Part 2: The PR trends set to influence 2018

In my previous blog post, I looked at a couple of the key trends which defined communications in 2017. Today, I want to share my predictions of the key trends that will likely have the most impact in these industries in 2018.

Less content, more impact

As noted in the previous post, 2017 will forever be synonymous with the concept of fake news. It was also a year of never-ending cycles of political crises. A palpable sense of exhaustion has set in and I have heard more than a few people resolve to delete their social media feeds in 2018 in an effort to drown out some of the noise. What does this mean for those of us in the PR industry? I believe audiences have reached a tipping point in terms of consuming content. Many view the effort to keep up with the vast array of content sources as just too time-consuming, unproductive and, in many cases, plain exasperating. In 2018, audiences will become more discerning than ever in terms of how they consume content and the platforms they choose to do so. In addition, the tone of that content will be increasingly important. After a year that can only be described as toxic in terms of news, I believe content that resonates emotionally in a positive way and demonstrates integrity and authenticity will connect more deeply with audiences. Watch for major brands to pivot towards a more nuanced and sensitive kind of storytelling on targeted platforms, seeking to remind audiences of a less divisive time.

Accountability

2017 shed a spotlight on the issues of sexism and sexual harassment in just about every industry. While for some the allegations came as no surprise, many were blindsided by the sheer scope of the problem. In recent years, how brands serve their communities, treat their employees and react to political events have become increasingly important factors in how those brands – and their messages – are perceived. This trend is likely to escalate in 2018. Look for some brands to try to tap into the wave of discontent and present themselves as progressive on these issues. I would recommend they do so with caution. The surge in investigative reporting of the past year has created a savvier, more cynical audience who isn’t going to be easily appeased by targeted marketing. Brands would do well to prioritize their internal efforts on issues related to sexism – ensuring, for example, that more women and people of diverse backgrounds assume leadership positions and cultivating an employee-friendly work environment – before they push an external message that could be perceived as exploiting a cultural moment. Whether brands will heed that advice remains to be seen.

The growing importance of PR to the business

While brands in crisis are nothing new, 2017 seemed to be a banner year for brands getting it wrong. Whether it was Pepsi, United Airlines or Uber, their catastrophic PR failures struck a chord and the companies paid a price. That tells those of us who work in the PR industry that it is increasingly hard to control a narrative once it enters the public – and particularly the social media – domain. External influences such as our current political climate and the escalation in cyberattacks have only added to a growing list of factors that can impact a company and its brand, while remaining outside their control.

From my perspective, this points to the need for brands to ensure that they not only have the right PR resources in place with the right skillset, but also that PR is invited to play an integral role in the company at the highest level. When the PR team has a voice at the leadership level, a company is much more likely to be as prepared as they can be to respond to a crisis. I predict that many brands in 2018 will be reassessing the role of PR in light of the many recent high-profile disasters we’ve observed over the past year, placing a premium on hiring an experienced team with a deep understanding of the business and integrating them into the company in a way that ensures they can be effective over the long term.

After the rollercoaster that was 2017, I am sure we are all hoping for calmer waters in 2018. However, our role in PR is to prepare for the worst and aim for the best. Given all that occurred over the past year, I believe we will see a positive shift towards more accountability, more authenticity and – perhaps most importantly from an industry perspective – a growing understanding of the important role PR can play in helping brands navigate this tumultuous landscape