For many years the PR profession changed very little. It was about third-party endorsement in print publications or broadcast programmes, and there was a standard way of going about it: campaigns were planned, media lists were devised, journalists were engaged through press releases or events, and spokespeople were trained to say the right things.
But since late 2007 the PR industry has been transformed, firstly by the arrival of social media and secondly by the most severe recession in living memory.
As Sandy Purewal, CEO of Octopus Group, puts it: 'There is so much happening that it feels like the Wild West at the moment. It's a confusing time for many who work in the PR industry. We thought it was a good time to take stock and try to assess what changes are happening. Above all, we wanted to help PR and comms managers make sense of this fast-changing landscape.'
So PRWeek teamed up with Octopus Communications to ask you, our readers, to tell us about your most innovative, forward-thinking campaigns. Once the entries were in we brought together a judging panel to identify the five key trends shaping the PR profession, and pick the campaign they feel best taps into each trend. The result is the Future 5: audience participation, use of technology, brand partnership, research/planning, and the big creative idea.
Purewal concludes: 'This is a snapshot of the future of our industry. There are some innovative campaigns that are generating impressive results. It's interesting, however, that not one of the campaigns exhibits all five characteristics. I believe that in the future the most successful campaigns will be those that meet all five criteria. Achieving this is a huge challenge, but it's also an unprecedented opportunity.'
Danny Rogers, Editor, PRWeek
Claire Murphy, Consultant editor, PRWeek
Sandy Purewal, CEO, Octopus Group
Jon Lonsdale, MD, Octopus Communications
Giles Andrews, MD, Zopa.com
1. Audience Participation - Brothers Cider
For Giles Andrews, MD at online lending and borrowing exchange Zopa, the key trend shaping PR is the growing emphasis on audience engagement. He says: 'Enrolling your customers into promoting your business seems like the way forward. For example, social media are about engagement, not promotion. It's about getting your customers to recommend you and spread your message to their networks.'
He points to the work that Brothers Cider did around the 2010 Glastonbury Festival as a good example. Brothers Cider was initially only sold at Glastonbury, but in 2006 a Facebook campaign by customers persuaded the Somerset brewer to start retailing it more widely.
This year it wanted to thank those loyal customers, so asked them to change their profile pictures or avatars on Facebook, Twitter or specialist music festival forum eFestivals to something associated with Brothers Cider. The first 1,000 to do so received a pack containing Buff headwear, a lanyard and two tokens for a free pint at the Brothers Bar at Glastonbury.
Within two weeks it already had the 1,000 entries, and had generated a huge increase in volume of conversation on Twitter, Facebook and eFestivals. The activity was even noted in the letters page of the local press. Several months later many people still have their Brothers avatar, and the company is engaged in daily conversation with these customers.
Andrews concludes: 'The Brothers Cider campaign was aimed at developing loyalty among existing customers, which it did successfully, but it impressed me by also spreading through word of mouth and recommendation, increasing the reach of the brand and I'm sure recruiting new customers at low cost. That's an impressive double success out of one campaign.'
2. Use of technology - Orange at Glastonbury
Digital technology is increasingly a key part of any successful PR campaign. As Danny Rogers, editor of PRWeek, says: 'Social media are so pivotal now to consumer PR work, it's a rare campaign that doesn't include them.'
The Orange PR team made a conscious decision three years ago to improve its use of technology. The team put in a lot of work to bring the newsroom into the 21st century and now every campaign it runs has an offline and online component. This was evident in the way it activated its 2010 Glastonbury sponsorship.
Before the event it gave away a pair of tickets to Glastonbury through a Twitter competition to come up with the best idea for a festival app. It received more than 600 entries in two weeks and generated a lot of online buzz. The winning idea was an augmented reality app, which allowed users to point their phones at a stage and discover all about the band playing there.
Then at the festival, Orange gained 330 pieces of coverage for its Power Wellies, which charge your phone as you walk around in them. It also attempted to break the record for the most tagged Facebook photo. A crowd shot was taken during half-time at the England vs Slovenia game and has been tagged by more than 7,000 festival goers so far.
This activity generated 640 pieces of coverage, eight per cent more than Orange achieved for the 2009 festival. Seventy per cent of articles came from online publications and 628 were 'favourable' or 'strongly favourable'.
Rogers comments: 'The Facebook photo was a clever idea in that it used tagging technology to create compelling content that users could easily share.'
