The industry speaks: what will 2014 mean for PR?

As the economy emerges from a five-year financial storm, PRWeek asks a selection of industry experts exactly what we can expect from 2014.

Looking ahead: What will 2014 mean for PR?
Looking ahead: What will 2014 mean for PR?

Retail

Chris Wermann, director of corporate affairs, Home Retail Group

2014 will be an important time for retail communicators. We are the bellwethers for the economy, and as a result attract a disproportionate amount of space in the national business sections.

Our trading over Christmas will be important reading for the Chancellor, and will set the basis for party manifestos for the 2015 general election.

Retail corporate affairs directors will be looking at how the pounds in people's pockets, further politics around revitalising high streets and the impending votes on Europe and Scotland could have a relevance for their businesses and therefore where to invest PR or public affairs muscle.

To differentiate themselves from their competitors, retail comms plans will need to demonstrate how a seamless service between clicks and mortar (digital channels/stores) will be important for consumers.

They will also need to focus heavily on competitive and exclusive ranges, leveraging a range of old and new media as UK consumers continue to evolve their research and buying habits both on- and offline, to be best placed for when consumers have more pounds in their pockets.

Health

Rupert Gowrley, joint head, MHP Health

Dominated by the themes of past service failures and poor care – typified by Mid Staffs, Morecambe Bay and Colchester – the 2013 health narrative felt largely introspective and negative. 

Many in and around the NHS want health comms in 2014 to be about resetting the narrative, about reasserting the core values of the service and demonstrating good quality care and compassion. 

This positive narrative faces many challenges, however: likely winter pressures and perceived ‘failures’ reinforcing negative perceptions; a yawning funding gap over coming years; and an increasingly febrile political environment ahead of the 2015 election, with the coalition government’s healthcare reforms coming up for their first anniversary. 

Positive stories of innovation, collaboration and solutions in healthcare will struggle for airtime against this backdrop.

Sport

Anthony Scammell, senior associate director, sports marketing and sponsorship, Hill+Knowlton Strategies

London’s Olympic legacy promised to "inspire a generation" and there will be no let-up in the number of rights holders and companies seizing every opportunity to prove they’re walking the talk. Demonstrating good corporate citizenship builds engagement, trust and ultimately sales.

As well as being encouraged to pull on their tracksuits, sports fans are showing an increasing appetite to become more involved in the live sport they follow. Pictures from day three of the fifth Ashes Test in Sydney will show it is not only the players wearing pink to raise awareness for breast cancer and the McGrath Foundation.

In 2014, the rights holders and brands that win will employ smart use of data and second and third screens to involve more fans more personally, whether tracksuited or watching from beyond the white line.

With football recently joining cricket and snooker in bung-related scandals, there is no doubt that high profile associations and events bring both reputational opportunity and unprecedented risk.

It is therefore a compelling argument that one of the most valuable skills required in modern day sports marketing is issues and crisis management.

Politics

Sean Worth, Quiller Consultants

This year will be the biggest yet of this Parliament politically, due to the major events that will define the prospects of the party leaders - from the European elections to the last party conferences of the term.

Alongside this, the coalition partners' relationship will fray further as each strives to outdo the other to gain credit from a growing economy, while Ed Miliband works harder then ever for recognition on fiscal competence.

Some say politics will be difficult to predict as a result, but this is wrong: the electoral picture is already becoming clear.

What is really changing is the way policy is made. More openness, public involvement and political collaboration over longer-term challenges are just a few of the themes that will change policymaking profoundly.

A big driver is transparency and attempts to shine a light on lobbyists who seek to influence policy will increase. Agencies that embrace this positively will get ahead of the game.

So, 2014 will be big for political agencies, not least because a general election looms. But changes to policymaking will pressure them to work harder to offer genuinely insightful advice, which is of course great news for clients.

Public sector

David Holdstock, director of comms, Local Government Association

2014 marks the halfway point for cuts to council budgets and as we move into a new year there will be different challenges for council communicators. 

So far, trust in councils and satisfaction with council services remains high. But we’re only halfway through the cuts, with the most difficult decisions still to be made and by definition the most difficult to communicate. 

So, council communicators will need to put themselves at the heart of the decision-making process and work closely with their leaders and chief executives over the coming months.
 
The way that local public services are delivered and consumed will almost certainly have to change if valued services are to be retained. 

This provides communicators with the opportunity to lead major behaviour change programmes and really prove that they are more than just a support service or administrative function. 

It means helping to shape and change the way services are consumed, not just being carriers of the message.
 
As digital communications increasingly become the channel of choice for more and more people and services are accessed through a self-service approach, council communicators will need to be nimble enough to respond to the changing habits of their residents.

Digital 

Anthony Simon, head of digital communication, Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet Office

We need digital and social media to be at the heart of everything we do. This means moving away from simply digitising analogue practices – with social media used as just another broadcast channel.

Practically speaking this can mean presenting information in innovative and compelling ways – in graphical or video formats, supported by social media engagement to converse with our audiences.

2014 will be the year that far more communicators master this approach – and properly move on from the press release as default position.

It’s not just knowing how to send a tweet or publish a web page – but about engaging, listening and responding via the wonderfully rich possibilities presented by digital. We will give communicators the support they need to do this – giving the right access to technology (access to social media is still too limited in government), providing decent training and development to staff and changing attitudes to risk.  

I can see a growth in the ongoing trend towards free and low-cost tools. We may no longer have big budgets, but we still need to create content that gets noticed. 

Interesting infographic tools, as well as short audio and video productions using things like Audioboo and Vine, will need to be the things that help our content to stand out from the crowd.

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