What's in store for 2013?

As another year begins, John Owens and Kate Magee do some crystal ball-gazing and speak to industry experts who predict the key issues facing the PR industry in 2013.

2013: Key issues facing the industry (Credit: Thinkstockphotos)
2013: Key issues facing the industry (Credit: Thinkstockphotos)

So what next? The industry has faced its fair share of challenges in recent years, but the fast-moving world of reputation management is moving on again.

The political, media and business environments have seldom been more unstable and communicators will again find themselves on the front line of new tech trends and innovations.

As content creation becomes ever more integral to agency models and access to multiple platforms becomes the norm, many PROs are expecting multimedia content - especially video - to be a key area of growth.

Meanwhile, sports comms will need to cope with the dimming glow of London 2012, while the b2b, travel and public affairs sectors are set to make strides in catching up on digital.

More generally, the boundaries between different marketing disciplines will continue to blur.

As all this happens, the PR industry will increasingly poach top talent from other industries, in digital and beyond.

With the economy continuing to stumble, the larger comms outfits are likely to look overseas for major growth, whether in Asia, South America or elsewhere.

Hill & Knowlton Strategies' UK CEO Richard Millar expects a strong focus on Russia - thanks to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics - and Turkey.

Finally, seeds of growth sown last year will start to bear fruit.

Though there is a long way to go, hopes are that the PRCA and Pearson in Practice's apprenticeship programme will start contributing to increasing diversity in the industry.

Alison Clarke, UK CEO of scheme participant Grayling, says: 'These guys are just settling in, but having new thoughts around the table should make a real impact.'

So onwards and upwards and welcome to 2013.

AN EMPTY 2013?

(Credit: LOCOG)

2012 was the year where the big events such as the Olympics dominated, offering brands the choice of finding a way to get involved or risk sitting it out on the sidelines.

But while the Olympics represented a culmination of years of comms strategising for some, and a quick hit of publicity for others, 2013 is looking comparatively barren.

So what to make of a year without a sporting hook that kept so many PR professionals busy?

According to some, the lack of an Olympic hook will prove liberating, with brands once again able to forge their own narrative.

However, such freedom will come with challenges.

A year without the natural optimism generated by the inspirational events of last summer will require more comms ingenuity, warns JCPR MD Ruth Warder.

'This year will be tough economically, without the Olympics to boost positive national sentiment. We will have to look for new things to celebrate, and brands won't be able to tap into that good will, or get the associated participation or news commentary that came with the Games,' she says.

That is not to say there will not be plenty going on. The Government will be keeping many busy, with NHS reforms in the spring offering a genuinely historic moment. And a certain newborn is likely to keep the royal thread running through 2013.

Also, events beyond 2013 are set to keep those in public affairs particularly busy.

The long-awaited results of the lobbying consultation are due this year. George Pascoe-Watson, partner at Portland, says the Scottish vote on independence in 2014 and 2015's general elections will also be on lobbyists' minds.

He adds that ahead of the general election: '2013 will be the year when Labour's front bench is invited to engage with the corporate world in a way it hasn't for the past two years.

'Those in public affairs will also begin to work around potential party manifestos and election policies, working out how firms should position themselves,' he says.

But for those companies and brands outside of the public sector and political sphere, 2013 will see them back in charge of their own campaign schedule.

In a nutshell

  • The absence of the Olympics will prove liberating for many brands, but there may also be drawbacks.
  • A drop in national mood will mean more ingenuity is required to generate positive sentiment.
  • NHS changes and comms work around upcoming major political events will keep PR professionals busy.

THE LEVESON FALLOUT

With the dust from the Leveson Inquiry yet to settle, it remains difficult to predict exactly how the comms industry will be affected.

Grayling UK CEO Alison Clarke argues one message will resonate loud and clear: 'Leveson will continue the gradual realisation by the comms industry of the need to be fair, open and honest, and to practise what we preach.'

Within the media brands, News International is likely to face continued scrutiny, with many eyes on how Boris Johnson's former external affairs man Guto Harri steers the comms ship in continuing rough waters.

And amid rumours of Sunday papers being binned and replaced with a seven-day set-up, PROs should not be surprised to see significant shifts in the structure of the traditional press.

W Communications founder Warren Johnson expects to see consolidation, and increased opportunities for partnership between hacks and flacks.

'With consolidation you will usually see a reduction in resources, and the chance for a more collaborative approach,' he says.

'However, where media titles consolidate in one area they are likely to expand in others, so a knowledge of the proliferation of digital channels and how they are changing the news cycle will continue to be key.'

Indeed, as more journalists head towards a career in PR, one hot tip for 2013 is the rise of 'in-house news operations', according to Martin Frizell, executive director, media at GolinHarris.

But while the decline of the print press may offer new opportunities, the trend may be reversed when it comes to the world of broadcast.

Frizell, former editor at GMTV, warns recent controversy around broadcasters kicked off by the Jimmy Savile scandal will make PR pitches tougher.

'Broadcast compliance teams are powerful and after what has happened they are likely to be even tougher when it comes to product placement. PR professionals trying to use celebrities to sell a campaign had also better make sure they are editorially relevant.'

In a nutshell

  • The traditional press will continue to be the subject of increasingly major changes structurally.
  • 'In-house news operations' will become more commonplace as the flow of journalists into PR continues.
  • Scandals around broadcast in 2012 will make getting names and brands on to the TV more challenging.

