The traditional media world has been hit by a double whammy in the last 2 years – the collapse of the world’s economy has led to devastated advertising budgets, as media has been completely reinvented by the onslaught of “social” media sites. Brands such as The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, TMZ, and others have been built in 5 years or less, at a fraction of the cost that its taken The New York Times, ABC and Star Magazine years and years and hundreds of millions of dollars more.
Even bigger changes affecting those of us employed in the Public Relations industry stems from the fact that everyone today has a voice as social media, which opens up a wider pool of people to disseminate information and affect brand perception from their facebook, twitter and other entities. Unlike the days when the newspaper was dropped at our door, in a speed which puts FedEx to shame, today the 24 hour cable news, with multiple screens flashing at the bottom, blogs, blog comments, Twitter, Youtube, and a slew of wikis control the flow of information.
There has never been a more difficult time to work in the industry of shaping reputations, as attention is clearly the most valuable form of currency for marketers, and it’s more difficult than ever before to capture. 2011 will once again become a business of massive change for the public relations business:
1) Content Will Be King:
Realize that we create as much information in two days now as we did from the dawn of man through 2003, according to Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google. The key is to control the right key message (hopefully better than Lebron did this year), as the social web has had a democratizing effect, allowing Twitter and other media forms to serve as newswires circa 2011 for PR pros to disseminate information. Whether it be op-eds, viral videos or corporate blogs, self created content will be king as the public can be reached in non traditional manners that achieve the very goals of Public Relations – perception communication and perception shaping. In a world of understaffed media outlets, expect to see more of this in 2011.
2) Public Relations And Marketing Will Morph Together:
Whether it’s about product placement for consumer brands or budgets being spent to mine for consumer online data, the days of traditional Public Relations for the sake of column inches is largely behind us. From requiring an understanding of how to communicate with shareholders to recognizing that today’s economy requires a driving of business results to win market share, today’s PR pro will win via positioning their expert storytellers in the right place, and the right way. Traditional PR will very soon cease to exist, as the one-way flow of communication no longer exists. Brand equity will thrive and remain king.
3) Public Relations Will Own Social Media: SEO Focus To Gain:
As social media redefines influence (Ashton Kutcher vs. CNN, Lady Gaga challenging Senators), Public Relations will own the social media category. According to the Digital Readiness Report, PR leads digital communications at 51% of organizations and will continue to as traditional media companies increasingly cut back. Corporations will also increasingly recognize, focus and spend on the most valuable largest media company in the world – Google (As Wall Street has already determined). SEO (Search Engine Optimization), or “googling” someone affects ones’ brand perceptions, what brands one buys and sees first, and perceived notions of a brand. SEO as a PR principle will increase in 2011, as by nature of PR’s ability to create and control (their own and other) content, it’s the most effective tool to affect online search results.
4) PR Will Report to The C-Suite And Budgets Will Increase (Its Needed As Everyone’s Facebook And Twitter Can Influence Perception):
In today’s whirlwind rapid response world of commentators and instant feedback, can any brand afford not to have their perception accountable to the highest level executives? With the worldwide economy remaining in the doldrums as brands which existed hundreds of years are now out of business, PR professionals today will be expected to remain sharp, business focused and onpoint. Messaging will need to remain sharper than ever before as people are more distracted than ever before, and campaigns can only be effective if beneficial for the perception of the brand (and ultimately the sales of the brand.) Public Relations executives will increasingly be called on to read and understand balance sheets and ROI, understand consumer sentiments and analytics and be the pulse for the CEO (as it exists for PR pros in many ways today in politics worldwide).
5) Crisis In The World Of PR Will Become Common:
In a year in which we saw Tiger Woods’ miserably fail in the PR (and marriage) function, and Wikileaks affect the worldwide perception of governments (and the stock of Bank of America), this is a year in which crisis Public Relations has been front and center. Even the $3 Billion Dollar GAP learned the fast and furious nature of today’s media. Following consumer outcry, a Twitter account was set up in protest and collected 5,000 followers, and 14,000 parody’s of the Gap logo site appearing within a few days. The GAP quickly changed their logo back to the original. In 2011, Public Relations pros at companies of all sorts will be expected to take more responsibility for crisis, especially after the financial meltdown had a clear impact on every company of all sorts and sizes. There will also be more fake social media accounts, websites and someone will lose a blackberry to have someone else send fake messages. These hacking related events will happen in companies large and small requiring increased crisis PR management. As online commentators or the wrong tweet can affect a brand instantly, crisis will become part and parcel of day to day PR, and I wouldn’t be surprised to soon see 24/7 PR offices and PR operations.
Expect Public Relations in 2011 to be front and center in taking a prominent role in the perception and reputation shaping of companies – that which directly affects the top and bottom line. The changing media landscape will keep the philosophical riddle relevant for the Public Relations community: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
Ronn is the CEO of 5WPR and author of best selling PR book, For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations, and a regular contributor to Fox News, Huffington Post, Business Insider, Insights Wired, Everything-PR and more.