Inside the Profession Thought Leadership

2014: The Year We Listen More Than We Talk

Editor’s note: This is the 11th 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.

The technology and public relations industries might not have many obvious similarities, but I see them as kindred in spirit. Change is a necessary constant in both. Responsiveness to the market is critical. And – in line with the trends detailed in IBM’s annual 5 predictions for the year ahead – I believe that what will influence the tech industry in 2014 will (or should) also influence the PR profession: an intense focus on learning. It will be imperative that we listen, look and learn as passionately as we talk. 

Just as IBM is forecasting ways that “machines will learn about us, reason, and engage in a much more natural and personalized way” this year, thriving brands – and the agencies that represent them – will commit to a year of understanding. Not talking the loudest, not being the first, not shocking the most, but understanding. The three critical areas of understanding that I think leading PR professionals should explore, understand and use (before they even think about talking) this year:

  1. How to make audience members feel like they’re the only one. Omnichannel is a concept thriving communicators must learn and employ for their brands in 2014, because it provides what today’s audiences want: highly personalized, worthwhile engagement. It’s not only being in all the right places (a trade magazine, a blog post, a podcast, Twitter), but it requires that those media work together to create a natural experience for the audience member.  For example, the trade magazine byline drives readers to a corporate blog, which links to a relevant podcast that encourages listeners to share feedback and questions using a custom hashtag on Twitter, which in turn registers them in a contest for discounted product or services. Tightly integrated channels create a seamless “moment” that feels like it was created just for that listener, reader or online visitor.
  2. How to leverage the entire data ecosystem. Big data is made up of two primary types of data sets, implicit and explicit. Implicit data is the implied information we glean from observation or digit crunching, and mostly a passive collection of people’s behaviors. But more data doesn’t necessarily lead to better insights. What does? Simple – asking questions. This is explicit data. If you’re looking at data in silos, you may identify a trend, but you will never solve a problem. The feedback loop between the insights of each is most critical. Gathering information is not enough, you must inform your 2014 PR strategies from both types of data – many of your competitors are already doing it.
  3. How to measure what matters. Today’s PR professionals are asked to master what, on the surface, are diametrically opposed entities: words and data. Chances are you’re measuring, but make 2014 the year you measure the most meaningful things. With the vast universe of measurement tools at our disposal today, brands can  measure almost anything – but just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Focus less on usual-suspect metrics – media impressions, press releases distributed – and more on outcomes that are of true value to your business.  Airfoil’s approach to measurement follows a specific “Insight, Engage, Analyze” methodology that allows us to understand the business challenge we’re tasked with addressing, build a program with measureable objectives and a sound strategy and conduct analysis to showcase business outcome correlations aligned to awareness, understanding, preference and/or advocacy and action.

Don’t misunderstand me – professional communicators still must communicate! But what I’ve discovered is that the message stands a better chance of being received if we pause and enjoy the silence, first. May your 2014 be your most enlightening and engaging year yet.


Lisa Vallee-Smith, APR is a co-founder and co-CEO of Airfoil. She is responsible for account innovation, strategic planning, and talent development.  A public relations and marketing communications consultant with more than 25 years of experience, Lisa’s expertise includes primary research, strategic planning, corporate communications, and issues management. You can follow Lisa on Twitter at @LValleeSmith and Airfoil at @airfoilgroup.

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Lisa Vallee-Smith

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