What’s happening in PR that you need to know about today? PR is a dynamic and powerful tool that can be leveraged for almost any audience, whether they be buyers, investors, or consumers; every one of them is influenced by the media. It’s important to know PR trends’ emerging techniques and tactics, but it’s also important to know whether those trends apply to you. Our clients are ambitious, incredibly so. Businesses that are in hyper-growth are often growing so fast they can’t hire fast enough, and that may be a reason why they’re hiring an agency. So, while understanding trends is important, it’s more important to understand where and how PR trends apply to them.
Expect lots of new content launches attempting to fill the vacuum left by media layoffs and newsroom cuts; there are already many new and different ways to use content today. There are native and sponsored content options in some extremely prestigious outlets, and Substack has taken on a new life. Influencers are using the platform with affiliate links and journalists are using it to source ideas, data, and contacts, and companies are using it to reach the early adopter crowd. Is Substack the new Medium? Possibly. Medium, while not the darling it was a decade ago, still (as of this writing) has a place in the content ecosystem, especially for Silicon Valley – the Substack reader is a little harder to nail down right now and swings dramatically depending on the author.
Stay open to new ideas and places, but think through the ROI of investing in a content strategy on a new outlet too early. There are reasons to be an early adopter and disadvantages as well; be conscious of the pros/cons and include mitigations in your plan for the cons.
This is one PR trend you can’t ignore. Newsrooms at even the largest titles are dangerously understaffed due to massive media layoffs. Setting aside the existential nature of this fact, this presents an opportunity for prepared, well-informed companies to support journalists with information and data the journalist might not have access to or hasn’t been approved to purchase from an expensive research firm. This is especially critical if you’re advocating for a point of view, an idea, or a trend. Data creates validity and context to your claims. It’s simply not enough to make a statement and assume people will believe you. Your press releases, media pitches, and social media need relevant data to back up your claims; anything without third-party validation is just an ephemeral idea.
Spend time considering what data you need to support your claims and ideas, and then put that data into an easy-to-understand context. And find conflicting data or other data to support yours so you can open the door to a deeper conversation about why the data matches or doesn’t. Data points don’t have to be statistics; they can be before/after photos or videos and be reviews and case studies. Think about all the ways your ideal buyer would like to see data articulated.
But press releases aren’t the only place where data is essential. Your PR strategy needs to be data-informed, too. You’re already behind if you’re not using all the technological tools at your disposal, including AI, for key messaging and media opportunities. Revaluate the data every six months to ensure your strategy keeps pace with the data and shifts as needed.
A data-driven approach has other advantages as well:
- Competitive Intelligence: Data-driven PR extends beyond internal metrics. It includes monitoring competitors, industry trends, and market sentiment. This competitive intelligence enables us to position our clients strategically, capitalize on market gaps, and stay ahead of evolving industry landscapes.
- Budget Optimization: PR budgets are valuable resources, and data helps us allocate them efficiently. We can optimize budget allocation for maximum impact by identifying high-performing channels and tactics. This ensures that every dollar spent contributes to overall campaign success.
This isn’t as much a PR trend as it is an expectation. What do you stand for? What do you stand behind? What are you willing to stake your reputation on? Today’s media is suspicious of big claims. From sustainability to authority, if you’re staking your ground on a big claim, it’s best to ensure your business practices can defend these claims. It’s increasingly OK to say “we’re trying,” that’s the point of many annual ESG reports – to document the process. Audacious claims take time, and the world will give you space to accomplish those huge goals if you are simply transparent about the process.
This PR trend, to some degree, replaces “purpose-driven PR” as a trend. Why? Because it’s still expected that businesses will be good actors, but simply being a purpose-driven company isn’t enough anymore. Companies are expected to have built-in from the inside out and to implement this purpose beyond the PR advantages.
Your press releases and website are key areas where you need to create trust most because they are the two most prominent ways people new to your brand will find you. Every item that comes up in the first five results during a brand search is critical to your reputation; it should feel consistent and reinforce your brand authenticity.
Employee moral benefits from brand authenticity as well. Your corporate communications should reinforce your brand authenticity as well. 2023 was the year of “return to work demands from CEOs.” Businesses have lots of reasons to demand employees return to the office, and employees have lots of reasons to hate it. This automatically makes this communication divisive. While there were hundreds of thousands of “return to office” initiatives, only a visible few made news. Why? They typically made news because the tone was antithetical to the brand or there was a threat attached to the change in policy.
