The end of the year is always time for reflection on the past, and anticipation of the future, both personally and professionally. From our vantage point here at PR Newswire, where we talk to hundreds of PR pros daily, we have a unique view into the trends and challenges across the public relations spectrum. For the coming year, here are the following trends – and requisite skills needed to capitalize upon those trends – we believe will be prominent in PR.
Non-traditional PR outcomes: Over this last year, we saw a real uptick in the variety of goals our customers set for the campaigns PR Newswire helped execute. Across the board, we’re observing an increase in campaigns that are focused on generating specific business-related outcomes, such as leads generated, landing page traffic and search engine rankings. In addition, we’re also starting to see with increasing regularity outcomes focused on building conversation and awareness in social channels and on blogs – new centers of influence – and in terms of content marketing strategies. The public relations department does, after all, produce a lot of content. Making that output work harder for the brand is good for business – and for PR. Tying PR activities to business outcomes bolsters the PR team’s stature, and makes winning budget easier.
Social media: We thought twice before including social media in this list, but several facts demanded its inclusion: 1) Social media has incontrovertibly changed the way many consumers make decisions, and the way organizations do business, but, despite that, 2) Many PR departments have yet to embrace social channels as means to communicate with audiences, influence public opinion and develop connections to journalists, bloggers and other influencers.
Developing meaningful metrics, and measuring continually: Measurement has long been the bane of PR. I say “bane” because we all know how difficult translating some of the results PR traditionally produces into the sort of metrics that make CFOs purr happily. The key word, in my mind, is “metrics.” For those who ran screaming from math at the earliest opportunity (and believe me, I was leading that pack), it’s time to revisit numbers.
The truth is, it’s not so bad anymore, especially if your organization is also embracing the first trend – non-traditional PR outcomes. Most communications campaigns – PR, content marketing, social media and the rest – have significant digital components. And digital means measurable.
In my own experience, the key is first understanding the business outcomes you need to produce. Then you need to pick that outcome apart into its underlying components. This exercise can turn something as ephemeral as “building awareness” into a concrete path with real benchmarks (e.g. increase in social discussions, improvement of search rank, downloads of a white paper, proliferation of a hash tag, etc.) set along the way. Developing some discipline around measuring the metrics that describe the benchmarks (and plotting that data over time) can lend powerful insight and intel you can use to improve future campaigns, and enable execs to understand at a glance the results PR has generated.
Content curation & development: More than ever, content is the cornerstone of communications. Good social presences and successful communications strategies require us to deliver useful content to our audiences. Done well, a smart content strategy will buy your brand a seat at the audience table. Done poorly (with self-serving, boring marketing-ese) or not at all, the content program will struggle, and the brand risks irrelevance – or worse, invisibility.
So there you have it. Business outcomes, social media, measurement and content strategies top our list of PR trends for 2012. Do you agree? What would you add to (or strike from) our list?