Public relations (PR) — the practice of strategically communicating information to the public in order to influence their perception — is as old as society itself. The contemporary concept of PR took shape in the early 20th century and continues to adapt to societal as well as technological developments. There’s no crystal ball to help us predict where PR is headed, but a look at current trends provides some clues.
A Proliferation of Platforms
One thing PR professionals of yore couldn’t have predicted? It is now more crucial for a company to have a social media presence than a physical headquarters. The rise of corporate social media means PR professionals have to be versatile — for example, an Instagram post is tonally different from a LinkedIn post — while keeping pace with a social media landscape that continues to grow in influence and diversity. The proliferation of platforms places increased pressure on PR professionals to raise brand awareness in a sea of competition.
Currently, many PR professionals who work with consumer brands are prioritizing TikTok, which experienced a 27% growth rate in the first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic and has been a key force in shaking up PR practices in industries ranging from hospitality to music. TikTok videos carry weight with consumers, with 65% of TikTok users saying they like brands better when they start or partake in a TikTok trend. Clients may not always strive to be “TikTok famous” but the platform’s newfound power illustrates how quickly PR professionals must shift strategy for success on fresh mediums.
Shifting Relationships with Journalists
The symbiotic relationship between PR and journalism has also changed in response to technological and societal trends accelerated by the pandemic. According to Cision’s 2022 Global State of the Media report, 18% of journalists say their relationships with PR professionals have grown more valuable in the last year.
PR professionals can boost this value by acknowledging the challenges journalists face and pivoting pitch strategy accordingly. The Cision report found that 16% of journalists struggle with lack of staffing and resources, which means that 43% of journalists cover at least five beats. Perhaps because today’s journalists cover an array of topics, they find their areas of expertise misunderstood. The vast majority of journalists (91%) consider only approximately half of the pitches they receive relevant to their audience or sector. PR professionals can grab the attention of overwhelmed journalists by crafting concise pitches on targeted topics.
A Growing Emphasis on Corporate Social Responsibility
Recent years have seen the rise of stakeholder capitalism, which rewards companies that embrace corporate social responsibility (CSR) with higher levels of employee retention, a positive public perception and more investor confidence, among other benefits. The current emphasis on CSR is good for society, the environment and business, so long as publicized initiatives match internal values.
As the spotlight continues to shine on CSR, PR professionals are responsible for ensuring that the full view is both accurate and flattering. This became very apparent when 25 brands found themselves at the center of a PR crisis in June 2022. Despite acknowledging Pride Month through parade sponsorship and adoption of rainbow flag-inspired corporate social media avatars, it was discovered that these companies have donated a collective $13 million to politicians pushing anti-LGBTQ legislation since 2021. PR firms’ responsibilities have grown. They are no longer charged with making clients appear to value CSR, they are charged with digging deep to make sure they do.
PR professionals can prepare for the road ahead by keeping an eye on emerging social media platforms, helping clients leverage them wherever appropriate and becoming fluent in platform functionality. They can also take an empathetic approach to relationships with journalists, crafting pitches that take their workload and audience into account. Finally, PR professionals can vet and advise clients to ensure that the image they’re projecting to the world is a true reflection of their values. The future of PR is bright, so while we may not have a crystal ball, professionals who take these steps can rest assured that things are looking up.
By Alannah Dragonnetti
Photo by Mike B on Pexels