If your brand is divisive and threatening and the culture is anti-employee, then this is on brand, and you may proceed accordingly. If that’s NOT your brand, then communications like this need to be handled consistent with your company’s values, authentically. It’s not that a company can’t change policies – they do it all the time, but when those policies don’t match the brand promise, internally or externally, expect backlash.
Laser Focus vs. Bucket Outreach
Today’s PR firms have access to thousands and thousands of journalists at their fingertips. We all pretty much have the same access – it’s not whether you know the journalist; it’s WHAT you send them that differentiates the pitch and determines its success. Not that they were ever appreciated, but gone are the days where you could blanket the press with a pitch and expect any premium outcomes. That’s why we advise our clients to look at press releases differently than in the past.
Today’s media relations experts know that every single outreach is a reflection on themselves, their agency, and the brand, and they take the time to treat journalists like humans rather than a transaction. Does media coverage get broken down into stats like reach, views, and authority? Yes. But the “relations” part of media is what makes it happen. A journalist never looked kindly upon a brand (or agency) that spammed them with irrelevant updates. Never has it been more off-trend to send mass emails to journalists. If your PR firm does this, they’re damaging your reputation along with theirs. But it’s not just the negative consequences of an impersonal pitch; the advantages of a personalized one are really valuable.
- Stand out from the crowd: A personalized pitch stands out amidst the sea of generic emails. It shows effort, thoughtfulness, and a genuine desire to collaborate. This distinctiveness increases the likelihood of the pitch being noticed and considered for coverage.
- Respect is always good PR. Journalists have tight schedules and limited time for sifting through pitches. A personalized pitch respects their time by presenting information concisely and directly relevant to their needs. This efficiency is appreciated and increases the chances of your pitch being read and acted upon.
- Human Connection: In the world of media, establishing a human connection is paramount. Personalized pitches enable a genuine connection between the pitch sender and the journalist. It transforms a pitch from a mere business transaction to a conversation between individuals, fostering trust and engagement.
- Relevance and Customization: Personalized pitches allow for tailoring content to align with the journalist’s interests, beat, and previous work. This customization ensures that the pitch is not only relevant to the journalist but also demonstrates a clear understanding of their preferences and areas of expertise.
AI is a Fairweather Friend
Unpopular PR trend opinion. Guess what? ChatGPT and any generative AI are excellent tools for many things; your brand content and press releases are not among them. Sure, you can use ChatGPT to give you ideas, but anything that ChatGPT gives you has already been written because ChatGPT is just a giant internet scraper. So if you’re looking to differentiate, create a memorable connection or a news-breaking idea – use ChatGPT as an idea starter, not a complete solution. While we’re at it – remember that not all information on ChatGPT is accurate anymore, and it doesn’t do a good job of contextualizing the source or timing of information. So ChatGPT for content is a valuable tool, but you must understand its limitations.
AI is a fairweather friend not only for content but also for research. Unless you’re paying handsomely for AI research, it’s probably outdated and possibly inaccurate. Free AI simply isn’t good enough yet to be used in business planning or PR research.
- Lack of Human Touch: PR is inherently about relationships, and a crucial element of successful relationship-building is the human touch. AI, by its nature, lacks the emotional intelligence and nuanced understanding that human interactions require. The personal connection, empathy, and intuition essential in PR can’t be replicated by algorithms.
- Understanding Complex Narratives: PR often involves conveying complex narratives, brand stories, and nuanced messages. AI may struggle to fully comprehend the intricacies of these narratives and might simplify or misinterpret key elements. Executive-level PR professionals can navigate the subtleties and adapt messaging to resonate effectively with diverse audiences.
- Adaptability to Dynamic Situations: PR is dynamic, and strategies often need to be adapted on the fly based on real-time events and changing circumstances. PR professionals excel in their ability to think on their feet, pivot strategies swiftly, and make decisions considering the broader context—an agility AI currently lacks.
- Creativity and Innovation: Crafting compelling stories and innovative campaigns requires a level of creativity that AI hasn’t fully mastered. The ability to think outside the box, generate fresh ideas, and adapt creative strategies to suit specific clients or situations is a uniquely human strength.
