The most important and exciting development for the PR industry in 2020 and beyond will be the increase of access to more accurate and immediate data. Current trends pointing towards this scenario include the ways that web traffic and social media monitoring influence decision-making activity through targeted PR action. Although we won’t be replacing PRs with pitch writing artificial intelligence any time soon, the rise of data will profoundly influence the way we work. It will enrich the information we use internally, in formulating and carrying out campaigns and in evaluating results. This effect will also take place in wider society, affecting how our audiences interact with media and shaping new interests, conversations and trends. The industry will use data to build more focused, niche, and creative campaigns to a more specific target audience.
Today the main barrier to adopting new technology in the PR industry is high costs pricing out the majority of small and medium sized agencies. As these new technologies settle into their specialist niches and adapt to the budgets of the industry, we will see more agencies having access to them - whether its social media monitoring tools, forecasting tools or reporting tools. This too, will happen with the accessibility of data, allowing agencies and clients to make better use of budgets and get more accurate details of results.
CISCO estimate that by 2020 there will be 50 billion connected devices for a population of 7.5 billion1. This surge in connectivity will allow for more accurate real-time data than ever before, and in day-to-day life we’ll have the chance to become more informed about ourselves and the world around us. This will be instrumental in the evolution of the PR industry as data will inform every step of the process, from forming the basis of campaign ideas to tracking real-time results and flagging up problems. According to the IDC2 the volume of data stored in the world doubles every two years, pointing to a future in which we will have to develop innovative and inventive new ways to process and use it.
Just as the PR industry will be able to generate a more accurate profile of its own workings and analyse target audiences, so will those audiences be able to understand themselves and curate their interests more specifically. Zaid Al-Zaidy of Above & Beyond suggests, “the way brands will flourish is by learning to swim in the natural element of the audience. By creating authentic cultural connections that are contextually valuable to people, wherever they are and whatever they’re doing.”3 The PR industry’s response to this challenge will be to increase the number of smaller, more selectively audience-focused campaigns. PRs for medium to small brands and services will turn their attention to cultivating their core loyal customers as the rise of innovative new media further splinters the mass audience. Capturing the trust and interest of this audience will result in the crowdsourcing of brand recognition as fans spread the word.
Campaigns will be heavily focused on this core demographic, and interactivity between agency and audience will be crucial. PRs will look towards engaging ‘micro-influencers’ to help take messages forward. As consumers become more skeptical of sponsored content they instead look to friends on social media for advice. Establishing a strong, organic connection with these new types of influencers will be instrumental for engaging campaigns. AllSaints, for example, focused on their existing customers and influencers with a medium sized following when launching its first Usern Generated Content Campaign #ItsUpToYou. Customers shared images of the wearing AllSaints around the world, simultaneously boosting the company’s social media channels. The brand cultivated a community of fans and consumers to promote it, rather than choosing to rely solely on traditional marketing and advertising tools. The role of digital in PR campaigns will evolve in 2020 and beyond by better targeting towards segmented audiences, with the millennial generation acting as the catalyst to push this change through.
Goldman Sachs Data Story4 reports that “one of the largest generations in history is about to move into its prime spending years. Millennials are poised to reshape the economy […] forcing companies to examine how they do business for decades to come.” The report demonstrated that millennials, born between 1980-2000, show less brand loyalty and are more concerned with the efficacy, cost and adaptability of products and services. This attitude will be enabled by better access to data. For example, the rise of Financial Technology, or Fintech, demonstrates the demand for a growing access to real time data around personal spending habits - encouraging consumers to evaluate the suitability of their bank for their needs rather than making do with off-the-shelf products.
In much the same way, by 2020 the PR industry will be expected to offer personalised services and this will be reflected in the methods used to create and carry out PR work. A personalised service will be achieved by the industry with intelligent data analysis paired with exploiting the potential of newly available technologies from web optimization and SEO to digital design and artificial intelligence. The PR and communications industry will encourage members to begin adopting potentially lucrative new products as soon as the early adopters move in, incorporating new technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, smarter apps.
Better access to data and technology will ultimately have an impact on how we measure success in PR and communications. For example, Manifest London’s ‘Naked & Famous’ strategy is trialing ‘watching the impact of a campaign (sometimes in real time) through web tools and often adjusting the budget accordingly to dial up or down results”5. When access to real time, accurate data is possible and accessible, this model could be used to avoid risk by allowing PRs to take calculated and informed decisions as well as clearly explaining and displaying results.
Overall, the PR industry in 2020 and beyond will be fast moving. We will lead the way in embracing new technologies and big data, incorporating the information into key decision- making processes. As data enables us to accurately learn from how our industry works, we will be motivated to innovate, create and think bigger and better than ever. Our results, which can be so intangible at times, will be easier to recognise and understand, showing off the enormous value of the PR industry.
2 The Web of Knowledge, Kenneth Cukier, Megachange The World in 2050, The Economist, p.243
5 Alex Myers, Chapter 13, FuturePRoof