2020 has undoubtedly changed how we look at crises, business agility, company resilience, and employee health. As the global market takes a huge breath (or sigh) with the end of 2020, and as we plunge into what will be another challenging decade, it is time to draw on some lessons.
While we look at three trends, it is good to know that many of these are not brand new. 2020 actually did not see many new trends, but accelerated various ones that have been simmering on the back burners for some time.
2020 was also the year we had to embrace digital to remain human. We adapted to new ways of working, kept in touch with loved ones using various digital platforms, shared more openly our hopes and dreams with our tribes and communities, and helped those who were unfortunate in various ways. As shapers of opinions and messaging, the value of PR continued to shine.
As we enter another decade, let’s examine how PR will change in the years to come. Here are three trends worth following closely.
CS and PR will get closer
There are three key areas where companies can impact opinions and drive loyalty. The most difficult is sales as it involves making an impression that will open wallets — literally. The other two areas — customer service (CS) and PR — do not include actual capital expenditure from the consumer. Unfortunately, companies spend more capital on beefing up their sales as they can readily see the ROI. CS and PR are separate teams and processes that generally play second fiddle.
In the 20’s, this will change. While sales will remain separate (and rightly so), we will see tighter integration between CS and PR. There are many reasons for this, but the most prominent is that marketing, PR, and CS are becoming increasingly digital. They are at the front and center as companies go to war over differentiating their customers’ digital experience.
Customer service and PR are also a natural fit. New startups and digital companies already use scripts written by PR for their customer servicing. PR pros also monitor customer feedback while following customer service’s social media and other live feeds to understand opportunities and challenges. It also offers PR a ton of new data points to see how well their message houses perform and even gives new options to explore.
So, what is stopping the two organizations from coming together? Organizational structure. Currently, most companies are not wired for CS and PR to get closer. There are also data privacy considerations and other reasons for practicing caution. As PR becomes more critical, its role in CS (and vice versa) will only grow. The two organizations are set to become bosom buddies, and we think it is overdue.
Say goodbye to corporate communications
Corporation communications exists because companies see communications as a mostly one-directional affair. You tell the world how they see your company via corporate brochures, landing pages, press releases, social media, events, and other corporate channels.
But modern communications stopped being a one-way street long ago. When was the last time you saw someone download the corporate brochure?
The one-way setup was also missing out on feedback. Even before 2020, companies were already drowning in good feedback across various channels, and corporate communications could not keep up. The pandemic simply showed how badly managed many of our feedback channels are. There were very few avenues to tweak and shape the messaging house quickly or in real-time. In a two-way communications world, corporate communications stood out as an unnecessary hurdle.
We adapted to new ways of working and kept in touch with loved ones using various digital platforms
In this decade, corporate communications will devolve. We already saw some of this happening in 2020. With a remote work force, internal communications became as important as external communications (and for some, even more critical). Lines of business (LOB) managers were looking at HR and finance departments for direction on messaging. More and more, messaging became multi-way and a lot less one-way.
Stakeholder engagement also changed. In the past, the lines were clear. Public affairs involved legal, employee communications was an HR affair, investor relations was handled by the CFO office, product marketing and media relations were governed by PR pros, and consumer marketing was driven by marketing.
During COVID-19, these lines became blurred. HR and CFO organizations worked together on LOB and employee matters. Crisis management saw the senior management team working closely with HR, legal, CFO, and PR. Marketing saw their employees as brand ambassadors and worked with PR and HR to empower them. The digital experience focus saw public affairs, marketing, legal, customer service, HR, and PR all working together.
As the walls between the different stakeholder engagement groups continue to come down, it offers an opportunity for PR pros to take an increased lead across the company — with both external and internal engagement. The distinct role of corporate communications, in turn, will diminish or disappear.
Public relations will expand to internal engagement and beyond
Public relations was conceived with a distinct role in mind: to influence and shape perception. PR pros did this by building strong media relations. In the last decade, this role expanded to building a strong rapport with influencers and blog writers (or citizen journalists) and working with branding and marketing teams to develop the right message. Last year, the role grew further to include helping customer service efforts, all external/internal communications, and even helping with crisis management.
All these changes have made public relations less about the relationship and more about engagement. And, it is not just public anymore. With internal communications becoming a key role in a remote or hybrid working world, PR pros are essentially becoming engagement experts.
Becoming engagement experts or engagement partners to a company will expand and alter the way PR pros work. They will work even closer with different stakeholders. It will also allow them to gain more data points and feedback. This enables PR pros to be more clinical or even personal in their messaging efforts as they work with the different internal departments.
A secondary effect will be how companies engage with PR agencies. No longer held to a narrow scope or outcome, they will want their agencies to engage more effectively with the different stakeholders and communities. They will want them to also build tribes and communities of their own that can help shore up revenues as well as brand and product loyalty. In turn, PR agencies have to retool and repopulate their talent pool to meet these demands.
Will this occur across the board during this decade? Hard to say. As 2020 showed us, you can never fully predict what’s to come.