PRWeek asked in-house comms leaders and agency CEOs to look into their crystal balls following a wild—and for many, difficult—year for PR growth.
Their predictions for the next 12 months are mixed when it comes to the economy and what it means for PR budgets. While one agency chief executive notes "there’s a lot of new business opportunity right now," another predicts that "core retainers will continue to remain flat."
Karen van Bergen
CEO, Omnicom Public Relations Group
"2018 will still pose challenges. The reality is our business is changing, and to grow, we will need to innovate and do things differently. Positive economic conditions alone will not be enough to get us there. Most importantly, we need to show our value as PR counselors at every turn, and measurement is a key part of that. The more we can demonstrate the ROI and business impact of PR, the more we will see budgets open up and new opportunities come our way."
On the demand for talent: "Generalists are on the outs. If you’re a PR generalist in today’s integrated world, your days may be numbered. Replacing you is the in-demand specialist—the creative, the strategic planner, the content specialist, the business strategist. This shift will accelerate in 2018."
She also predicts the strengthening of the freelance economy, with more agencies and talent looking to work together on a per "gig" basis.
"For talent, gigging means they get to work on what they want, when they want. For agencies and companies, this model allows them to quickly flex their workforce in response to fast-changing needs."
Senior director of corporate comms and marketing, LinkedIn
"Traditionally, comms people are hired to get their client or company in the news, but next year I think we'll see them playing a more prominent role to ensure their brand isn't in certain news cycles. As topics like security breaches, gender inequality, and sexual harassment take center stage, pros will need to foresee potential issues coming on the horizon. In many instances, they’ll have to be the truth seekers within their organizations and the ones to champion for or against certain issues."
"I think comms departments will find more leverage by continuing to look for new ways for comms and marketing to come together. Leverage is hard to create when you’re coming up with solutions in a silo. By adopting integrated models or bringing larger comms and marketing objectives closer together, we can deliver more impact and value to the organization, and ultimately to your members and customers."
SVP and chief communications officer, eBay
"2018 is likely going to be a year of dualities: we’ll see a strong and robust economy continue to gain steam, yet we will also see a geopolitical environment that is volatile, dangerous, and unpredictable. The challenge for many communicators will be how to navigate this for our companies, and how to break through the noise with meaningful narratives. Good luck to all of us."
Chairman and CEO, Ketchum
"In 2018, those of us who create brand campaigns will need to embrace the idea that we can write the beginning of the campaign, but the consumer is going to write the middle and the end. Content and creativity released into the world is grabbed, reinterpreted, hacked, and shared by the consumer. Like a good parent with their child, give your campaign roots (strategy) and wings (relinquish control)."
"I think 2018 is going to be a great year for the industry. Marketing communications budgets appear to be bouncing back, and there’s a lot of new business opportunity right now."
CEO, Cohn & Wolfe
"Cohn & Wolfe actually had a fantastic 2017 with our fourth year of double-digit growth. That said, I do see signs of clients being cautious on budgets going into 2018. We service clients across a wide range of industries, some of which are doing better than others. It does end up balancing out, though, especially if the economic outlook is good overall. I predict good growth for the year based on current 2018 client budgets, but we will have to fight hard for a fifth year of double-digit growth."
SVP and CCO, Southwest
"I predict a further blurring of the lines for content delivery. Walls will continue to come down as both communications and marketing find ways to converge ‘content hubs’ to deliver relevant information to various audiences. Another prediction is the continued expectation that the comms and PR function pick up the role and responsibility for helping clients or their organizations stay aligned and integrated on major initiatives. Comms pros will be called upon to help with "silo busting."
"Comms and PR functions will cautiously invest in talent and tools to keep pace with the dynamic environment and needs of our business. Budgets will be static to slightly up; headcount will be static to slightly up and may see some unexpected growth in the second half of the year as business benefits are realized from tax reform."
"In the current climate of fake news, we will conversely see a real demand for the truth to emerge. The #MeToo movement is just one such example but there will be more. Quality media, both traditional and digital, will have a renewed importance, and brand reputation and purpose will be more important than ever."
"We’ve seen growth in budgets late in the year, which is a trend we expect will continue into the new year. That said, core retainers will continue to remain flat, while the growth comes from project spend on integrated marketing and communications. This will drive brands to consolidate their agency support with agencies that can provide a broader mix of services for their needs. Agencies that are utilizing technology to drive greater effectiveness and efficiency will be in hot demand."
"We will also see platforms such as Facebook have a new duality of purpose: dissemination of news and ecommerce. As Facebook and Google battle for mindshare and revenue, Amazon won’t be far behind, accelerating its path to be the world’s biggest search engine. Consequently, our role in social and online will be focused on either helping brands build reputation or sales, or both. Both activities will require greater ability to tell stories well, on different platforms, and through different mediums such as augmented reality and voice"
SVP and chief communications officer, Conagra Brands
"Communications teams will remain best positioned to lead brand reputation, personal branding, and reputation management, all of which will have more currency than ever before. Increased competition and the pace of information exchange will require teams to have a comprehensive understanding of their business and strategic direction in order to shape a company’s brand reputation. Media relations remains only one resource. Communications teams and their agency partners must maintain flexibility and creativity around content development, leveraging digital tools to convey their message and technology to quantitatively and qualitatively measure the impact across stakeholders and adjust accordingly."