PR pros will need a bigger boat. As they wade into the 2015 pool communicators will be on the hook to show positive returns for a growing number of disciplines, ranging from online analytics to content marketing to mobile apps. As “brand reputation” and “corporate reputation” have become virtually synonymous, the PR canvas has continued to expand, and this year will be no exception. Whether it’s developing content to cater to changes in consumer behavior or mining data to get a better read on customers and prospects, communicators will be expected to play an even sharper role in strategic marketing. To get a sense of how things are shaping up this year, we asked several communicators for their take on what’s trending in a wide range of PR areas. Buckle up.
This year will serve as a significant milestone in communications as mobile now makes up more than half of all U.S. web traffic, bringing prominence to a host of mobile-driven trends that will shape the social media landscape. Three trends will stand out as they fundamentally change consumer behavior. There will be even greater pressure for communications pros to understand and react to them, despite being in their early stages.
▶ Mobile’s influence grows unabated. As feature phones continue to be phased out in favor of smartphones (70 percent of all cell phone users own a smart device), we continue to spend more time with our phones. In the last year, we added seven extra hours per month, on average, while TV lost 30 minutes. Mobile data traffic has grown globally more than 80 percent in the last year, with estimates for 2015 showing further growth still.
The phone’s role as our primary lens for accessing news, information, entertainment, and friends and family, whether through text, social or voice, makes it absolutely critical that all integrated communications campaigns consider mobile first, second and third.
▶ Mobile is changing social’s development. Given our always-on access to the world via mobile phones, passive versus active Web access has shifted screen share in favor of social, where information largely comes to us, as opposed to via purposeful search. This has pushed the evolution of social ad offerings and their impact. Social apps continue to dominate our time spent in passive mobile screen use. In response, social networks and communicators have turned to mobile ad units, which continue to attract innovation and dollars.
▶ Mobile fuels the visual influence movement. As our attention spans have reduced from 12 seconds to eight seconds in the past decade alone, it’s critical that we communicate in a compelling visual manner. Visuals, not words, are the currency of 21st-century communication, and this creative cultural revolution taking place across social media will accelerate in 2015, creating a new media marketplace where people and brands engage.
With digital tools and social channels, the PR practitioner’s ability to interact with key constituents, employees and the media is on steroids. Many brands have created social media listening centers to respond to the customer in real time. These listening centers also provide pertinent content that drives engagement, builds consumer trust and enhances customer relationships. Today, an organization’s voice is ubiquitous, and PR professionals are critical to the brand experience.
Online newsrooms allow organizations to post stories (not press releases) to attract media, influencers, customers and employee brand ambassadors. This gives PR professionals a way to immediately syndicate content for wider attention. It’s all about interacting with customers and media by providing information in compelling ways, be it a photo, short video (30-90 seconds), infographic, word cloud, or other techniques that drive action and influence choice.
Engaging in relevant online communities also builds trust and positions your organization as a category expert.
While it is clear that PR, marketing, advertising, social and digital teams can no longer work in silos, the mandate now is to increase collaboration.
The Web offers a wealth of intelligence as to what the public cares about, what activists and unions are thinking about, and what’s on the docket in legislative and regulatory arenas. Since these are the sources from which the media takes its cues, plotting the spotlight’s path is far less challenging than in pre-Web times.
Digital engagement trends told us that fracking and the Keystone pipeline would be environmentalists’ targets before opposition truly materialized. They told us GMOs would be the next hot-button food issue when most Americans had no idea what a GMO was (many still don’t, although they know they dislike them). And digital trends provided clues as to Wall Street’s image problems long before “Occupy” became a popular term.
So, what’s next?
Environmentalists’ search optimization and social media strategies show that their focus will begin to shift from Keystone once they feel that issue is won. That may very well occur within two years. Environmental NGOs will need to find a new target. Expect their attention to begin to shift to offshore drilling in 2015 or shortly thereafter.
While GMOs will certainly remain a hot issue, digital chatter tells us that once again sugar will be food’s next boogeyman. Sugar will be to 2015 and 2016 what eggs were to the 1970s and fat was to the 1980s.
Sugar alone will not be a sweet enough target. Expect Neonicotinoids, a relatively new class of insecticides now being blamed for the massive bee kill, as the next target. Since the start of 2014, we have seen EU, state, federal, and even a few consumer companies take action against “Neonics.”
Melding New and Old Media
We no longer talk about campaigns exclusive to social media or traditional media. Any major PR campaigns we create now are spread across all mediums. In 2015 we’ll continue to see blurring of lines between traditional and social.
What does that mean?
• Every press release is the peg for a blog post
• Links to all major news stories in print or on television featuring our organization are shared via our social media channels
• Media relations and social media teams attend the same strategy meetings
• All press conferences are live streamed
• And as our media relations team members prepare for major announcements by creating FAQs for spokespeople, our social media team members simultaneously prepare specially designed FAQs to help answer consumer questions asked online
When it comes to reporting results to internal audiences, our social media analytics are woven into the same report covering weekly traditional media activities. This provides a more complete picture to senior leaders of what the public is seeing and hearing regarding our brand.
In addition, we now are beginning to test traditional media pitches via our social media channels. For instance, if we post a brief about a particular story online and it garners an exceptional reaction, we can use those results as proof of concept to a reporter we’re working to pitch.
Social Media Analytics
Not surprisingly, 92 percent of communicators surveyed said social media will be the focal point in 2015. Accordingly, some predictions.
▶ Communicators must move beyond reach. The sound of clients grumbling about the lack of clear proof of ROI from their social media investment grows louder. Communicators must demonstrate how reach leads to engagement and engagement influences key business drivers, such as sales.
