Top 10 Public Relations Trends for Those Paying Attention (Plus, One Call to Action)

It comes up in most conversations and lingers, unresolved: how can I find and then retain great talent? During a panel I moderated recently on the future of PR, this topic was discussed at length, and underlying it was a decades-old trope about what PR really is. Will it be called PR 10 years from now? What profession are we really in?

Geesh – if we don’t know, then how can we attract people to it? I say the question is irrelevant if communicators focus on the things that matter. What we will call Public Relations next year or 23 years from now is an unnecessary distraction. Rather, more important is what do PR professionals need to master to take their career forward and to insure that PR’s role is strengthened within an organization?

For those working on the agency side, your role as a tactician is diminishing and the need for strategic counsel is increasing. While executing on a strategy is obviously an important piece, clients are looking to their agency partners to think differently and to make sense of what they are seeing around the corners.

Which brings me back to talent and the “corners” that hiring managers are searching for their next great communicator. At PR News conferences, on advisory board calls and over a warm cup of coffee, I often ask senior leaders about talent acquisition and retention. Aside from referrals, LinkedIn, PR News’ Job Board and the other usual suspects, what I found interesting was not so much where they were looking but what they were looking for. Among the traits of the most attractive employees were: intellectual curiosity, outstanding writing skills and business acumen. This feeds into the trends I’ve listed below: being intellectually curious is inherent in strategic communications; knowing how to write well will improve your content marketing, storytelling and ability to connect with stakeholders; and understanding how to read a balance sheet and how to talk the P/L talk is increasingly critical as communicators strive to prove the return on investment of PR.

Following I put forward 10 important topics for you and your team to include in your thinking and planning for 2019. They are hot now and will remain hot for years to come. But if you can master even half of these issues, then you will be better positioned to lead.

  1. Hiring and Retaining Talent: look for talent in new places and insist on communicators who are curious and customer-centric. Retain them not by offering Ping Pong and free pizza, but by empowering them and paying them fairly.
  2. Measuring Engagement & ROI: Being a measurement wonk isn’t a bad look on any self-respecting communicator. For once, memorize the Barcelona Principles and apply them to your trade. Measuring the engagement of stakeholders and communicating PR’s contribution are two areas worth digging in further.
  3. Diversity & Inclusion: Whether it’s within your department, agency or your organization as a whole, being part of a diverse workforce and ensuring all voices are heard and included in decision making is no longer a “nice to do” initiative.
  4. Artificial Intelligence: It’s for real, and it’s already happening for most communicators, in the software you are using today for your comms efforts. Embrace the power of AI to help you make sense of the dizzying array of data at your fingertips while you also keep in mind that your mind is still the dominant force behind great communications.
  5. Data Marketing: The amount of data you have access to will only proliferate in the years to come. Gain a better understanding of data marketing, for as the lines between PR and marketing continue to blur, you will need to have a clear vision of how to leverage the most important data points.
  6. Influencer Marketing: Tread carefully with influencers but don’t ignore them. Whether they are hyper-local or celebrity level, they will be increasingly important to your brand strategy.
  7. Social Media Social Storytelling: Those who tell the best stories will win on social media. Master the art of visual storytelling in particular, and hone your storytelling skills on a daily basis by writing, rewriting and reading others’ work. Just like a great book, your story needs to have a strong plot and interesting characters. If it doesn’t, don’t write it.
  8. Content Marketing: Whether you are doing the writing or you are directing a content initiative, it’s imperative you understand how content marketing works in today’s fractured media landscape. Being able to tell your brand’s story like the best journalists do is a lofty but achievable goal.
  9. Strategic Communications: First, understand the difference between strategy and tactics. Second, do your due diligence with your company or your client and grasp the nuances so that you can put forth a strategic campaign or plan that answers the Who, Why & What before you get to the How & When.
  10. Business Acumen: You may not like being around math but you need to hang out with it more often. It is beholden on communications leaders to understand financial goals. Learn how to read a balance sheet, keep track of the Profit & Loss for your campaign, understand margins, and talk the talk when you are with senior management or clients. Profitability looks good on PR.

Take some time with your team to discuss these trends and hone your mastery of them. To cap it off, I’d like to propose a call to action for all communicators: stop trying to redefine PR and start promoting your communication successes with more gusto. Prove the power of PR by showing and telling your peers and superiors what you bring to the table. Be proud to be in PR.

-- Diane Schwartz