PR is about mutual relationships. To build them effectively, a communications professional must stay on top of market changes. Over the last year, I spoke regularly with colleagues and experts, delved into a variety of studies, and simply spent some time observing. As a result, I’ve singled out a few key PR trends — the understanding of which should help you to transform “public relations” into “perfect relations.”
# 1 Visual metaphors are becoming a staple of brand perception
What image comes to your clients’ minds when they hear your brand’s name? And vice versa: what images make your target audience recall your offering?
Interaction with a brand’s attributes (corporate colors and fonts, logo, packaging, etc.) can create strong positive feelings and emotions for a consumer, to shape a full range of brand associations. In the future, it will be those simple but memorable visual elements — capable of breaking through the powerful and constant flow of information (advertising, information, colors), to immediately prompt a vivid association in the audience’s mind — that will take on a powerful role in a company’s branding.
For good examples of this in practice, just consider what we see in the movies; those Greek-style Anthora coffee cups have grown to symbolize New York as much as the iconic yellow taxi. Blue-and-white tablecloths immediately inform us that a restaurant is serving Greek cuisine, while red-and-white ones do the same for Italian restaurants. Visual metaphors such as these instantly convey information to people. And this is precisely the direction companies worldwide are choosing for their branding.
# 2 Knowing the foundations of cross-cultural communications is a prerequisite
Digitalization has streamlined communications between people around the world, and the new norm is a Swedish or a Croatian PR professional pitching a story about a French startup to a German journalist.
If you work with people from different cultures, you must take into account different approaches to doing business. So, for example, if a company is entering the Chinese market, it’s important to remember that, unlike Westerners, the Chinese reason from big to small. In the U.S., unlike in Great Britain, the “practice beats theory” principle is applied. In France, negative feedback is given first, followed by praise, while in the U.S., the opposite is true.
The list of examples could run on and on, but one thing is clear: in developing international communications, whoever takes care of the finer points and addresses them in their communications, wins. My personal recommendation for those who want to delve into the problems of cross-cultural communication is Erin Meyer’s book The Culture Map.
# 3 Demand for maximum “transparency”
The news is a staple of our lives. But getting to the truth can be challenging. Every day, we are seeing more and more stories that are not based on easily verifiable facts. This results in the formation of media boundaries, through new strategies and approaches to work.
For example, late last year, the U.S. website The Verge updated its public ethics policy. In particular, the changes concerning interactions between journalists and PR professionals: today, a communications professional must have a very good reason to remain anonymous in The Verge stories, and an “off-the-record” option must be negotiated on a case-by-case basis.
To me, this makes good sense; I believe that respect for the media goes hand in hand with openness in the dissemination of information. The Verge case is not the last one, and other media are sure to follow. The sooner the PR industry supports this trend and stops using journalists as weapons, saddling them with all the responsibility for a story, the more effective the relationship between business and media will become.
# 4 The word cloud is transforming from an SEO tool into a source of new information about a brand
When analyzing the media space, PR professionals usually assess indicators such as the number of mentions and the tone of messages, leaving the tab with the word cloud to SEO experts. However, this feature offers a valuable source of information about a company.
By studying the word cloud, you can learn the context in which a brand is mentioned online, and whether all popular tags fit with a company’s communication strategy. It can also reveal which of a brand’s products are most popular with an audience, allowing the company to provide more detailed information about them, and directly satisfy user demand.
Given the constant stream of new content, it’s essential for PR professionals to regularly keep a close watch over a brand’s environment, and, should the need arise, quickly correct communications strategy and tactics. To do this successfully, it’s important to master new tools such as this and welcome them into your PR portfolio.
# 5 Data is transforming storytelling
More than a third of all PR professionals base their work on data, says a study by PR Week and LexisNexis. Analytics play a central role in daily communications work; more than half of those polled even use it for crisis management, tracking negative comments and working with them before they get out of hand.
Forty percent of communications experts claim the future lies with data-driven PR. Collecting and effectively analyzing information provides practical insights, helping to reveal what users think and say about a brand, and highlighting which strategies and approaches are the most effective.
That being said, storytelling remains the essential PR instrument — but its format continues to evolve. The task of creating an honest engaging story for your product, and broadcasting it using all available channels, is about more than just crafting a beautiful narrative. As Chantal Bowman-Boyles, managing partner at Finn Partners succinctly puts it: “We must lead moves from magical thinking to fact-based, data-driven storytelling that accelerates progress for big challenges: COVID-19, climate, migration, data equality.”
# 6 Establishment of business ecosystems
PR has always worked best in combination with other communication tools. In 2022, this is becoming especially important, with strategic business partnerships and integrations taking priority in company development initiatives. And the most successful examples of such business ‘ecosystems’ — such as Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft — are built to meet as many of a customer’s daily needs as possible.
According to the forecast by McKinsey, by 2025, digital ecosystems will generate around 30% of all corporate profits around the world. At the same time, thanks to a brand’s diverse product portfolio, the sky’s the limit when it comes to communications and audience interaction: the more products and services a company offers, the more frequently a consumer comes into contact with the brand. This gives a company even more opportunities to convey key messages and to enhance client trust and loyalty.
# 7 Emphasis on brand values and openness
I believe that businesses built upon clear principles achieve better and more stable results. The founder of Spottydog Communications, Rachel Roberts, says: “We’re an industry of people and human relationships. Company culture will be the rocket fuel to inspire happy people and high impact.”
According to recent research, 70% of consumers want brands to have a clear position on social and political issues — which is 66% more than in 2017. What’s more, in 2021, 53% of consumers said their perceptions of a brand were shaped by factors beyond its products and services alone. 65% of consumers also say that company leaders must speak out on issues that have considerable potential for societal impact, even if they may not have a serious impact on business.
Given the recent activities of various public movements, it’s clear that audiences expect companies to take a stand on important social problems. Such well-known brands as Ben & Jerry’s, Nike, and Airbnb are already moving in this direction. Those companies that fail to update their values policy soon risk falling behind the competitors. Here, the work of PR professionals continues to play a vital role, as we are responsible for the company image that’s broadcast to global audiences.