▶ Mobile growth will demand mobile strategy. As mobile begins to match or even overtake the desktop, social media measurement must accommodate mobile devices’ unique demands. Session tracking and privacy must be considered.
▶ Analytics tools will continue to evolve. Social media analytics tools evolved in 2014 to help communicators better glean user patterns. This will continue. These tools’ costs must continue to fall for companies to justify the investment.
January is often when public affairs people are the most energized. Not only have they had a few days off while Congress, state legislatures and city councils are out of session, they’ve caught up on some sleep after December’s typically mad rush to adjournment and spent some quality time with family and friends who think that “politics” is a four-letter word.
January is when the newly elected officials take office and matters important to clients become salient either again or for the first time. And when the new Congress, legislature, council or executive branch involves a change in political party – as is the case in many jurisdictions this year -- client hopes and dreams grow significantly and the need for assistance from public affairs communications professionals grows.
The four primary communications strategies that are generally needed are:
▶ Educate Newly Elected Officials. Every newly elected official will be either partially or totally unfamiliar with the issues they will be asked to debate and vote on the next few years. Add to that the number of re-elected officials in who will be switching committees or assuming leadership positions and it immediately becomes apparent that education is one of the most important communication’s requirements for virtually every client that has something it needs done or wants to stop.
▶ Educate Staff. The newly elected officials, as well as those returning for another term who are changing committees or taking on added responsibilities, will all have new staff that will need to be educated as well. In some cases the staff will be men or women new to politics; in other cases they will be experienced hands who are moving from a voter relations or constituent service position to one involving issues and legislation. Either way, clients will need to communicate with the staff at least as much as the officials for whom they work.
▶ Establish the Power and Influence of Those Interested In The Issue. Many clients don’t understand that Washington, the state capital or the city government typically takes on those issues that are
favored by the most powerful industries, companies, interest groups and individuals. Clients cannot take past associations for granted or assume that the previous appreciation for their position will carry over especially when the company, industry or individual comes from outside the state, district or jurisdiction the official represents.
▶ Educate Reporters. January is also when media outlets generally make changes in their reporting assignments. These reporters, producers, columnists and editors also have to be re-educated about issues and relationships. Clients and their communications teams must not assume that the new people reporting on their issue will duplicate the coverage received in the past.
It’s 2015 and soon conference season will be in full swing. If you are an organizer or a speaker, you need to stay ahead of the curve. Here are trends and tips to prepare you for successful events in the New Year.
1. Visual storytelling. As humans, we are visual creatures. Dating back to drawing on cave walls we have always used images to tell stories. Visuals save time and impact memory. Our brains process visuals 60,000 times faster than text. When we tell a story that evokes emotion, dopamine gets released and heightens awareness.
Tip for brands. Hire graphic recorders for your keynotes. They’ll create a visual representation of the talk. The one-page visual summaries can be displayed and/or given to attendees.
Tip for speakers. Use images to help people remember your key messages. Visuals are 5x more memorable than text. Leverage the picture superiority effect and find great images at canva.com or dollarphotoclub.com.
2. Brevity, brevity, brevity. Our attention span as humans is decreasing at a rapid pace. Major research places it currently between three and eight seconds. There is a reason why TED talks are so popular. They force speakers to condense their material.
Tip for brands. Shorten your breakout sessions and keynotes to 30 minutes instead of the traditional 45.
Tip for speakers. Mix it up. Our brains can concentrate only for 10 minutes without shutting off. Use group exercises, demos and videos during your talk to energize things.
3. Rethinking the Q&A. There is a surefire way to end a session with a dud. That’s with Q&A. There are several ways these go awry: No questions; no one can hear the questions, and questions in the form of a sales pitch or speech.
Tip for organizers. Ditch the Q&A. Brands need to organize roundtables where interested attendees can go deeper on the material in a small-group setting. If you insist on Q&A, have it moderated by the emcee, who should be armed with questions.
Tip for speakers. Again, ditch the Q&A. If you can’t, start it about 80 percent of the way through your talk. This allows you to manage the number of questions and end on time.
B2B PR and Marketing
Throughout the last few years B2B marketers have adapted to keep pace with a changing digital landscape and provide customers what they want, when they want it. This will continue in 2015, but several PR and marketing trends likely will have the biggest influence on how B2B marketers engage their target audiences.
1. Customer profiles. While the concept of tapping big data and analytics to make business decisions and target consumers is well known, it’s now being used extensively in B2B. Savvy marketers will mine data and analytics to better understand (and segment) target audiences, delivering more customized marketing messages and content. The end goal is to increase meaningful interactions and create long-lasting relationships with customers and prospects.
2. Data hubs. Companies are starting to create units whose sole function is to mine and analyze data. This proprietary data can be used to better market customers, but also create compelling stats for news headlines, provide unique insights on what’s happening in the industry, and position the company as an expert through media relations. Content may still be king, but good data are the kingmakers.
3. Content machines. Companies are building programs around bylines and executive columns, churning out weekly content. Sponsored white papers are increasing too, though they are shorter, fresher and more useful and visually appealing than in the past.
B2B marketers looking to generate leads will invest in strong writers and designate a budget for pushing out thought leadership through key publications in 2015. PRN
Melissa Baratta, firstname.lastname@example.org; Stan Collender, email@example.com; Diane Gage Lofgren, firstname.lastname@example.org; Richard Levick, email@example.com; Nikki Mitchell, nikkimit@BaylorHealth.edu; Danny Olson, firstname.lastname@example.org; Stan Phelps; email@example.com; Mike Samec, firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in the January 5, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.