PR in 2018: Dominated by technology, mired by inauthenticity

2018 will no doubt bring as much upheaval as 2017--here's how to best prepare for it.

Media diets are complex—made further complicated with ongoing shifts from print to digital, audience fragmentation, and the challenge to be fast and accurate with the pressure to publish as quickly as humanly possible.

The PR industry too finds itself in constant flux, adapting to the latest developments across the landscape. Our industry must understand these changes and their impact to best deliver on the services we provide and the problems we solve for clients.

2018 will no doubt bring as much upheaval as 2017—here’s how to best prepare for it.

All PR is tech PR
As media continues to digitize, it’ll be adopting emerging technologies into its day-to-day content production. The rise of emerging tech—virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence—affects and informs media’s push for digital. It’s a new content sandbox for publishers and their advertisers to operate in creatively, free of print’s two-dimensional limitations.

PR activations in 2018 will be wise to integrate these sophisticated technologies as media companies themselves continue to experiment with them for their own coverage. The hottest pop-up in 2018 may just be a VR experience.

Having hands-on knowledge of VR, AR, and AI shouldn’t be siloed to tech PR departments anymore; we’re at critical mass. All PR in some way, shape, or form is also tech PR.

AI and automation in 2018
Speaking of emerging technology, it’s impossible for a 2018 PR predictions piece to not mention the impact of artificial intelligence.

The reason AI is the flavor of the month is its role within the workplace and who it’ll replace. PR requires creativity, the type of thinking that machines, not yet at least, are capable of superseding—such as ensuring tone of voice or messaging of written communications or executing a creative stunt.

Of course, that’s a rather rudimentary view of AI. The technology does have its role in PR for, say, data mining (think: searching for keywords across publications or blogs to identify trends relative to clients. However, there are outfits that claim that AI can take over the critical role of media relations—of which I am immensely skeptical. Media relations, as well as influencer relations, requires creativity. People need to like you. It’s much easier, and feasible, for a human to employ the creativity and emotional intelligence required to build lasting relationships with press than a chatbot.

A bot can’t lay claim to emotional intelligence, a cornerstone of all PR work. Teams employing AI handling external communication would be wise to have plans to manage reputation should anything automated go awry. Humans build trust with humans—not bots.

Return on influence
Public relations has always been about influencer relations. It’s common for campaigns to include some form of influencer marketing. With trust in advertising and sponsored content falling among the millennial audience, brands and agencies have taken to influencer marketing as an alternative.

With its recent momentum, regulation has begun cracking down as some influencers are not properly disclosing what is and isn’t a paid placement for their followers. As the practices that brought influencer marketing under scrutiny from the likes of the Federal Trade Commission continue, trust with mega influencers may be jeopardized among millennials. Moving into 2018, brands and agencies alike should ensure that their choice of influencer clearly resonates with the brand and comes across as authentic—and pick influencers who also play by the rules.

Consider instead a shift towards micro influencers—those with less of a following, but who have a real and trusted connection with the brands they endorse and the audience they inform. And, more importantly, ensure that all ethical guidelines are followed.

2017 was definitely a year for the record books, where we’re beginning to see new technologies take flight that will not only shape PR and media, but the wider economy as well. I don’t imagine 2018 to be any different as they continue to evolve.

Ivan Ristic is president and cofounder of Diffusion.

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