10 Key PR Trends to Watch During the Rest of 2017

It’s obvious that times have changed. Years ago for a trend to be an officially approved topic of conversation at industry cocktail parties it had to have a 1-800 number and be mentioned in at least one NY Times best-seller. Today, of course, it’s even more difficult to graduate to trend status. The requisite accoutrements include a website, a Wikipedia entry and an app, adoring influencers (at least one of whom knows Kylie Jenner’s phone number) and an acronym when the trend or topic is two words or more, such as CSR, AI, AR and VR.

shutterstock_316983200Thinking about VR as your humble blogger attempts a bit of perspicacious trend spotting for the next six months of 2017 leads to this thought: Reality depends on the view from your desk. For example, if a profession abhors a particular practice, but your boss still loves it, then your reality likely will be different from that of many of your industry colleagues. This relates to the first trend:

1. AVEs Will Take a Beating But Keep on Ticking.

The trend isn’t that measurement advocates will continue to wax poetic at industry events and in essays about the horrors of AVE (advertising value equivalents).

Also continuing to be a staple at industry confabs will be social media measurement proponents urging communicators to resist quoting vanity metrics, such as the number of eyeballs that saw a brand’s tweets.

It’s obvious these two not-new trends will continue. Heck, AMEC, the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication, as part of its recent plan of attack has vowed to ask organizers of various PR contests to disqualify entries that quote AVEs.

So if those are trends that we’ve seen, what’s new? It’s that despite the anti-AVE and vanity metrics talk, many communicators will be under orders from above (their boss, not the heavens) to continue to use AVEs and quote impression figures. In the next six months the death of AVEs will progress only slightly. As for vanity metrics, they’re a problem of biblical proportion: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”

2. Measurement Will Struggle. Speaking of the difference between what’s said at PR conferences versus what’s practiced in the trenches, here’s another example: Measurement will be advocated in public, but it will need strong advocates back in the office.

Betty Crocker’s bank account has been growing exponentially since she was able to wrangle the concession on “Measurement needs to be baked into your campaign from the start.” She earns a nickel each time the phrase, or a variation of it, is uttered at an industry conference—25 cents when a keynote speaker says it. She nets a dime when the phrase appears in print. (Ms. Crocker, do you accept PayPal?) A tip: The concession on “You can’t improve what you don’t measure” remains up for grabs.

I know what you’re thinking: So what’s the trend? Despite the importance of measurement at conferences, in many PR shops it will continue to remain far down the priority list. To the disappointment of many bakers, in the next six months measurement will be done only when it’s deemed important, when there’s excess time and budget or, as we said above, a determined advocate. More’s the pity as some brands and firms will continue to measure everything and chances are they will grow as a result.

3. Technology Will Put a Dent in Relationship-Based Media Pitching. PR will have a faith-based element to it. We’re talking about the pitch-and-pray approach communicators continue to use with journalists. It’s related to the double-edged sword of technology. There’s a cornucopia of information about journalists that big data has made available to media relations pros. Still many, in the name of speed, will pitch stories to a vast list of journalists without researching what these reporters cover or reading any articles they’ve written recently. In part, the wrong side of technology is to blame. Tech has made it easy and fast to create a huge list of media outlets and send out a generic pitch. It’s enticing.

4. In PR, Spelling Will Count More Than Before. You can certainly argue credibly that social media has made spelling a quaint relic. Nevertheless, there’s a priority on good writing and spelling. Aren’t misspelled words one of the first tip-offs of SPAM? Unfortunately, even legitimate pitches will continue to include instances of faulty proofreading and misspelled words. Note the ridicule the president’s lawyer received when he misspelled the word “president” recently. With the prominence of #fakenews, it’s even more important for PR pros to write well and spell correctly. We heard good advice during a PR News boot camp in NY last year: “Proofread everything to death.”

5. Video Will Keep Growing. Yes, it’s hardly a secret that video has more room to grow, with live video being a strong component of that growth. Similarly, communicators will rely more on graphics to tell stories.

6. Influencers Will Have to Prove Their Worth. While social influencers will remain important, there will be many come-to-Jesus situations with them, particularly with the high-priced ones. This will be a good omen for micro-influencers with small but loyal followers. It also will mean smaller brands can and will employ influencers.

7. Brand Newsrooms, Healthcare and Cyber PR Will Grow. More brands will hone their control of the message and join Coca-Cola in creating newsrooms.

On the agency side, a bevy of firms will announce they’ve created units devoted to healthcare PR and cyber security. Probably not in 2017 but on the horizon firms will add business units devoted to AI and autonomous vehicles.

8. Integrated Efforts Will Increase. The frequency of integrated campaigns will rise, too, as social PR becomes de rigueur. That social media is becoming a must-have in business should not worry PR pros. If we learned anything in May at the sold-out Social Shake-Up Show, it’s that plenty of industries have only begun dipping their toes into social media’s waters. In addition, even experienced social players are tweaking their formulas regularly. There is and will be plenty of room for PR to create and manage social activities for brands.

9. There’ll Be More Room for PR Pros to Tell Stories. Storytelling and thought leadership also will continue to rise, as will brands and executives insisting they’re telling stories and providing thought leadership. Be careful about old habits creeping in and having the resulting content selling, not telling stories that people care about.

10. Reputation Management Will Continue to Gain Importance.  Let’s leave this post on a happy note. Digital communications has helped raise the importance of reputation protection. Yes, Warren Buffett has the concession on speakers at PR conferences saying, “Reputation takes 20 years to build and 5 minutes to destroy,” but he’s so rich already that the addition to his net worth is minimal.

Still, if the past six months’ worth of stories about brands have taught us anything (United Airlines and Dr. David Dao, Pepsi and its Kendall Jenner commercial, British Airways’ IT meltdown mess and the lingering examples: Uber, Wells Fargo and Fox News), it is that knowing how to protect reputation and react to issues before they become crises will continue to be critical to brands. That’s authentically good news for communicators.

Follow Seth: @skarenstein