Editor’s note: This is the 7th in a series of guest posts from industry thought leaders predicting key trends that will impact the public relations industry in 2014. Hosted under the hashtag #PRin2014, the series began Jan. 8, 2014, with a compilation post previewing some of the predictions.
As we kick off a new year, our industry can expect plenty of change and challenges to navigate, but even greater opportunities to explore. Here’s my take on a few of the trends that will shape what’s next.
- Global strategies, local relevance – Global companies invest in building brands and reputations across many borders. But it’s their ability to forge truly local connections – both in person and online — that can help them achieve relevance, resonance, relationships and, ultimately, greater ROI. This was one of my predictions last year too, and I only see this trend becoming more powerful in 2014. What’s different this year is the need for an even greater focus on relevance in local markets. Brands make a promise, but they must understand how to make the promise relevant to consumers with needs and interests that can be vastly different depending upon where they live. Communicators must familiarize themselves with unique customs, preferences, demographics and cultural norms so they can effectively and efficiently customize international campaigns in various countries and communities. In addition, social media and mobile marketing are becoming game-changers in emerging markets, creating new avenues for reaching consumers in previously challenging environments.
- Cause plays a bigger role – While doing social good is now an expected business practice, more companies will be implementing comprehensive CSR initiatives that are deeply intertwined with their business models, not just stand-alone programs. Expect to see initiatives that impact companies across their supply chain, from sourcing to sales, with an emphasis on sustainable business practices. The global/local challenges of managing initiatives like this demonstrate yet again how critical local relevance is. This strategy will be seen even more frequently in start-ups bringing new products to market where cause is the primary brand marketing platform.
- The content evolution – As the content marketing craze continues, it’s exciting to see public relations playing a leading role not only in the strategy and storytelling of engaging content, but more and more in the creative direction and production of it as well. 2014 will be an important year for the industry to expand our role even further and begin managing the rest of the process, including things typically led by other disciplines such as insights and planning, distribution through all channels (including paid media), and analytics on the back end for continuous optimization. As a result of our ability to do the whole job, several changes will take place: in-house PR teams will earn more oversight of the entire process, a few top comms pros will assume the title of Chief Content Officer, and public relations agencies will begin earning “content marketing agency of record” status.
- Harnessing the power of the individual – It was Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year, and even the Pope and Obama took one. No doubt, “the selfie” became more popular than ever in 2013 with the self-portrait representing 30-50% of all photos posted online. In 2014, we’ll see more brands harnessing the power of consumer-focused media tools and platforms like GoPro cameras and SnapChat, which allow individuals to be the star, to engage the growing number of social influencers and reach their followers. In similar fashion, expect more brands to work with YouTube and Instagram “celebrities” beyond product placements and ads to featuring them in multichannel campaigns. Not surprisingly, visuals will continue to trump words and dominate content as multimedia fills our Twitter and Facebook streams, no clicking needed.
- Happy hacking – Similarly, expect to see more campaigns driven by consumers through crowd creation, where brands give loyalists the tools and an open invitation to actually shape and share content. We used the term “happy hacking” to describe this trend during our Dentsu Aegis Network Cannes seminar last summer. The idea is for brands to create opportunities for consumers to add their own ideas and personalize the content. In essence, the brand becomes a connection point that also allows dynamic – and unpredictable — story-telling among consumers. The result is greater engagement, bringing brands and consumers closer together.
- Investing in people – As our industry continues to evolve, employers will be placing even greater emphasis on training their teams to ensure skills keep pace with change. While training on digital/social and analytics are still priorities, we’ll also see a need for more holistic talent-development programs that offer enrichment and career-building experiences for employees, particularly for younger professionals and emerging leaders. At Mitchell Communications Group, we have a comprehensive talent-development program called Full Throttle that offers dozens of training experiences for staff at every level. It’s extremely popular with our team, and I believe these types of programs will be differentiators for employers looking to attract and retain top talent.
- Giving voice to internal audiences – Studies show employees are more trusted than corporate voices, and smart organizations are taking the time to listen/talk inside their own house first. As a result, they’re reaping the benefits of employees who are “all in” with reputation and brand strategies. This year, we’ll hear about more robust internal training programs designed to equip and empower employees to become true brand ambassadors. Watch for several new corporate initiatives to be officially announced by teams of employees utilizing the power of their social influence both internally and externally.