A WISER PUBLIC

Next year will see the crystallisation of a fundamental shift in how the public views companies and their comms, claims Freud Communications' corporate MD Arlo Brady.

'The industry is renowned for its perceived power, when in truth, over the past few years the public has been seeing straight through much of the spin and quite rightly taking back the initiative,' he says.

With the era of austerity now set to last even longer than predicted, communicators will be facing an increasingly polarised public mindset.

'The battle lines have been drawn and the public wants to know who is making our societal challenge easier, and who is making it more difficult,' Brady adds. This shift has manifested itself in the uproar over corporate tax avoidance that has embroiled Starbucks, Google and Amazon, among others.

Hill+Knowlton Strategies' UK CEO Richard Millar says the light of transparency - which first shone on MPs during the expenses scandal and then on journalists around the Leveson Inquiry - is increasingly focusing on business practice.

'The inevitable consequence is that we will see consumers mobilising around particular issues. Consumers' expectations are higher than ever, as is their willingness to reject brands they don't feel are authentic.'

And as consumers become more picky about what goes on behind the positive gloss of a comms campaign, so too will those with a more direct stake.

Those looking after corporate reputations will have to deal with increased scrutiny from stakeholders and investors who have woken up to the fact that profits are affected by perceptions.

Charlie Palmer, an MD at FTI Consulting, says he is already seeing this shift in the IPO market. 'Investors increasingly want to know and understand a business much better than before, which means that companies have to start developing their equity story well in advance of an actual IPO,' he says.

In a nutshell

  • Consumers will become increasingly confrontational about whether brands are on their side or not.
  • This mood will be manifested in growing demands around corporate transparency, with the of issue of tax payment remaining prominent.
  • Businesses will also face increased scrutiny from those with a more direct stake in their success.

BIG DATA, BIG CHANGE


'The move into "big data" and our ability to micro-target audiences will dramatically redefine PR in the next few years,' says Ketchum's UK CEO Avril Lee.

Consumers presented with an ever-rising number of channels are becoming pickier, and comms will seek to fine-tune its targeting in response.

As Julia Hutton-Potts, head of European comms, eBay observes: 'We'll see increasing personalisation, as audiences expect a more tailored experience. For example, the eBay home page will look different for individuals because they will curate what they want to see.'

But such insight is not easily won. Do not be surprised to see agencies investing more in research, whether it is drawing in specialists, setting up new divisions or using new tools.

JCPR's Warder sees such investment as vital to an industry that is increasingly competing against others outside the PR sphere.

Pointing to JCPR's parent agency Edelman, which has publicly moved to up its research game over the coming years, she says: 'The only way of becoming more targeted is through segmenting audiences, and to do that using and acquiring data smartly will be key. A flow of data will also help agencies be more adaptable in responding to an increasingly transient world where what someone cares about this week is not what they will care about next week.'

Finding out about audiences is only one part of the puzzle. As Lee argues, those that will succeed need to be able 'to dive deeply into the data and derive a really clear strategy tied to ideas that work'. She points to the example of Barack Obama's recent successful US election campaign, where insights were used to reach specific individuals.

And crucially, the industry needs to embrace measurement and evaluation if it is going to secure its much desired position at the top table.

In a nutshell

  • 'Big data' and the micro-targeting of audiences are set to redefine PR.
  • This will include increasingly personalised content and campaigning.
  • The need for more and better data will drive investment around research.

THE YEAR OF MOBILE

(Credit: Everything Everywhere)

There has already been much debate about the impact of evolving mobile technology on the comms landscape. But the arrival of the faster 4G network and wider broadband coverage means that 2013 may be the year brands discover that an effective mobile strategy is critical.

As Exposure's comms director Dave Bennett says, the removal of barriers to accessing the internet on mobile devices - tablets or mobile phones - will allow more people to consume content on their phones.

This requires brands and companies to ensure their websites are mobile-friendly.

Retailers are already investing heavily in the mobile arena to capitalise on the e-commerce opportunities created by the new group of shoppers who can buy things instantly.

'Advances in mobile and interactive TVs mean that moments of inspiration are instantly shoppable. We were expecting 30 per cent of all 2012 Christmas gifts to be bought on mobile devices,' says eBay's Hutton-Potts.

It also provides more opportunities to reach stakeholders and consumers. As Bell Pottinger's MD Kevin Read explains: 'What's really impacted comms is the notion that the stakeholders and consumers you are trying to reach are always on. They don't switch off their phones. They are almost addicted to the consumption of message and that provides more touchstones to reach people.'

But the messages still need to be interesting and increasingly need to work across platforms as consumers begin to care less about where they read or saw a piece of content. For this reason, W Communications' Johnson believes 2013 will be the 'death of digital'. He argues: 'With technology seeping into every aspect of our lives, the distinction between onand offline, certainly in the consumer's mind, is vanishing. We hope to see the disappearance of the word "digital" to describe a certain aspect of marketing.'

In a nutshell

  • The arrival of the 4G network will up the ante when it comes to having a mobile strategy.
  • The use of mobile increasingly means consumers and stakeholders are potentially available for engagement at any time of the day.
  • The distinction between online and offline is vanishing in the mind of the consumer.

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