The pace of change in the PR industry has always been rapid. But as the sector has become better connected through a combination of technology and social media, that pace has accelerated, with industry trends coming and going at breakneck speed. In uncertain economic and political times, it is more important than ever for PR professionals to stay abreast of the trends shaping the sector.
A well-thought-out release that taps into a current trend or smartly utilises technology can result in widespread and valuable coverage for a brand. But the inverse is also true; attaching your brand to an unsuitable PR trend (greenwashing, for example) risks damaging your brand.
With that in mind, PR software provider, Prowly - an all-in-one workflow automation solution for PR professionals - has conducted some in-depth research on the PR trends we can expect to see in 2023 and the trends that those in the industry hope are left in 2022. It canvassed the predictions of 100 PR professionals, including several well-known PR influencers, in-person, at events, and online, to find out what we can expect to see over the next 12 months.
Social responsibility takes centre stage
The main question answered by respondents was: What will be the biggest PR trend in 2023? Comfortably the leading trend that PR professionals expect to see in 2023 is 'social responsibility', incorporating DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion), CSR (corporate social responsibility), and ESG (environmental, social and governance).
Social responsibility has changed from a fringe issue less than a decade ago to one of the pre-eminent challenges faced across all aspects of business and society today, which was reflected by almost a third (31%) of respondents predicting it to be the most prominent 2023 trend in the PR world.
Tonya McKenzie, PR and leadership consultant, and CEO of Sand&Shores, said high-profile events such as Colin Kaepernick taking the knee and the death of George Floyd have pushed social responsibility to the fore, forcing organisations to be transparent about brand ethics and their approach to social issues.
"You have to take a stand and be consistent about it. It should be authentic to your brand. Consumers have become much more socially conscious. So, it's only natural that they have a desire for the companies that they spend their money with to do the same," she said.
Tech and AI come to the fore
It shows how far the issue of social responsibility has come for it to beat technology as the biggest trend of 2023. 'AI and technology' was the second most popular answer, with almost one in five PR professionals naming it their 2023 trend. While there is much talk about the power of technology and AI/ML, the PR industry is yet to make the most of its capabilities, according to Matias Rodsevic, CEO of PRLab.
"There's still a big chunk of how we work that relies on manual work such as filling out spreadsheets. The biggest contribution of AI to our profession will be in identifying journalists that could have an interest in our stories. It'll help us increase our effectiveness when pitching and help us understand how to tailor our copy to the personalities and styles of the writers we're in touch with," he said.
Digital PR and link-building
The third most popular trend PR professionals expect to see in 2023 is 'digital PR and link building,' which accounted for 13% of responses. Jennifer Grey, digital PR lead at Green Park Content, said the marketing industry is "waking up to what digital PR can do."
“Our industry is starting to shake off the shackles of 'link-building' and showcase just how we can create true moments and talking points for our stakeholders."
- Jennifer Grey, digital PR lead, Green Park Content
She added: "We've seen a bevy of campaigns that think outside the box over the past two years, from in-depth research pieces to online 'stunts' over social media and OOH, that have really built more than just backlinks for brands. Our industry is starting to shake off the shackles of 'link-building' and showcase just how we can create true moments and talking points for our stakeholders."
Mass media pitching eschewed for more personal approach
Prowly's research also looked at trends that the PR and marketing industry would like to consign to the history books, asking respondents: Which PR trend should we leave behind in 2022? As with the 2023 trends question, there was a clear frontrunner, with 30% of respondents hoping "Mass media pitching" disappears next year. Increasingly, PR and marketing are eschewing mass media pitching for more targeted and personal pitches to relevant recipients.
"There are more PR practitioners and fewer journalists than ever before. This means that taking a 'spray and pray' approach is likely to be really ineffective as journalists are looking for relevant, engaging content that is tailored to their publication," said Beth Nunnington, VP of digital PR and content at Journey Further.
"Journalists also have KPIs on traffic and engagement, so they are under pressure to publish content that is of good quality and will capture their target audience's attention. A generic email won't stand out in their inbox, and even if they notice it, if it is obviously being shared en masse, they will likely lose interest and simply press delete."
Think twice before newsjacking
The second least popular PR trend was "Newsjacking", with 21% of respondents saying it should be left in 2022. Michelle Garrett, digital PR consultant, said anyone still tempted to utilise newsjacking – where brands piggyback on breaking news and trending topics – should tread extremely carefully.
"Use care and really think it through from all angles. Your very first consideration should be: is this insensitive? If your answer is yes—or even possibly—you should move on. The potential damage it may cause to your brand is too significant to risk. Then, consider if it's a fit for your brand. If it's too much of a stretch, it may not get the desired results," she said.
Online lethargy may favour in-person events
Three years after the onset of the pandemic, the survey also found a lethargy around online events, with 16% of PR professionals picking it as the trend they'd least like to see back in 2023. Gini Dietrich, CEO at Spin Sucks, said: "There will always be a place for virtual gatherings, but the online event, conference and trade show is slowly floating away because we prefer our IRL avatars."
The best of the rest
Away from the leading three trends, the remaining figures were made up of the following responses:
What will be the biggest PR trend in 2023?
Social responsibility - 31%
AI and technology - 19%
Digital PR and link building - 13%
Data-driven PR - 11%
New social media platforms - 10%
Face-to-face interviews - 3%
PR tools and softwares - 3%
Others - 5%
The full results show two dominant trends in social responsibility and technology. Social responsibility is arguably the most pressing challenge of our time, with events such as COP27 illustrating the importance of reversing the effects of global climate change. People are also viewing brands through an increasingly critical lens and, increasingly, making decisions about brand loyalty based on their approach to social issues. The survey shows that PR professionals and marketers realise that companies must take action on social issues, and shout loudly about doing so.
Practically all (discounting ‘Face-to-face interviews’ and ‘Others’) of the remaining responses show that PR has become a digital-first ecosystem driven by leaps in technology. Blasting our releases to thousands of uncategorised contacts is no longer sufficient. The results suggest that the industry is ready to embrace the capabilities of technology, taking a more data-focused approach to outreach. PR and marketing practitioners that ignore the opportunities and efficiencies offered by technology do so at their own risk.
What PR trend should we leave behind in 2022?
Mass media pitching - 30%
Newsjacking - 21%
Online events - 16%
Global over local - 9%
Paid media coverage - 9%
Press releases - 5%
Aim for viral campaigns - 5%
Online newsrooms - 4%
Others - 1%
Both sets of results reveal an expectation of increasingly targeted campaigns, informed by data. The inclusion of mass media pitching, newsjacking, viral campaigns, and paid media coverage shows a desire to phase out some of the more opportunistic trends utilised in the PR world. There is also demonstrable fatigue with the online-first approach necessitated by the pandemic, with a combined 20% of respondents keen to see the back of online events and online newsrooms.
You can find full results from Prowly’s PR trends survey here.