Making predictions in the world of public relations and communications is always a dangerous thing but as we approach 2020 here’s a list of five that I feel reasonably comfortable with (with the notable exception of No.5).
1. Artificial intelligence – not yet
There may be a great deal of talk in the public relations industry around the potential for artificial intelligence in campaign design, implementation and measurement, but my first prediction is that those holding their breath for the big breakthrough may well turn blue in 2020.
Unfortunately, with few exceptions, most of the talk is just that: talk. More often than not, new AI branded tools incorporate no true AI functionality – they are essentially simple counting machines ‘with bells on’. The most successful public relations campaigns benefit enormously from human ‘general intelligence’ – our ‘fluid ability to integrate multiple cognitive abilities in the service of solving a novel problem and thereby accumulating crystalized knowledge that, in turn, facilitates further higher-level reasoning’. Complex stuff, but we humans do it rather well.
The big goal in AI is machine-driven general intelligence, but we are a very long way from that and so we won’t be replacing humans in PR any time soon.
2. Data – big threat and big opportunity
Analyst firm Gartner recently pushed out a release in which it said that, “In 2023, one-third of all brand public relations disasters will result from data ethics failures.” I can’t argue with that – we’ve seen plenty in 2019 and I’m predicting many more in 2020, but that is only a small part of the data story.
Our ability to access, analyse and exploit data,( owned or third party), has never been greater, and there are big opportunities to gain market intelligence and to build compelling stories that are attractive to a wide range of media and target customers.
What does this all mean? If you want to exploit data, or if you need a crisis plan in the event of a data breach, it might be sensible to work with an agency that understands what it takes to build a story anchored on data and that also understands the legal and regulatory environment we are all working within now.
3. Trusted editorial – a resurgence?
2019 was the year of fake news. The so-called ‘leader of the free world’ (and his copycats) has used the tactic very successfully, but there’s no doubt that we are starting to see a backlash. For many, ‘fake news’ is now shorthand for ‘it’s true but it doesn’t support my view’. We’ve also seen a backlash in the world of ‘influencers’ with a number being caught out promoting products and not declaring a commercial interest.
Trust is important and we are all getting a little more educated, aware and cynical. The upside is that in 2020 we should start to see people seeking out editorial content that is more balanced and critical. That’s great news for a sector that for the past few years has had to operate within a very difficult commercial environment.
4. Corporate Social Responsibility – the Greta effect
She isn’t the only person telling us to get off our respective backsides and do something about climate change, but a 16-year-old Swedish girl with Asperger’s Syndrome appears to have crystallised the issue. I’m a huge admirer and the impact she and others have had in 2019 will prompt a renewed focus on environmental credentials for companies in 2020.
Unfortunately we should expect to see plenty of ‘green washing’, but those companies using the tactic are likely to be found out. Climate control, finally, is an issue that really matters to an increasingly large audience; consumer and corporate. Companies that take steps to initiate positive change in the way they build, distribute, service and support their products and services will be rewarded, but only if they can demonstrate and communicate their commitment effectively.
5. Brexit – Lord knows!