PR predictions for 2003

Doug Pinkham, president, Public Affairs Council

Doug Pinkham, president, Public Affairs Council

What will be the greatest challenge for the PR industry in 2003? In a world where terrorism, war and a sluggish stock market dominate the headlines, it will be very difficult to communicate your message unless it relates directly to national security or economic issues. The midterm elections showed that the American public - as a whole - has a very short agenda: (1) make us feel safe and (2) get the economy going again. Even important issues like the environment, healthcare and education have moved down to the second tier. This means the greatest challenge is proving that your issue, your client and you are relevant. Will PR increase its relevance to the C-suite in 2003? Public relations and public affairs are extremely important at a time like this - and so is corporate citizenship. The opportunity lies in positioning your function as the company's best hope for learning how to control its business environment. Chief executives, like the rest of us, are sailing without a compass right now, hoping the economy rights itself, that peace will come to the Middle East and that threats to global expansion will ease. They're also a bit nervous about signing off on financial statements because, as a general rule, going to jail is not on their "to do" list in 2003. With all this uncertainty, it's the ideal time to reinvent your issues management process. Your job is to remove obstacles to business growth, to become a better corporate citizen, to improve public perception of your organization, and to enable it to avoid crises before they happen. If that doesn't pass the relevance test, I don't know what does. What will be the big media trend of 2003? I think the traditional business model for advertising is collapsing. What matters is not reach and frequency, but creating favorable action by exposing the right people to your message. In politics, candidates are finding that it makes more sense to spend time getting your loyal voters to show up at the polls than trying to persuade lots of undecided people to vote. To a large degree, the same is true in marketing and communications. Because of the explosion of media outlets - in print, broadcast and online - companies have more tools for reaching segmented audiences. Why would you want to spend millions of dollars for an ad during the Super Bowl to get people to buy your brand of hamburgers? For less money you could identify the hamburger-buying public and give away thousands of hamburgers in every major city in America so that football watchers everywhere get a free lunch. You could also distribute online coupons, place targeted ads, make a donation of time and money to a food bank, expand your media outreach and still have money left over. "Transparency" was the defining business term of 2002. What will be the defining term for 2003? How about "reality"? In other words, it's better to be good than to look good. Click on any of the names below to see their 2003 PR predictions: Reed Byrum, president and CEO, PRSA Steve Cody, managing partner, PepperCom Andy Cunningham, CEO, Citigate Cunningham Ofield Dukes, president, Ofield Dukes & Associates Peter Gardiner, partner & chief media officer, Deutsch Inc. Harvey Greisman, VP of communications, IBM Global Services Fred Haberman, president, Haberman & Associates Andy Lark, VP, global communications & marketing, Sun Microsystems Bill Margaritis, VP of worldwide corporate communications, FedEx Helen Ostrowski, CEO, Porter Novelli Doug Pinkham, president, Public Affairs Council Harlan Teller, chief client officer and president, worldwide corporate practice, Hill & Knowlton Mark Weiner, CEO, Delahaye Medialink

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