Predictions for 2015: A year of pitfalls or possibilities?

What does 2015 have in store for the PR and comms industry? Will any party hold the balance of power following the general election and what impact will the Lobbying Act have on the voluntary sector's ability to communicate with the public? Has SEO come of age in the PR sphere and what opportunities are there within the greater convergence of channels? Is the industry on the brink of diversifying its ranks and will one firm fall victim to a major scandal? We asked some of the brightest brains in the business to give us their predictions for the year ahead. Happy New Year from everyone at PRWeek!

What implications will the Lobbying Act have?

Voluntary Sector and Philanthropy

Simon Francis is the director of Claremont Social Communications:

Ramifications of the Lobbying Act on charities and campaigners.
This may restrict their activity during the run up to the election and the impact will start to be felt in earnest. Commentators on all sides will be watching big charities' campaign activity closely, but as long as every charity has taken precautions, the advice is still to keep calm and keep campaigning.

The general election. With government spending on comms now gradually increasing it's unlikely we'll see cuts to marketing on a scale we saw after the 2010 election. But what will the new government's priorities be and are the existing rosters still going to be fit for purpose? As we've seen with Carat taking over HM Government's media buying, there could be more roster change whatever the make-up of the government.

What will be the 2015 #nomakeupselfie or #icebucketchallenge? More charities will be trying to create them - or piggy backing on fast evolving trends, and all charities want their ALS moment. However, only those charities prepared to harness and integrate social media properly into their organisations will be able to benefit in the way Cancer Research UK did this year.

Sabrina Lynch is a global PR Consultant:

Strong content with an engaging narrative that talks to the future and not to the tragic. Consumers are very au fait with the issues facing the beneficiaries of their donations, whatever shape or form that may be, however there is demand for foresight into the future landscape they are creating and how they are empowering the recipients in visuals and video that is easy to digest.

Evolving from crowd sourcing to crowd-hosting by increasing the methods of campaign participation. The 'Click, donate and forget' mentality will be left behind in favour of making consumers part of the team that brings a campaign to life, such as crow-sourced and crowd-produced events that are an extension of central, client-owned idea, similar to the concept of a franchise. 

Strategic partnerships with social media platforms that allows immediate peer-to-peer endorsement and participation. Everyone wants to be the  'ALS Ice Bucket Challenge ' of 2015 as it was great story-telling with a simple call-to-action that could be shared easily; in addition it worked wonders for SEO optimization.  



Who will hold the balance of power after May?

Politics/Public Affairs

Olly Kendall is the founder of Westminster Public Affairs:

The Alex Salmond show - part 2.
The former SNP leader will succeed in his bid to return to Westminster and with SNP support on the rise the nationalists could even prop up a minority government. 

Lobbying Register. Whether it's introduced pre-election, post-election (the timetable could easily slip) or is even scrapped by a future Labour government it promises to be a huge source of controversy in 2015. 

Cleggover. With the party languishing on single digits in the polls it will take something special for Nick Clegg to keep his job. I predict Tim Farron will be Lib Dem leader by the end of 2015. 

Jon Bennett is director of Linstock:

Local authority services will close while the economy is supposed to be on the up, so how will councils respond in 2015?

Greater financial consultation - moving towards participatory budgeting in which local people are asked to grapple with tough spending decisions. Engage people in the tough choices and the scale of the challenge will be better understood.  Handle the numbers behind closed doors and doubts remain.

With more participatory budgeting, expect to see more councils looking for income generation to offset cuts. No-one likes paying more for parking.  Paying for waste collection by weight is widely resented. But the case is more easily made when the alternatives are clearer. 

Councils making a case  for further devolution.  Being hamstrung from the centre on the number of waste collections they must provide and the extent to which council tax can be increased leaves councils with few levers to pull while they attempt to manipulate an enormous local services machine. 


SEO comes of age in PR?

Digital and Tech

Jim Hawker is the co-founder of Threepipe:

Paid Media work.
PR agencies will be running more paid for activity as part of their comms activity, whether that is simply boosting posts through social channels or seeding content. Agencies can no longer rely on organic seeding to deliver an impact. Many PR agencies are now using retargeting skills to target people that have consumed PR content to drive them to the top of the sales funnel.

SEO. SEO has changed massively in the last year or so and has well and truly entered the PR sphere. The SEO approach will become more sophisticated with agencies using keyword search terms to define their PR content strategy. The rise of content marketing will continue and so will the level of understanding of how to squeeze value from it rather than simply selling a video into the Daily Mail or Telegraph website!

Marketing channels. Brands will realise that marketing channels are not separate and that PR agencies are now competing with media buying and inbound marketing agencies. The scrap will continue, not just between PR agencies but with wider marketing agencies. This will lead to consolidation and rise of agencies with broader skills under the one roof to be able to respond to briefs that have wider scopes of work.

Giles Peddy is group managing director of LEWIS PR, UK:

In 2015 we’ll see PR consultancies continue to offer a more integrated PR, digital, content marketing and influencer relations offering as they look to get closer alignment to sales. Digitalisation and real-time communications will continue to influence how audiences access news and information, and engage with content. 

This, coupled with a greater focus on demand generation as well as brand awareness outcomes, means that PR agencies need to be more data smart and more agile with their measurement and reporting. 

Linking back to sales, we'll need to be delivering real-time insights to clients to influence decision-making and optimisation before, during and post-campaign, to help answer the big question of how PR/marketing comms is impacting the bottom line. 

Angie Moxham is ‘chief monkey’ at 3 Monkeys:

The role and value of earned media will continue to rise as part of the comms mix.  The lines will continue to blur in 2015.