- Ethical Considerations: PR involves ethical decision-making, and judgment calls that go beyond data analysis. PR professionals are equipped to navigate ethical challenges, make value-based decisions, and uphold the integrity-and authenticity- of their clients. AI lacks the ethical compass that humans possess.
- Unpredictable Stakeholder Interactions: Stakeholder interactions in PR are highly unpredictable and can vary widely. Human PR professionals excel in building relationships with diverse stakeholders, adapting communication styles to different personalities, and navigating the complexities of human interactions, which can’t be replaced by AI.
- Contextual Understanding: AI may struggle with understanding the contextual nuances that are crucial in PR. Humans excel in interpreting cultural, social, and industry-specific contexts, tailoring communication accordingly. This contextual understanding is vital for effective PR campaigns.
Crisis Planning is Essential
Never has it been more important for companies to clearly define what a crisis IS (and isn’t), and what will happen in the essential minutes if there is a crisis. In a world where millions of messages can spread around the world in an instant, crisis communication planning is required for any company looking to grow. It isn’t just enterprise companies that have crisis communication risks. When Silicon Valley Bank crashed, thousands of startups were caught in the crosshairs of a heavily covered media crisis, and very few of them had any plans or resources to react. What about crisis planning for an influencer meltdown, or a product recall? What will you do if a competitor goes on national TV and slams your brand or if a TV personality publicly slams your brand?
Crisis communication planning isn’t just a precaution—it’s a strategic imperative. Here’s why we emphasize the vital role of crisis communication planning:
- Proactive Reputation Management: Crisis communication planning is a proactive approach to safeguarding your brand’s reputation. By anticipating potential crises, developing response strategies, and establishing communication protocols, you are better positioned to manage and mitigate the impact on your brand’s image.
- Timely and Coordinated Response: Time is of the essence during a crisis. Having a well-thought-out communication plan ensures a swift and coordinated response. This agility is crucial for addressing issues promptly, minimizing misinformation, and maintaining control of the narrative.
- Building Stakeholder Trust: Trust is the bedrock of any brand. In times of crisis, stakeholders—including customers, employees, and partners—seek transparency and authenticity. A carefully crafted crisis communication plan helps you communicate openly, demonstrating accountability and a commitment to resolving issues.
- Navigating Media Scrutiny: Media scrutiny can intensify during a crisis, and having a predefined communication strategy enables you to engage with the media effectively. Whether providing accurate information, managing media inquiries, or disseminating updates, a well-planned approach helps you navigate media challenges confidently.
- Protecting Employee Morale: Employees are a crucial asset, and their morale can be deeply affected during a crisis. A clear communication plan ensures that employees are kept informed, reducing uncertainty and anxiety. This, in turn, contributes to maintaining a cohesive and resilient workforce.
- Legal and Regulatory Compliance: Crises often bring legal and regulatory implications. A comprehensive crisis communication plan considers these factors, ensuring that your communication aligns with legal requirements and regulatory standards. This safeguards your organization from legal ramifications.
- Learning from Past Incidents: Effective crisis communication planning involves analyzing and learning from past incidents. This iterative process allows organizations to refine their strategies, update protocols, and continuously improve their ability to handle crises.
- Preserving Customer Relationships: Customers are quick to react during a crisis, and their loyalty can be tested. A well-executed crisis communication plan helps you reassure customers, address their concerns transparently, and maintain a positive relationship even in challenging times.
- Preserving Market Value: A poorly managed crisis can have lasting effects on market value. Crisis communication planning is an investment in preserving and, in some cases, even enhancing the market value of your brand by demonstrating resilience and a commitment to responsible management.
Buyers are Craving Certainty
All B2B and B2C buyers crave certainty, stability, and trust. It’s been a wild and wooly five years, and this being an election year, there is a lot of uncertainty in the air. While inflation is starting to improve, buyers are still getting used to the “new prices” on items that have essentially stayed mostly flat for a decade or more. In exchange for their hard-earned dollars, buyers want to feel their purchase has been valued and that it’s with a company or product they can trust. Your company needs to be firing on all cylinders to secure new revenues, and buyers simply won’t tolerate actions that create instability or a disconnect between themselves and the brand. This is another reason thought leadership still plays a crucial role in today’s PR.
This goes for actions big and small. This is why crisis planning is essential, but it’s not just a highly visible PR crisis that brands must stay alert to. If your CEO reschedules meetings regularly, that’s a red flag for potential business partners and media; it makes any and all PR more difficult to get lifted.