Professionals in our line of work are responsible for delivering value to clients however they can, and we take that responsibility seriously. Part of being a valued agency partner is looking forward, at times many years ahead, to help clients articulate a vision of how their industry should move forward.
But this brand of thought leadership usually doesn’t deliver a great deal of value. Clients, and by extension communicators like us, must also understand and interpret how things are now, and take calculated actions that take into account today’s reality.
With that in mind, here’s a brief assessment of the conditions on the ground now for our industry, strategic communications, and how they’re likely to play out through 2018.
Earned media will grow increasingly competitive
There are somewhere in the neighborhood of six public relations practitioners for every one working journalist, and many of those PR pros are responsible for media outreach or publicity. This ratio, already unsustainable, will grow yet wider in 2018 and beyond, according to projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
What this means in practice is that it will become increasingly difficult to reach many journalists, and that teams who have strong access to press will be increasingly valuable to client-side stakeholders.
The risk profile of external communications will continue to grow
In 2010, Goldman Sachs began citing bad press as a material risk factor in its investor communications. Since then, many companies have followed suit. The point is clear: Negative press coverage is on the same plane as regulatory enforcement, lawsuits, recessions, natural disasters, and other commonly cited risks.
More recently, trust in media has eroded substantially. “Opinions are crowding out and overwhelming facts in the media, and Americans are placing less faith in institutions that were once trusted sources of information,” wrote intelligence firm Rand in a new (and disturbing) report, “Truth Decay.”
Taken together, the cost associated with negative press attention and the erosion of trust in mainstream media add up to an environment that features snowballing risk for communicators.
Executives will increasingly recognize strong comms work
It’s no secret that customers consider the reputation of a company’s leadership before buying what that company sells. The negative opinion customers had of its founder and CEO, Travis Kalanick, reportedly drove Uber’s board to have him replaced.
“About half the respondents [to an in-house survey] had a positive impression of Uber and its convenient ride-hailing app,” Bloomberg reported in a revealing profile of Kalanick’s ouster. “But if respondents knew anything about Kalanick, an inveterate flouter of both workplace conventions and local transportation laws, they had a decidedly negative view.”
Because media is steadily trending away from facts that inform and towards personalities and opinions that drive clicks and Facebook shares, it’s harder and harder for executives to separate their personal profiles from their businesses. Names make news. This is making executives more acquainted with the PR process and more appreciative of it when it succeeds.
Integrated communication will take center stage
Agency teams can no longer provide optimal value to client-side stakeholders by treating media relations as its own activity. Instead, earned, owned, and paid need to work together seamlessly to make a client’s case across platforms, disciplines, and audiences.
Part of this theme is the diminishing returns of conventional media relations, which has never truly scaled well. But the rapid evolution of paid and owned media, as well as the ability of communications agencies to extend their mandate to include adjacent activities like media buying, executive ghostwriting, and marketing communications. Agencies that specialize in external communications will find the greatest success in developing a singular story that truly resonates and telling it across earned, owned, and paid channels cohesively.
External comms will continue to stress practitioners out
Public relations practitioner is the sixth most-stressful job there is, according to an analysis of more than 200 professions by CareerCast.com, a website for job-hunters.
The methodology took into account 11 stress factors, such as travel frequency, deadlines, public scrutiny, physical demands, environmental conditions, risk to life, and interactions with the public. It’s safe to say that the stress factors PR is known for, such as tight deadlines, grating scrutiny from stakeholders, and lots of travel, aren’t going away.
Agencies that incorporate wellness programs into their benefits and offer attractive time-off and work-from-home policies are best positioned to minimize stress for workers. (Now is a good place to mention Vested earned a spot on PRWeek’s latest Best Places to Work ranking.)