Integration, Mobile, Content Ahead in 2016

What are PR leaders thinking about as we head toward 2016? In truth, most still spend the majority of their time dealing with 2015’s opportunities and hurdles. Still, we were able to get pros from brands, non-profits and agencies to share some thoughts about the new year with us, specifically what trends they anticipate will emerge in 2016 and how they are preparing for them.

Tom Dowling, U.S. Consumer and Brand Marketing Practice Chair, Burson-Marsteller: “As 2016 approaches, organizations are starting to understand the importance of audience individualization and 24/7 hyper-connectivity. Consumers want relevant information and news just for them – available any time, any place. Many of today’s consumers, especially the post-millennial audience, want their voices to be heard and identified without being categorized and homogenized. What’s more, consumer interest in sharing has helped turn the Internet of Things into the Internet of Sharing Things. These trends present opportunities for agile brands to stand out above the noise as long as their outreach and messaging strategies are finitely tailored yet easily sharable through a multitude of channels.”

Linda Rutherford, VP, Communication & Outreach, Southwest Airlines: “A trend we see is the emergence of behavioral science in communication. What that looks like for our team is digging deeper into understanding how information is being received by various stakeholders and then using lessons from neuroscience to inform how we develop message strategy to help enable conversations and behaviors necessary to keep our organization successful and change agile. We realize it’s more than just “reporting the news” and the team wants to counsel all its messengers and change champions to be effective in getting the right dialogues started. We are working on skills to help our communicators tweak strategies based on deeper audience-specific data and understanding.”

Bea Perez, Chief Sustainability Officer, The Coca-Cola Company: “The demand for authentic and rich content delivered through social and digital media channels will continue to grow. Our e-magazine site, Coca-Cola Journey (, enables us to host and share photos, videos, infographics and editorial stories about our sustainability initiatives and the people and communities that benefit from them. From sharing news about our progress toward our water replenishment goal, to personal stories about women entrepreneurs we are empowering, to our online Sustainability Report, we have the ability to communicate with flexibility and the benefit of measurable results. We’re having fun as we learn with experience and continually evolve our strategy in this space.”

Veda Banerjee, Director, Communications & Digital Marketing, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy: “While mobile was big in 2015, for 2016 it’s going to dominate. At the Conservancy we are setting aside budget for mobile-focused online marketing. Video ads are another area of focus for us to promote both our fundraiser events as well as sharing program information. Making videos sticky and informative is key. Digital advertising is going to become a bigger part of our overall content strategy with a focus on Pay-Per-Click and SEO as it is important to make sure our communications efforts are amplified. The social media ad landscape is evolving constantly and becoming bigger: Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest all are joining Facebook’s established pay-to-play model for social sharing. Creating effective content campaigns for all the different social channels and effective listening within our online communities will be priorities for us in 2016.

Christopher Fuller, VP, Brand & Corporate Communications, Arby’s, Executive Director, Arby’s Foundation: “Looking ahead to 2016, I think upping our game will be the biggest trend. We anticipate more noise than ever clouding media, shorter attention spans and a heightened yearning for content that is different, interesting and engaging. As a result we have to become better storytellers to derive impact. Further, we need to be savvier about where we tell our story. With new platforms, apps and mechanisms for information barraging consumers daily, there’s no dearth of opportunity for getting out a message. And while this certainly can be a good thing, we shouldn’t take for granted the beautiful simplicity of a well-crafted message in a traditional format.”

Chris LaPlaca, SVP, Corporate Communications, ESPN: “The pace of the media business is relentless 24 hours a day. While we all need to hone our abilities to be effective storytellers in every available medium, I’m just as focused, and will be in 2016, on figuring out how my team can stay fresh and nimble in the midst of a constant drumbeat. How will we do that? That’s a great question and one without clear answers. But the first step in getting to a better place is identifying the need to do so.”

Brendan Streich, SVP, Group Head, Atlanta Corporate Practice, Edelman: “More brands will lead with an engagement mindset rather than the traditional top-down, image-driven marketing approach. In our democratized and digitized business environment, brands regardless of sector or scale must work smarter, not harder, to earn relevance and operate from a position of trust. As communicators, we must be prepared to lead with more powerful, more resonant stories, which will drive more trusted and fruitful partnerships between CMOs and CCOs. The results will be more seamless collaboration among internal marketing and communications departments, and greater opportunities for agencies to drive strategic, creative and attention-earning campaigns.”

Jenn DeGuzman, VP, Communications & Talent Relations, National Geographic Channel: “As we move into 2016, we’re seeing the importance of strengthening and marketing the brand. National Geographic is iconic and we’re look to build on this legacy with premium global content that is highly entertaining and brand definitional. We want to harness the potential global power of the brand in the ways we partner across all of the National Geographic platforms. We will be working more closely than ever with our internal colleagues on the marketing of content and how we can create breakthrough programming events around the world.”

Gary F. Grates, Principal, W2O Group: “In summing up 2015, it’s safe to say that organizational communications continued to evolve in very profound ways. Looking to 2016, will the transformation continue or will it be more of a transitional year in terms of: 1) Advocacy/Outreach – More and more organizations are adopting an employee-advocacy model, unleashing their workforces, so to speak, to engage more deeply in social conversations sharing brand and product information, engaging in relevant discussion and extending the company’s reach in new networks and communities. 2) Content – Relevance is the key word in any discussion of content. Recalibrating content to fit personal needs and wants from an information perspective regarding the business continues to dominate technology and strategy decisions. 3) Mobile – Fast becoming the channel of choice for today’s highly agile workforce. 4) Analytics/Measures – Uncovering insights about workforce behavior, attitudes, sentiment, interests, bias, etc., is critical to achieving clarity and confidence internally. Coupled with designing more outcome-based measures, communicators and leaders will continue to increase their EQ regarding organizational dynamics.

Contact: @SWAfollower @garygrates @BeaperezBea @espn_chris @Jgdeguzman

 This article originally appeared in the November 16, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.