3. Brand partnership - Deloitte/Royal Opera House
Sponsorship is not a new idea, acknowledges Jon Lonsdale, MD of Octopus Communications: 'But it has changed dramatically in the past few years. Whereas in the past it was about putting logos where consumers would see them, and was primarily handled by advertising agencies, now it is becoming more sophisticated and this is presenting an opportunity for PR professionals to get involved.'
A good example is the work that business advisory firm Deloitte has created with the Royal Opera House. Every year it sponsors the Ignite festival, a series specifically designed to interest younger people in opera. The partnership has always has been a good way to excite staff and engage journalists, but in 2009 the team decided to try something a bit different, to demonstrate the depth of expertise the firm has in sponsorship.
Its consultants spent time brainstorming ideas with the team at the Opera House, and came up with the idea of the world's first Twitter Opera. The resulting libretto, made entirely from users' tweets, was performed by singers as a centrepiece of the festival.
It generated more than 200 pieces of media coverage, including broadcast interviews and features on BBC One, Channel 4 News, ABC in Australia, a leader column in The Times, articles in The Sunday Times and Sunday Telegraph, and international broadcast, print and online coverage. Videos of the performance of the Twitter Opera were viewed more than 8,000 times on YouTube.
As Lonsdale concludes: 'This was a great example of a brave campaign. It could all have gone very wrong, and for a serious firm of auditors like Deloitte that might have been a problem. It didn't go wrong, though, because those involved thought carefully about how to get the most out of the relationship.'
He adds: 'They delved down deeper into the connections between the two organisations and came up with an idea that would genuinely appeal to their audiences. It's classic PR work being applied to the world of sponsorship and partnership, something we will see more and more of in the months ahead.'
4. Research/planning - Honda Dream Factory
Until recently research and planning tended to be associated with advertising rather than PR, but this is changing. 'It's no secret that ad agencies are looking to take budget from PR agencies,' says Purewal. 'So the PR industry needs to raise its game and start competing on the same level with ad agencies. This means investing more time in research and planning to understand our target audience. For too long we have focused solely on the medium and ignored the end reader, listener or viewer. This has to change.'
To some extent it is already happening. Purewal points to Honda's 2010 campaign for its CR-Z car as a good example. The target market for the car, which Honda describes as the world's first sporty hybrid car, is urban-living professionals aged between 25 and 35. It is an audience that the Honda PR team had little experience of reaching and so it brought in research agency Amplify to run focus groups, to understand how to connect with that demographic.
Honda had always put the power of dreams right at the heart of its approach to business, and Amplify's research found that not only was this a message that its target audience identified with, but it was also one they associated with Honda. The marketing team then created the Dream Factory concept, which revolved around the selection of a group of 20 'cultural engineers' - creative people seen as inspirational. Through exhibitions, workshops and the release of books and other materials, Honda managed to make young urban-living professionals sit up and take notice of its new car.
Seventy-two per cent of those who experienced the Dream Factory felt more positively about Honda, and 78 per cent of those who attended the events told other people about it, with the average attendee spreading the word to seven other people.
Purewal says: 'In the future all PR campaigns will begin from an understanding of the target audience. I believe more and more PR agencies will, like us, set up a research department.'
5. The Big Creative - Idea Brewdog
PR campaigns have always succeeded or failed on the quality of creativity. But as budgets have become ever tighter and the media flooded with commercial messages, finding one engaging central idea has become crucial.
'Many of the most successful PR campaigns are those that have at their heart one strong focused idea that can be translated into a variety of executions,' says Claire Murphy, consultant editor at PRWeek.
Brewdog's 'Sink the Bismarck!' campaign, which launched in February 2010, cost less than £1,000 and achieved international coverage in outlets such as Time Magazine, CNN, Forbes and the BBC.
The small Scottish company had set out the previous year to produce the world's most alcoholic beer - the Tactical Nuclear Penguin, at 32 per cent ABV. When this record was beaten by a German company, Brewdog's MD James Watt decided to make the fight public - and accompanied this year's release of a 41 per cent ABV beer with a three-and-a-half minute video on its blog featuring the company's co-founders acting out the battle, complete with national costumes and pictures of the Queen.
The rivalry idea also became part of the product - the beer was named Sink the Bismarck.
It was an eye-catching and controversial idea that soon went viral and made headlines around the world, bringing in 18,000 visitors a day to the Brewdog website at its height. The team estimates that the £500 video has brought in more than £200,000 in revenue so far. It is a vivid illustration of the power of the big creative idea. Murphy concludes: 'Small companies have the advantage of finding it easier to promote a controversial, and thus publicity-grabbing angle. But Brewdog is also inspiring in that it took one comms idea and used it across a variety of aspects of the business. This is a trend that PROs across all businesses can learn from.'