Saying that our industry has changed is an understatement. 2020 mercilessly showed us how quickly things can take a turn. PR pros have had a tough year - from facing ever-changing news cycles to quickly putting together messages according to the crisis at hand. It hasn't been easy. But along with these challenges came opportunities. One thing is sure: 2020 has changed our lives and our roles as communicators, forever.
How will our jobs change in the coming years?
The effect of 2020 is vast, and its consequences will alter many aspects of our daily lives, especially dictating the way we move, shop, vote, but mostly, how we connect.
We know that while we may be physically separated, we will not be socially separated. Everything has already shifted to an online format, and it is safe to assume it will only continue this way. In the future- in Professor Deborah Tannen's words- "Instead of asking, "Is there a reason to do this online?" we'll be asking ourselves, "Is there any good reason to do this in person?".
Experts agree that there are multiple reasons for switching to a digital-only reality. Besides the imminent threat that a crowded room can pose to our health amidst a pandemic, technology's accelerated growth has facilitated connection unlike ever before. The pandemic also triggered crises beyond health. The sudden halt of our daily lives pushed us to reevaluate what we considered "normal" and what aspects of that reality we want to carry into the future. Brands worldwide were forced to take a step back to find a deeper purpose than profit. Some brands reinforced what they stand for, while others found new ways to make an impact.
Ben & Jerry's bold statement supporting Black Lives Matter included a new ice cream flavour and an action plan.
LVMH, Louis Vuitton's parent company, used its perfume factories to make hand sanitizer during the pandemic.
This year has shown us how our fates are so intricately intertwined and that some systems were long overdue for change. So if the PR landscape looks so different from what we once knew, how can we adapt to what lies ahead?
Which PR skills are going to be important?
Here is a list of skills that will help you prepare for the future and stay competitive in the PR industry.
1. Online events
Remember being at a festival with 20.000 people? That most likely will not happen anytime soon. In a post-pandemic world, it may take a while before we feel at ease in big groups. Scientists believe it is because our brain is quickly adapting and assigning a negative emotional response to seeing people in crowds. Additionally, traveling to an event takes a toll on the environment. With more and more people becoming aware of their carbon footprint, we can confidently assume that events will shift to the virtual realm.
To stay competitive as a PR specialist, you must be prepared to produce and host online events. That means being comfortable enough to present to a screen, instead of a crowd - and prepping everyone in your company to do so as well. It's also about perfecting your script and testing your technology to ensure nothing goes wrong once you're live.
2. Marketing skills
As communications roles continue to evolve, the lines between marketing and PR fade. Therefore, PR pros must adapt to skills and techniques that are already implemented in the marketing world. We should know how to measure ROI, position our product, roll out paid advertising campaigns, and, most of all, learn the art of selling.
According to a study conducted by the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations, PR specialists agree that digital storytelling and social listening are key trends that will define the industry's future. Unsurprisingly, marketers also agree on the importance of these two skills. If these two roles begin to merge, PR pros can't fall behind and must become proactive learners.
3. Analysing global or local sentiment about specific topics
Another future-proof skill is to be able to predict global or local sentiments on specific topics. Before launching a campaign, PR pros should have a feel for how people will react to their story to avoid an out-of-tune message blowing up in their face. There are tools out there that allow you to analyse social media platforms and evaluate various opinions on certain topics. Here are Hubspot's top picks for sentiment analysis tools.
As a successful PR professional, beyond measuring and reporting, you must be able to extract value from numbers and transform data into actionable insights. This information will provide context for messaging strategy and will demonstrate PR's contribution to the bottom line.4. Brand journalism
Consumers want the real deal. They are tired of over-the-top copywriting and conspicuous marketing messages. Brands tuned into this adverse reaction and decided to take another route: brand journalism. By crafting powerful stories, just as media outlets do, brands can lure in more exposure and increase their credibility without ever having to resort to a sleazy pitch.
One of the most famous examples of brand journalism is Red Bull, which became both a content creator and a media outlet. In 2012, the brand set up a publicity stunt in which Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner jumped from the edge of space. Red Bull set up an entire news site to promote their event, including live video, blog, photography, statistics, data visualisations, infographics, and more.
It's at the top of every other list, and it's no mystery why - if you want to power up your PR tactics, implementing SEO is a must. Search engine optimisation is a potent tool that can help you reach your goals and increase visibility. Ensuring credibility is a common objective of PR professionals. Through SEO, you can get more backlinks to your website, which rank you higher on search rankings and grant your content more credibility. Another way to use the power of SEO in PR is by measuring rankings and performance of your team's campaigns. By studying things like keyword efficiency and click-through rates, you'll grasp a deeper understanding of what your target audience is looking for and which words they use to find it.
6. Multimedia production
Another aspect of communications that was accelerated by 2020 is the power of multimedia, specifically video. With more people isolated at home, it is expected that an average person will spend an average of 100 minutes every day watching online videos in 2021. The demand and consumption of multimedia have drastically increased in the past five years. 2020 was the year we sought to find connection, despite being remote. A recent study shows that in 2019, around 46% of marketers used webinars, whereas, in 2020, 62% used this channel to stay connected.
Unsurprisingly, apps such as TikTok have shaped the way we consume information. The popular video app, that sparked controversy with the United States' former President, has grown unlike any other app - ever. During the first quarter of 2020, TikTok amassed 315 million downloads - a 58% increase from the previous quarter. There are currently 800 million active users on the app, and no, it's not limited to a Gen Z audience. Besides that, other video platforms are lining up for the spotlight.
It's up to PR pros in the future to understand the role of video in a communications strategy, as they can help cut through the noise and create content that sticks.
7. Adapting to remote work
The future of work is already here. We once wished for meetings to turn into emails, and now they've transformed into Zoom calls, Slack channels, and virtual hangouts. It is unlikely that the situation will go back to "normal" in the upcoming years; therefore, knowing how to work remotely is a crucial skill PR pros must learn. How can we collaborate effectively without the casual meetings around the coffee machine? How can we learn to stay focused on tasks and maintain a positive culture? Both communicators and PR professionals are good listeners, therefore, there is an opportunity to contribute to positive virtual work environments.
And don't fret - you don't have to face these challenges alone. Technology is your best ally for the future of PR. There are plenty of tools that can help you do more with less. That is why, after 10 years of chatting with successful comms teams, we put together a detailed software guide that outlines the best tools to achieve your PR goals. Download it for free here.