR Newswire succinctly put it in another presentation on communications trends for 2015, it’s “time to orchestrate the concert of media and content.”
PR Must Get Strategic
Co-Communications’ Stacey Cohen pointed this one out in the PR Newswire PR and marketing roundtable: “You really need to understand everything from a marketing perspective ranging from measurement, target audiences, objectives to being creative.” The good news according to Jason Winocour of Hunter Public Relations: “PR is now on equal footing with other marketing disciplines during the integrated planning process, and the skill set public relations brings to the table is well-suited to the changing media landscape.” But here’s where that gets especially tricky. “Every industry and every client has different types of measurement,” said Trace Cohen of Launch.it. “Sometimes it’s a numbers game, but there are other things that you could measure.”
In TopRank’s review of 21 digital marketing trends to watch in 2015, it explained that “[b]usiness content has to be more than informative. It should entertain too.” And it matters more in our video/podcast/Instagram world. No. 2 on TopRank’s list comes from Ann Handley, chief content officer at MarketingProfs: “Marketers become ridiculously proud of their writing!” I think it’s actually more like, marketers should work ridiculously hard on their writing so that it’s something they can be proud of, but the reasons are the same as Handley’s: “[A]ll marketers are writers. Everybody writes, and that’s true whether you are the Chief Content Officer or Marketing VP or the mar-com manager. Our words are our currency—they tell the world who we are.… They can make us look smart or they can make us look stupid—and so being able to communicate well in writing isn’t just nice; it’s necessity.… “Good writing is like an iceberg—use your best words to convey depth under the surface.”
The UK Elections Will Change the Communications Landscape
My colleague Steve Marinker, managing director of Havas PR UK in London, reports that next year’s U.K. election is unpredictable—both politically and in a way that matters to marketers everywhere: “If the last U.S. election was lost and won on Twitter, next year’s U.K. election may be lost and won on Snapchat and Instagram. Younger people are engaging with the political process much more, and with Twitter and Facebook declining, political parties will expand their use of other platforms.”
Social Media Must Be Personalized and Optimized
Marinker’s insight is significant, but the election isn’t the only way marketers are responding to the ways people use social media now. In TechRepublic’s rundown of social media trends for 2015, this one stood out to me, both for platforms and for devices: “What has been working is personalization. Social media companies typically operate with user IDs. Users log into their service, often stay logged in and frequently across devices,” says the article. “‘As a result, advertisers are increasingly moving toward an approach of targeting, messaging and measuring people, versus making advertising decisions based on a publication that you look at,’” it quotes Max Kalehoff, senior vice president of marketing for SocialCode. The old “spray and pray” tactic, the article says, is no longer really feasible.
We Must Get Relevant and Hyperlocal
These were two key items on The Guardian’s list of marketing tips for 2015. We need to be offering small bytes for people where they’re standing now; in fact, Havas PR has been championing hyperlocal for half a dozen years, but now it is sticky. Says The Guardian: “Marketing organisations are quickly becoming savvy about the full range of capabilities of smartphones, such as geo-location, and motion and ambient noise detection. These tools enable marketers to surface offers to consumers at the right point in their purchasing process,” says the article, suggesting in-store or near-store notifications for special offers and rewards programs that enhance the consumer experience while also collecting more data. “What you need to work out in 2015 is: what are the myriad experiences of your end users and how can you connect with them in the moment in a meaningful way?”
CFOs Will Become Chief Frontier Officers
New strategies, new social sites, new technology platforms, new optimization—it’s tough to keep up. And consumers are getting increasingly fickle. James Wright, managing director of Red Agency Australia and Havas PR APAC, says CFOs must shake up their mindset, develop more innovative strategies, take risks and seek out new paths to central growth.
Marian Salzman is CEO of Havas PR North America.