The Year Ahead: What will you face?

How do PROs see 2005 panning out for the industry and what lessons can be learned from the past 12 months, asks Jo Bowman.

What did we learn from 2004 - a year which saw continued fallout over the case for war in Iraq, after-hours goings-on at the Football Association and Prince Harry getting shirty?

The consensus in the industry is that PROs will have to work harder than ever to shape opinion and behaviour, and they will face stronger demands to justify every pound of spend. Money may well come back to the market but fat retainer cheques will be put under the microscope and public hostility towards the discipline is unlikely to relent.

Media

Evolution of mobile and internet technology will make the task of media relations more difficult to manage. Meanwhile, the proliferation of round-the-clock media is diminishing the importance of traditional media in influencing purchasing decisions and perceptions, as well as fuelling consumer cynicism. An example is the phenomenon that blogging has become.

August.One Communications MD Sophie Brooks says: 'The largest trend will be in designing and implementing campaigns that are more holistic in their approach - targeting people through as many of those channels of influence as possible and ensuring that we're creating a set of cohesive messages.'

Market forces

Business sentiment appears buoyant - interest rates are thought to be at or very near their peak in the current cycle, and the markets are showing sustained growth.

But Edelman executive director of financial comms Stephen Benzikie says if Labour wins the next election, third-term tax rises are likely: 'High taxes would be bad news for business and its marketing spend. Public spending will also have to be squeezed - just when PR budgets and comms departments were starting to reach sensible levels.'

Evaluation

University of Central Lancashire senior lecturer in PR Julia Jahansoozi stresses any return to using advertising value equivalencies to evaluate PR will be a bad sign: 'Not only does this ignore outputs but, even more importantly, it ignores outcomes - which for evaluation has to be essential.

The need to establish the value PR brings to organisations will continue to be an important industry issue as competition increases.'

Work practices

The long-hours, always-on-call culture of PR in the UK may be challenged by any government rethink on EU legislation and the Working Time Directive, which the UK has opted out of since 1993.

The directive, which caps working hours at 48 per week - with some exceptions - and imposes rules on breaks and the number of hours worked consecutively, may be a bargaining chip in negotiations on other EU issues.

Meanwhile, the IPR is continuing its push for chartered status and hopes to achieve it in 2005, bringing greater credibility and recognition to the industry, along with more clout to address unethical behaviour.

Politics

A general election - forecast for around May - will dominate politics in the UK, along with Britain's presidency of the G8 from January, and of the EU from July, which will underline the economic and political significance of the UK internationally.

'I think 2005 will be a very interesting year in terms of PR and government relations,' says Citigate Public Affairs managing director Simon Nayyar.

'If Labour wins, then the larger the majority, the more dynamic its likely programme of work.' Nayyar also expects a Labour government to be even more active on issues such as hunting.

Whoever wins, the new parliament will need to rebuild public faith in the leadership of the country and the system of government - something Nayyar says PROs have a stake in too. 'All the surveys show there's much less confidence and far too great a degree of cynicism in public process than is in everyone's interests, and all the parties have a role to play in this.'

Education

As PRWeek went to press, the future of government funding for PR and other communications degrees was hanging in the balance. If the level of funding is downgraded, universities may no longer be able to provide practical experience to students in facilities such as broadcast studios and with expensive industry-standard software.

'The other issue is that university tuition fees kick in during 2006, and no one really knows what impact that will have on student numbers and universities,' says Jahansoozi. 'We will be gearing up for the possible impact fees will have on our student recruitment for our courses. No one is really sure whether it will deter potential students or not make a difference.'

City and financial

Big business will be adapting to higher standards of accounting and public reporting in the post-Enron/Parmalat era, along with the implications of the DTI's Operating and Financial Review, which will force companies to address issues of corporate governance more thoroughly.

Simultaneously, financial service providers will have to look at new ways to help consumers out of a deepening pensions crisis and the huge levels of consumer credit.

'Providers will be forced to be even more creative about products for funding retirement, which in turn will have political and social implications,' says Benzikie.

'Churn in financial-calendar work between agencies will remain low, leaving financial boutiques to step up their foray into broader corporate reputation and B2B work, though many will be hampered in their efforts by a lack of international reach,' he adds.

News makers of 2005

Property prices - whether moving up, down or not at all - will continue to be the number-one topic of dinner-table conversations while world events will be led by any progress, or lack thereof, in finding a peaceful solution to the problems of the Middle East.

However, Brooks believes this may be the year when UK consumers finally see through the cult of celebrity: 'Fame will depend on representing a cause or a brand with sincerity, not just having a public snog on reality TV.'

'Furthermore, every major story that broke in 2004 as a result of poor communications practice only served to reinforce the principles of "don't lie" and "own up fast if you get it wrong",' concludes Benzikie.

WHO WILL WE SEE MORE OF IN 2005?

NICK CARTER, EDITOR, LEICESTER MERCURY

Who would you like to see less of in 2005? Boris Johnson

Who do you think we will be seeing more of? Boris Johnson

Where do you hope to see the following people in 2005?

Victoria Beckham - Running a laundrette

Michael Howard - Running a marathon

Prince Harry - Running anything

Michael Portillo - Who is Michael Portillo?

Piers Morgan - Running down

Sven-Goran Eriksson - Running away

Alastair Campbell - Running for Prime Minister

Britney Spears - Running for president

LINDA BATT-RAWDEN, MD, THE IMPACT AGENCY

Who would you like to see less of in 2005? Seb Coe. We can't run a

London transport system now so how can we manage the Olympics?

Who do you think we will be seeing more of? Abi Titmuss. There must be

more, surely.

Where do you hope to see the following people in 2005?

Victoria Beckham - Recording a new single by popular demand

Michael Howard - On the public-speaker circuit Prince Harry Resitting

A-Levels

Michael Portillo - Guest presenter on Queer Eye For The Straight

Guy Piers - Morgan British Army Photoshop editor

Sven-Goran Eriksson - More in the tabloids

Alastair Campbell - Jogging correspondent on the Daily Star

Britney Spears - Divorced

NICOLE LANDER, HEAD OF CORPORATE AFFAIRS, WOOLWORTHS

Who would you like to see less of in 2005?

Celebrities on reality TV shows.

Who do you think we will be seeing more of?

Personally, I'd like to see more of Jonny Wilkinson

Where do you hope to see the following people in 2005?

Victoria Beckham - Focusing on charity work, and using her fame for a

good purpose

Michael Howard - Still not in office

Prince Harry - A top job in the army

Michael Portillo - On TV

Piers Morgan - Even more on TV

Sven-Goran Eriksson - In the tabloids

Alastair Campbell - Back on the campaign trail

Britney Spears - In the nursery

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