Trends in Public Relations: Panel Recap

On Thursday, October 18, WMPRSA members gathered to discuss current and growing trends within the public relations industry: what they are, why they’re important, and how to manage them. WMPRSA invited Andrea Clark, Associate Director of Communications at Kellogg Company, Clare Wade, Manager of Corporate Communications at Spectrum Health, and Jeff Gaunt, Director at Lambert, to share their knowledge and expertise on the topic.

Trend 1: Trust in Institutions

According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in institutions among the public has dropped 9 points since 2017, and trust among the educated population has fallen a remarkable 23 points. What makes this even more compelling is that it’s happening during a time of economic prosperity, whereas in the past we’ve seen this trend occur during times of recession or hardship. So, what’s causing this trend to occur now? The world continues to become more polarized, we draw conclusions without asking questions, and people are more reluctant to believe a company or individual is telling the whole story.

To counteract this, PR professionals must remain transparent and honest with all of their publics and in all forms of their communication. In addition, consider the trustworthiness of the parties speaking about your company or organization; not only the media, but public figures and other influencers as well.

Trend 2: Proliferation of Mobile Devices

In 2018, 4 billion people are using the internet across the globe, and the average user spends about six hours online each day, at least two of which are dedicated to social media (Statista). The mobile phone is the most used device, with the laptop and other electronic devices not far behind. This expansion of technology has both positive and negative implications for those in PR.

Technology offers a menu of options when communicating with publics. It allows you to use your own platforms for reaching audiences with the right message, rather than solely relying on the media to do so. It also enables you to target and communicate directly to your audience. However, an increase in technology requires an increase in skills. It’s important that those technology and social media skills aren’t just delegated to a specific person, but that everyone involved has an understanding and ability to utilize them. In this day, most crises start online. Being able to manage the risks and respond to the crises is critical to the reputation of the organization.

Trend 3: The Changing Media Landscape

Anyone can be a journalist. A YouTuber, blogger, anyone that speaks about your organization and has credibility with the public. PR professionals are the choreographers designing and strategizing the sequence of communication moves and managing all of the media landscapes.

To keep up with the changing media landscape, PR pros need to remember the core of who they are and what they do. Essentially, the core of what we do is being good storytellers. Although that hasn’t changed, the way we do that is constantly evolving and adapting. Identify who needs the message first, and what information each audience needs to know. Create the right message for the right audience. A tool for managing this landscape is using influencers to reach your audience because they have credibility with that audience and can break through the clutter of the saturated media. But don’t lose sight of who an influencer is. They are not simply social media stars or popular celebrities; they’re friends and family, community bloggers, and even the employees within your organization.

Trend 4: Non-Distinction between PR, Marketing, & Communication

 Few individuals understand the distinction between these different disciplines or the role of public relations as a management function. PR is often included under the broad marketing department of an organization, and the voice of the PR professional is underestimated. So, what can we do?

It’s all about strategy. Everything you do should align with the company’s objectives and add value. If you can show the leadership team metrics and ROI on your efforts, then you can prove that you are integral to the success of the business. Also, be sure to talk to leadership with authority and confidence. Don’t simply do the work you’re told to do; offer your expert opinion and find solutions to problems. Be sure to help others in the organization and work collaboratively with them. By doing so, you develop relationships with individuals who can help elevate your role within the organization.