In this season of sharing, PRWeek.com asked a number of PR pros working in different parts of the industry to share their thoughts about what made an impact in '06 and what will come in '07.
From YouTube to Wal-Mart to social media, the responses we received show the depth and breadth of the profession and the many ways that it intersects with the world at large.
For a more thorough recap of the year that was c/o PRWeek's reporters and editors, check out the insightful Book of Lists here (sub reqd).
Jerry Swerling, Director of PR Studies, USC Annenberg School for Communications
I think PR has entered a "golden era" triggered by an amazing confluence of factors that coalesced in 2006. Individually they may be well known and somewhat understood, but it's important to think of them more systemically - to understand how they all fit together and collectively impact the profession. The factors include: the wide availability and acceptance of new social media as networking tools; the watchdog affect new media are having on every part of society, including government, industry, and media itself; the Wiki-zation of content, which fosters collaboration on a never-before-seen scale; the drive for increasing transparency among all kinds of organizations; the decreasing effectiveness of traditional advertising; and the increasing importance of NGOs and other third party influencers.
Put all of those factors together, stir well, and you will get an environment that feeds on information, expertise, collaboration, access, and the free exchange of ideas.
Innovation of the year:
I think several moves made by the much-maligned Wal-Mart have been nothing short of brilliant. Their new, low cost prescription drug pricing plan and "green" policies have positioned them perfectly relative to important public issues that resonate with their customers, employees, and other stakeholders. The drug plan in particular has the potential, I think, to drive both sales and reputation.
Mark Schroeder, SVP, M Booth & Associates
The biggest impact on the industry in '06:
From a reputation perspective, Edelman became the story on ethics this year when it paid bloggers to shill for Wal-Mart and was not transparent about the transaction. Some of us thought the industry had learned from Ketchum's experience with Armstrong Williams only a year earlier.
For an industry charged with managing reputation, "blue-chip" PR firms have shown themselves unable to manage their own.
Best innovation of the year:
YouTube.com: People want authentic experiences and a personalized opportunity to communicate and share with the world at large. The rise of YouTube speaks to the disenchantment people have with what television - and television news - bring to the table. Google's acquisition is very significant. Watch this space [because] we haven't seen anything yet.
It boils down very simply to authenticity. What's surprising is that more advertisers have not woken up to this yet, and that lazy PR practitioners can so easily go down the wrong road with an over-reliance on pay to play opportunities.
PR practitioners should continue their laser-like focus on understanding a brand's relevance and promise to consumers. View the brand from the consumer's perspective and craft messages, strategies and tactics that are honest with them 100% of the time.
Erin Steele, Director of Communications, United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta
Blogging, targeting niche media, and developing communications to promote one-on-one relationships seemed to be at the top of the to-do list for 2006. The nonprofit sector has made incredible strides in technology in the last couple of years—and now we are working to remain current with our use of technology. It's especially important for nonprofits to use technology— as, in many ways, it can save time and money — both very scarce commodities in the industry.
We ought to keep our eye on:
The continued — and increasing — expectation of consumers for transparent and open information from an organization: Donors continue to want to know how a nonprofit invests their contributions, but they also want to have a direct connection with the people benefiting. As trust of corporations and institutions continues to decline, nonprofits have to work even harder to gain - and keep - the trust of donors.
Greg Jarboe, Cofounder, SEO-PR
Recent studies from The Pew Internet and American Life Project indicate that 39% of Internet users (57 million Americans) read blogs.
Effective optimization of blogs and RSS feeds means more traffic - not only from regular search engines, news search engines, and blog/RSS search engines, but also from sources such as social search and social bookmarking sites. This means PR professionals need to learn how to optimize blogs and RSS feeds from both a content perspective (e.g. choosing the correct keywords, writing sticky posts, writing anchor text, tagging, and gaining external links) and a technical perspective (e.g. blog coding and full text format, internal linking and text emphasis tips and tricks, tagging, RSS feed formats, pings, RSS directories, and engines, and more).
Anthony Rose, Associate director of global beauty external relations, Proctor & Gamble
Global PR programs will be increasingly relevant as the net shrinks the world; integration of PR into the overall marketing mix and integrated communications now that it can be tangibly measured; and PR being increasingly used proactively as a key marketing tool versus a reactive element of the marketing mix.
It's going to become more and more about online influence. Interactive marketing and PR will reach a point of congruence in '07, with each leveraging the others' strengths.
Creativity will reach a premium as marketers drive more holistic brand building versus isolated campaigns. The Internet and PR will play a bigger role in the brand building process as a source of commercial ideas. Large advertisers will invest more heavily in cost-effective mediums like PR to combat the ill effects of media inflation, but will also demand accountability from the PR industry.
Caryn Marooney, Co-founder, OutCast Communications
Predictions for 2007:
Link love: Creating a web of the most relevant blog postings, news articles, and other content will continue to be important sources for both wide audiences (following breaking news) and smaller, niche audiences. It's up to the PR pros to determine how to best create their own web or fit into the most relevant web to reach a niche audience. Digg, del.cio.us, My Yahoo, and other tools that help you bookmark, organize and customize your search experience will continue to flourish.
Newsrooms of the future: Media companies have been forced to adopt new tricks to stay fresh. For example, many Gannett newspapers have adopted "crowdsourcing" to involve their local readers in the reporting of news stories, some, at times, even filing by mobile phone. Reuters and Yahoo have created an online source for citizen journalists to report and file news and photos.
Barby Siegel, Managing director, Global consumer marketing, Ogilvy Public Relations
No question, the advent of consumer generated content dominated. The notion of marketers treating consumers as co-brand managers, engaging them directly with the brand, is one of the most powerful trends of the year with all signs of it getting stronger and more prominent.
Top trends in PR:
The expanding role of PR: While we have said this for many years, clients - and especially brand managers - are beginning to see more and more the major contribution PR can make to overall brand building, from uncovering core insights and truths to developing a central big idea that can drive, if not, lead a 360 degree campaign.
Walking brands into consumers' lives: This is accomplished by bringing brand experiences directly to consumers - off the magazine and newspaper pages - by creating fun, engaging brand activities where consumers live, work and play. One popular manifestation of that this year was the so-called ‘pop up' experience. We saw a lot of this and will likely continue with more innovations to come.
Measure Up: Measurement continues to evolve and rise in importance. We are truly breaking ground in better defining the contribution PR makes to a brand's overall health.
The best innovation for the year:
Gap's RED campaign (HIV AIDS in Africa) was one of the year's most powerful and inspiring campaigns - the coming together of business, entertainment, and media to raise awareness for one of the world's most pressing health issues. It reinforced that celebrities and brands "doing good" is one of the most effective ways into consumers' hearts, minds…and pocketbooks.
We ought to keep our eye on:
CSR: First thought of as philanthropy and then cause-related marketing, now it's about how an organization makes money and how it gives money away. CSR can no longer be treated in an isolated manner; rather, it should be integral to a brand's or company's overall DNA and operation. The fact is that consumers are more demanding (and skeptical) of the brands they buy and support. Consumers need to see clearly how companies make their money (e.g. environmental sustainability) and how they contribute toward a greater good.
Rich Cline, president, Voce Communications
Let's call 2006 "The year of lessons learned." It was also a year of re-learning old lessons and getting back to straight-forward business and communications…Blogs pushed boundaries, some in good ways, others jumped ethics boundaries. WOMMA is trying to manage some of the operations.
In 2007, b2b is going to see a rise in the infrastructure behind Web 2.0. Look out for the technology behind YouTube. When you have all this video, something's got to power that, something's got to store that. It's going to require a lot of technology.