The use of video content including in mobisodic form will grow as a great storytelling medium for brands.

The vlogger community will grow in influence and reach, both specialist and generalist.


Is this the moment for the visual medium?

Financial PR

Katy Galasinski is head of financial services at Aspectus PR:

Visual content will reign supreme in 2015. It’s well-documented that our brains process visual content 60,000 times faster than the written word, and while prose will always be prime in communications, pictures will prevail. With this in mind, it’s staggering that a mere 5 per cent of PR budgets were spent on visual content in 2013-14. 

There will be even greater growth in search-optimised communications in the new year. And not just for websites, but for all outbound communications. Personal finance firms are already experts at raising their profile via search, but it’s high time that the rest of the financial services industry did the same.

In times gone by, it was enough for financial services firms to simply hire a PR agency – and many didn’t. Now, they must embrace creativity, and take a radically different approach to communications to stay ahead of the competition. 

Andrew Hayes is the chief executive of Hudson Sandler:


Continuing shift
to smaller agencies by major clients as they increasingly look to partner with more agile players better able to join the dots in an increasingly fluid space.  Those like us based in London have a massive advantage given it’s an unrivalled magnet for talent operating in the ideal time zone for global business.

One and possibly two General Elections will create uncertainty which means potentially a double pause on PR budgets.  This is balanced by the huge fall in the oil price that is effectively a huge tax cut for consumers.  Confident clients with strong offers will want to step up activity to capture this demand rather than miss out by being too risk adverse. 

2014 saw the A-list YouTuber, Zoella (Zoe Sugg), catapulted into the limelight.  The media landscape, and the very nature of influence, has been evolving for quite some time, but Zoella’s growing visibility serves as an example to others of what is possible with social media technology. PR will need to pay close attention as others take inspiration from her.

Mark Knight is the director of Broadgate Mainland:

Companies
which have paid lip service to their social media content will realise they are being left behind. PR agencies will need to help their clients provide compelling content which encourages engagement. Social will need to be a core PR agency service if it is not already.

The time clients give agencies to prepare a pitch will continue to tighten. As a result agencies will need to become more selective in the companies they want to work for or they risk business meltdown.

Companies and organisations which have enjoyed operating away from the media spotlight will realise there is no hiding place ‎in this increasingly transparent digital world.

Are hearts and minds the key to 2015?

Consumer

Gerry Hopkinson is the co-founder of Unity:

Hearts
and minds will replace eyeballs as things that are worth winning.

Media spend will increasingly get behind effective PR campaigns

Real people with integrity and social capital will be increasingly courted by brands

Andrew Bloch is the founder of Frank PR:

The PR industry will start to develop content brands – not branded content. Brands will need to be able to develop consistent, credible content on an ongoing basis. Delivering engaging content will become an imperative, not a 'nice to have'.

The PR industry will be required to step up when it comes to planning, measuring, monitoring and demonstrating ROI, if it is to compete effectively with other marketing disciplines.

The PR industry will become more willing to embrace the need for greater diversity in order to strive to make the people in the communications industry more representative of the people it is actually communicating with. 
There will be a more concerted effort to both attract and retain diverse candidates across the board and embrace the natural diversity we have in the UK.


A scandal for one PR firm in 2015?

Legal

Robert Phillips is the founding partner of Jericho Chambers:

The industry
will stop obsessing about whether or not it belongs in the boardroom and instead begin to address questions of its own core purpose.

An increasing number of corporates will shift budgets to data-driven services

At least one major PR firm will fall victim to a sting or a major scandal, based on its honesty and/ or transparency.


Will healthcare go 'boom'?

General Outlook
 
Mark Borkowski is the founder of Borkowski.do:

2015 will further confirm that no channel of communication is controllable and no public reaction is certain. These operating conditions are varied in their implications, but they all have one thing in common: they breed uncertainty. 
Forget idea porn; brands will thrive if they can concentrate on leadership authenticity whilst developing the stuff that can be shared. 
A word of warning beware political turmoil and the spectre of terrorism which might fundamentally disrupt our lives.

Paul Middleton is the corporate PR Manager at Ketchum:

I like big bets and I cannot lie. The old PR agency model is broken. Big agencies full of generalists with earned media expertise are struggling. The new model will be based on three things, each easy to say and hard to do: Having an army of high calibre client industry experts, having fully integrated paid, earned, shared and owned media expertise, and normalising cutting edge digital and social media into all existing account relationships.

The race to achieve these goals means agency CEOs are having to place some pretty big bets on where to invest and where to withdraw.

New winners will emerge and some gambles won’t pay off.

Last night a DJ saved my pitch. Until quite recently, if you wanted to succeed in a PR agency or in-house team you needed to be able to do it all: From developing strategy, to generating creative ideas, to producing content, to pitching stories and measuring your success.

Now, as the communications business grows increasingly complex you need the skills of a DJ.

Today’s PR client directors need an encyclopaedic knowledge of communications, a deep specialism in their respective genre, the ability to seamlessly mix in different content and specialists, plus the artistry to conjure up hands in the air moments in time.

Health goes boom. Healthcare providers are preaching prevention, pubs are closing, environmentalism and endless food porn are making us reconsider what we eat, wearable tech lets us monitor our condition and performance, participation in sports like cycling teaches nutrition, the government is talking about a fat tax, urban fashion is sports inspired, high culture is obsessed with physicality, sport is less gender specific, male beauty is huge and all forms of communication have become more visual.

The perfect conditions are now in place for a major cultural shift in how we think about our bodies and how society regards health.

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