PR's growth lies in recognizing subtle rhythms of today's consumer mindset

Amid Wednesday's frenzied news day of Apple's iPad reveal and President Obama's impending State of the Union address, a friend's Facebook status update caused me to pause.

Amid Wednesday's frenzied news day of Apple's iPad reveal and President Obama's impending State of the Union address, a friend's Facebook status update caused me to pause. “Are we citizens or consumers? People much more excited about Steve Jobs' speech than Obama's State of the Union.”

I suddenly felt guilty for tuning in to both a live blog and live video stream of the iPad address. But although I was enthralled with the land of Jobs that afternoon, I still planned to watch the State of the Union later that night. And indeed I did, as well as the Republican rebuttal before collapsing into sleep.

When I reflect on how I consumed news that day, though, I remember laughing at spoof iPad videos posted to friends' Facebook pages, and checking Twitter for #SOTU to gauge immediate reaction to Obama. Yes, I read more “official” reviews of the iPad on places like CNET, and watched both MSNBC and Fox reaction to Obama's speech, but the first opinions on these news events that I heard came from my social networks.

These citizen consumers, rapidly engaged in word of mouth online and constantly rating and ranking companies, brands, and people, are helping to fuel PR's growth. The most recent Veronis Suhler Stevenson figures predict more than $8 billion will be spent on PR by 2013—$3 billion of which will be word-of-mouth marketing, social media outreach, and offline brand ambassador programs.

Clearly, this is the future of PR. Within those tactics, though, there are other growth areas. From our news analysis this week, there remains a 2.5 million American Muslim market that is virtually being ignored. In addition, smart agencies are investing more and more in emerging markets where the PR industry is not yet mature, and mobile applications are still in the early days.

Managing corporate reputation continues to propel the industry forward as well. As the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer shows, the factors that go into creating and maintaining a solid corporate reputation are quickly shifting as well. Active consumer citizens overwhelmingly placed honest business practices and trust well ahead of financial performance in determining corporate reputation.

Your clients, your executives, your brands are all constantly being given an “I like” or a “#fail,” by the legions of self-broadcasting enthusiasts. Yet, this very fact only means that the strategic communicators who recognize early pulses of change will be more likely to have the ear of the C-suite over another representative whom might only see in one-dimension. After all, today's stakeholder is also processing a mountain of information, one in which a tech CEO and a country's CEO are equally scored on their performances. As my Facebook friend concluded, “I'm still hoping Obama is going to end his speech like Steve does… “Oh and one more thing… I just passed single payer.”

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