Unless you’re living under a rock in the desert, you know that it has been a challenging year for most industries. Public relations or PR was not spared by any means.
As we begin to lay down the tracks and transition to 2021, we all have the same questions in mind – What does the future hold? Where will marketers and brands put their dollars? How much of the pie will be given to communications? Who wants to hire a PR executive with three years of experience?
While we don’t have a magic 8-ball, there are a few things we can definitely expect to see in the public relations industry in 2021.
Social and content will be at the centre of everything
We’re seeing this already. The reliance on social media and the incessant need to churn out content for today’s audience has never been more important than it is right now. The pandemic has just made it more relevant than ever before.
A report published mid this year by DataReportal revealed that more than half of the world’s total population now uses social media. The report also highlighted that the number of users worldwide have surged by more than 10 per cent over the past year, with an average of more than 1 million people starting to use social media for the first time every single day since this time last year.
Adding on to that, another report highlighted that many digital habits formed during lockdown across the globe have endured, despite the easing of restrictions. It also underscored that search behaviours are evolving, with important implications for brands. This is why digital content platforms have to pivot to stay relevant, such as Travel Wanderlust expanding their coverage to maintain the growth of the platform as travel continues to recover.
These findings underline how crucial it is for the PR industry to evolve or risk being left behind. We must recognize and react to the fact that traditional offerings like media relations and press offices now only a small component of PR. With that, there is a need to adapt to new ways of targeting and engaging with audiences of today.
A study done by Talkwalker, titled ‘State of PR Report 2020’ shared that though social media and content marketing functions continue to overlap, brands in the Asia Pacific understand the value of putting social media and content marketing at the centre of their communications strategies. In the recent years, there has been a shift towards digital practices such as more social media management (77%), content marketing (77%), influencer marketing (67%), and link building for SEO (56%) being part of PR offerings.
With this in mind, we look at the state of the PR industry in 2021.
Making your words matter
This might sound like an oversimplification, but in this day and age, humanizing brands will continue to be a driving force behind effective and strong consumer engagement. The old days of customers listening to marketing pitches or sales talk are long gone. Today’s audience is seeking human connection and this is the main reason why authenticity and sincerity are seen as a critical component in marketing techniques.
It is known that making content relatable and personal will help brands create a connection or engage their audience. If you can make an emotional connection with your audience, you will get them hooked and coming back from more. These group audiences can soon be turned into advocates, resulting in the right people sharing the content you create. This is seen often with the Thai creative industry and their amazingly emotional advertisements that garner millions of views.
The age of newsjacking
This might be the year that we finally get newsjacking right. If done correctly is considered as one of the most effective PR techniques – by correctly I mean, being humourous, respectful and avoiding getting labelled as ‘cringeworthy’ Surprisingly only 15% of PR practitioners globally capitalize on it, according to the Talkwater report.
However, it goes without saying that speed is at the heart of newsjacking. By reacting to breaking news very quickly by providing credible and reliable perspective or insights, brands may be rewarded with a great deal of engagement and media attention. Be it in a media note, social posting, press release, or tweet among others, knowing the right keyword and trending news or topic will be beneficial getting your brand name out there.
Going virtual today
This year, as we all have to adjust to ‘the new normal’, virtual communication played a huge role in connecting the world. Apart from making working from home and homeschooling possible, it became our lifeline as many coped with lockdowns and restricted movement orders. Though it proved to be challenging for some, many found ways to make it work.
For the PR sector, we knew the show must go on regardless. It is safe to say that we will see more and more marketers shifting gears and reallocating event budgets for virtual execution – the safest and most feasible option as there continues to be uncertainty. This also means brands are able to reach their audiences – meeting them where they are, completely platform and device agnostic. With virtual execution, PR practitioners will have more room to create customised events that are experiential and suited to each audience group.
Banking more on influencer marketing
Paid advertising still has its place in the grand scheme of things, but we are seeing more consumers looking at traditional ads with scepticism as they prefer conversation over promotion. One avenue that presents a potential good mix of the two is influencer marketing. It connects brands with their consumer base, organically earning credibility and trust.
Today, ‘Influencer Marketing’ is widely recognized as a PR offering with 72% of marcomms professionals based in Singapore and 88% of industry professionals in Malaysia stating as such according to the report
With the ability to measure the performance of their campaign, by using social likes, brand mentions, click-through rates, referral traffic, and revenue, influencer marketing will be the way forward for many brands – regardless of size. IT also serves as an opportunity to weigh in budgets, serving as a cost-effective way to connect with the target audience.
Maximising the use of SEO
While SEO may have been viewed as a ‘marketers thing’, now, it has turned into one of the fundamental benefits of proper public relations. This has seen strong growth over the last couple of years, but there are still stragglers in the PR industry that do not consider this to play a significant role in the work that we do.
One of the most valuable uses of SEO is that it provides a measurable success metric for your PR campaigns. Clients are starting to measure their web traffic performance in conjunction with PR campaigns and this is a good thing for the industry. It keeps us accountable and allows us to judge the value of our offering. One of the biggest signs that PR and SEO go hand-in-hand is seeing more digital agencies hire PR people to help on SEO-driven campaigns proving that the industries are very complementary.
Putting a spotlight on technology
Many top-tier industry players have identified data science, AI, SEO, IoT and augmented and VR as some of the most relevant future technology. APAC region firms saw technology, healthcare, and financial and professional services as the biggest growth drivers. The United Kingdom (56%), followed by the Asia Pacific (51%) leads the line and has been the number one growth sector overall, witnessing the highest growth from tech businesses.
PR has to keep up with the unstoppable digitalisation of everything – yes, everything. PR campaigns need to keep up – introduce data analytics and training so that PR practitioners actually understand what that all means.
2020 was a challenge for all of us and PR people had to innovate and evolve for probably the first time in many of their careers. This is most likely to continue in 2021 as we will see changes that began in 2020 continue on and start to formalise as part of the norm.
This is both a challenge and an opportunity for the industry because it is about time we shake up the industry and get things back on track.