Trendspotting keeps firms ahead of the pack

Staying on top of the latest trends is a fundamental part of every consumer PR pros' job. But because those trends can change in an instant, agencies incorporate various trendspotting practices in order to keep one step ahead.

Staying on top of the latest trends is a fundamental part of every consumer PR pros' job. But because those trends can change in an instant, agencies incorporate various trendspotting practices in order to keep one step ahead.

"Everybody [here] is entrenched in trends, reading the top [publications] and blogs," says Julie Kofman, VP of the Lifestyle Trends Group (LTG) at Marina Communications. "You [must in order] to stay ahead of the curve."

LTG, which works alongside the firm's Media Connections and social media groups, is staffed on a rotating basis, Kofman says. That's so all agency practitioners have an opportunity to get trend identification and research experience.

Kofman leads the firm's Editorial Think Tank, an initiative that includes monthly staff trend-watching discussions and bi-monthly conferences with up to 10 magazine editors, primarily in the beauty and lifestyle arenas.

The agency also has a Trendspotting Network, which seeks to collect emerging-trend observations from influencers in art, film, theater, and other areas. Maintaining relationships with online communities and bloggers is part of the network's function, as well.

While the firm's trendspotting resources are considerable, their use varies with each project, Kofman notes. "If we have an initiative that needs to be heavily trend-driven, then we'll spend some extra time."

Executives at Edelman agree that leveraging the power of a practice area is imperative to trend-watching efforts.

"Everyone at Edelman consumer has a responsibility to stay on top of trends," says Caroline Dettman, GM/EVP and director of the firm's US consumer practice.

In addition, she says, Edelman has a proprietary market research company, StrategyOne, and working relationships with consumer research consultancies Iconoculture and Yankelovich Partners. The firm and its research partners differentiate between what's hot now and what will endure.

"We're not doing our jobs if we're not basing our work on consumer insights," says Dettman. "It's not always about what's in style [now]. You need to stay on top of what's going on in mainstream America where our brands can play a role."

Porter Novelli, too, has its own strategic planning and research group to analyze trends, but it also has a less-formal system called Trend Charmers, based on the idea that "three time's a charm:" If three people notice something, there's a chance that the trend is sustainable.

"We've tried to preserve the art of [trendspotting], and add as much science without institutionalizing it," says Julie Winskie, PN's chief client officer and leader of its consumer marketing discipline. "This is our belief in the organic nature of communities... Diverse concepts help us discern whether something is pervasive, rather than punctuated, by that point in time."

But identifying trends is only the start. These trends next have to be woven into client work, and that's where overall PR expertise enters.

"We have to be more on top of things for consumer clients because they have access to a lot of the same data and they have other partners, like ad agencies, to inform them," Winskie explains. "It requires us to be that much more insightful and to put that unique relevance on it. The idea is that this is what we can offer with a broader, deeper perspective."

Key points:

While staying on top of trends is vital for a consumer practice, trendspotting should a be an agencywide activity

Editors, bloggers, and other influencers should be tapped for their emerging-trend observations

In-house research teams or outside consultancies can be assets in identifying and analyzing trends

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