Corporate and financial PR: Predictions for 2016

Looking ahead to 2016, corporate and financial PR chiefs predict more demanding clients, a shake-up in the corporate comms landscape, reputation management growing in importance in boardrooms... and even the death of the term 'PR'.

Gavin Devine, chief executive, MHP Communications

2015 was tough. Europe wobbled, economically and politically. Commodity prices plumbed new depths. China slowed, heading for a hard or a soft landing, who knows? Terror frightened all of us. UK politics was uncertain. Who would claim the main stories in 2016 won’t be exactly the same?

In short, the past 12 months were turbulent for investors and executives. And it doesn’t look like the prevailing winds from the global economy will be any more helpful in 2016.

Against this backdrop expectations of corporate comms are changing. It is lazy simply to moan about ‘procurement’, but it is true that clients now want more for their money. Thus in 2016 clients will demand even greater creativity in their corporate and financial comms. More and more of them will seek deeper integration across consumer, investor and stakeholder engagement. They will also be looking for greater innovation, particularly digital and social. But at the same time the ‘old-fashioned’ trusted adviser will be as much in demand as ever.

In response the corporate comms landscape is shifting too. Many of the big independents have now been acquired, and several firms have been pushed together, bringing differing disciplines in each case under one roof. This trend will continue in 2016, and will accelerate. Some big names will look very different in terms of their structures, ownership and management by 31 December.

Tony Langham, chief executive, Lansons

The very public problems faced by Volkswagen, Thomas Cook and Talk Talk last year had a big impact in boardrooms across the UK. Reputation management rose up the board agenda and this trend will continue in 2016. Many more organisations will review how they manage reputation, as in many cases the existing structures and silos don’t actually manage reputation effectively. And reputation can only be managed if it is measured – so we expect to see a radical improvement in board 'reputation dashboards'.

In the corporate space, the word 'PR' will become less and less relevant. It’s no longer PR, it’s reputation management – at least if you want to earn a decent living.

Across the 'PR' industry, the challenge is whether we can adapt as fast as the world around us is changing. A key challenge is to switch from a fixed cost base to a more flexible one – which means fewer full-time workers and more flexible contracts and freelancers.

The biggest industry event of 2015 was the Teneo acquisition of Blue Rubicon, which potentially offers clients an integrated approach to reputation and brand management across all audiences. Others will respond, so we can anticipate corporate consultancies acquiring brand expertise – and brand agencies beefing up their corporate firepower.

Damian Reece, managing partner, corporate affairs and capital markets, Instinctif

The distinction between tactical, execution-driven agencies and strategic, value-enhancing consultancies will increase. Clients will have to navigate across a vast range of reputational issues covering a daunting intellectual range and they will need advisers who can guide and lead rather than simply react.

Specifically, Brexit will probably be a surprisingly divisive issue for companies depending on when the vote is. Many businesses probably think it will pass them by unscathed reputationally but it could really blow up as a corporate issue given the importance of the economy to the debate. They need to think it through very carefully as the business media will be gearing up to make it one of the stories of the decade.

The evaluation of advice will be key, as will a meaningful measure of how advice contributes to the way a business creates value, particularly in comparison to other marketing services.

Finally, with a bit of luck, the term PR will die a death. Corporate reputation is a much more accurate moniker in a world where direct relations with fragmented audiences is becoming as important as media relations and the way people feel about business, post-crisis, is hugely different from a decade ago.

Bill Penn, chairman, Aspectus

2016 is going to be a big year for comms. The EU referendum will be the media bun fight of all bun frights and the US presidential election won’t be far behind, even if Donald Trump doesn’t get the Republican ticket.

But in our world of financial services, technology and energy, we anticipate even more focus on the commercial benefits of PR. We are confidently committing ourselves to ambitious and specific business outcomes for our clients. They don’t just want benign ROI from an investment in comms – they want business to come up through the floorboards.

So stand by for more demanding clients who want to make money from PR as well as build brands and reputations. Bring ‘em on, we say.

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