9 things to know about 2019

PR doesn't exist in a vacuum and there are numerous tectonic shifts in the business and political landscape that shape the environment within which communicators operate.

The ball has well and truly dropped on 2019 and the New Year is up and running with a vengeance.

Thousands of PR pros are busy this week at CES in Las Vegas and the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco. Others are prepping for the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the last one that will be held during the frosty cold snap of January before the event moves to June in 2020.

After that it’s Davos in Switzerland, where the global elites from business, politics, media, and nonprofits will gather in the Alps to cogitate on issues of import. It’s almost like the Cannes for the CCO, as chief communications officers, their teams, and agencies stand by to support their CEOs.

One man missing will be President Trump, who will not now be leading the U.S. delegation due to the continuing government shutdown back at home. The optics of the president gallivanting in the Alps while furloughed federal workers struggle to make their mortgage payments would not be a good one. PRWeek will, however, be in attendance, so let us know if you want to hang out.

I’ve already done a deep dive into the PR landscape for the next 12 months in the context of what happened in 2018, but here are nine other things to look out for in 2019:

1. Technology

Anyone who is anyone has been at CES this week, and the show has well and truly regained its mojo after a fallow period when it was struggling to demonstrate its continued relevance. Big technology brands that had boycotted the show in the past are back in force. It’s a sign of the pervasiveness of digital in all corners of business, and the juxtaposition of Sears finally throwing in the towel and filing for bankruptcy while Amazon is growing so big regulators fear it is taking on the financial muscle of an entire country is very symbolic. Another note of irony is that Amazon’s Whole Foods subsidiary is picking over the corpse of shuttered Sears and Kmart stores to fuel its expansion plans.

2. Facebook

In an interview with CNN last November, Mark Zuckerberg said the media's view of Facebook was very different from his own. "We have a different world view than some of the folks who are covering us," he explained. But there comes a time when every disruptor has to face up to the fact it is now the establishment, and that time has already passed for Facebook. The company has been tardy in addressing its responsibilities and hasn’t reacted well to scandals such as the Cambridge Analytica data fiasco. Most worryingly for Zuckerberg, users are deserting Facebook in droves, including high-profile tech commentator Walt Mossberg, who famously teamed up with Kara Swisher to conduct one of the first public interviews with the social network’s founder – during which Zuck sweated profusely and had to take off his hoodie. Microsoft regained its crown as the world’s most valuable brand, and it’s noteworthy that the darling of a prior generation of tech behemoths only really turned the corner when it replaced its iconic founder and CEO with a fresh, dynamic leader in Satya Nadella. That course of action might be the only way Facebook is going to turn around the negative tide of public opinion and perception swirling around it.

3. Instagram

It might be lost on some consumers that Instagram is actually owned by Facebook, but the platform is quickly soaking up the rapidly deserting Facebook audience and welcoming them into the photo and video-sharing social network. It is becoming the go-to environment for politicians, celebrities, brands, and businesses to engage their audiences online. Having said that, Instagram’s founders left the company in 2018, frustrated at what they saw as the Facebookization of their beloved platform. Zuckerberg would be wise to ensure Instagram retains its special character moving forward, as it is clearly resonating with users.

4. Agency consolidation

It was ubiquitous in 2018 and will continue in 2019. There are going to be fewer, bigger brands across all disciplines in the agency world, including PR.

5. Politics

I don’t personally think the optics of the Chuck and Nancy show play well against the President, but we will see how the shutdown narrative plays out over the next few weeks. As furloughed workers fail to receive their paychecks and face up to the reality of selling possessions to make ends meet, the drumbeat for all parties to settle will only get louder and louder. A legitimate and credible Democrat candidate to challenge President Trump in 2020 has yet to emerge and there is already much jostling for position and image-building taking place as numerous candidates assess their chances. That process will be a constant theme of the national news agenda in 2019. And many new narratives will be attempted to be built.

6. Economy

The curious dichotomy between lower unemployment and other healthy economic indicators juxtaposed with major employers such as GM, Ford, AT&T, Qualcomm, and Bank of America shedding jobs continues. It’s over 10 years since the last major recession and nobody wants to talk us into another one, but businesspeople are certainly operating in a cautious manner and contingency planning for the worst should it occur.

7. Cannabis

A bunch of smart operators have shifted their gaze toward the burgeoning cannabis industry as the effects of legalization spread, including big brewing operators such as Constellation Brands and A-B InBev. Many new stories need to be told. On the other hand, there’s already a backlash brewing against this new economic miracle, so smart PR counsel will be more important than ever in this complex matrix if it is to be a sustainable business.

8. Minimum wage

New York State’s annual threshold increases for minimum wage and overtime rose to $58,500 on December 31, 2018. That means anyone paid less than that who works in excess of 40 hours a week needs to be paid overtime on those extra hours. This will impact a lot of agency staff in the country’s largest PR market and increase costs for firms.

9. Quality of work

This year’s crop of shortlisted entries for the 20th iteration of the PRWeek Awards – the Oscars of the PR industry – are the strongest I have seen. That bodes well for the industry as it attacks the challenges of a febrile and tumultuous business and political climate in 2019.

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