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PRCA 50: More Maths, More Magic

This is part of a series of blog posts celebrating our 50th anniversary, all of which address the question: What does the future of the PR and communications industry look like?

Fifty years ago PR was a village. Today there are 86,000 of us. Fifty years ago there were 50,000 newsroom staff in this country. Today there are 17,000. One conclusion: we have done very well. Another: there is now far more competition for far fewer media outlets.

We hope the media will recover, but the combat for exposure will intensify.

PR is an odd mixture of maths and magic. It is unlike any other professional business service: part-science, part-art. PR people seem to come from anywhere. They are a bit like each other but PR is unlike any other form of consultancy. Except advertising, where we bow politely while ordering a wreath.

Einstein said ‘I never think of the future. It comes soon enough’. Few of us are geniuses so we have to conjecture what’s next and get there ahead of other agencies. Here are two thoughts:

More maths

Clients and their agencies know that PR works. Sometimes it delivers spectacular results, but it always delivers. That’s why the UK PR budget is now over £13 billion a year. How does it achieve its effects? This has always been a bit hazy – at its worst ‘smoke and mirrors’. Now, however, the science of Behavioural Economics is beginning to explain the mechanics. By combining experimental psychology with statistical economics BE can tell us how and why people make decisions and how these decisions can be influenced.

I think BE is the most exciting innovation in PR today. I expect its use to become universal. It will banish ‘smoke and mirrors’ forever and put PR on a sound, scientific footing.

If you are interested, watch Rory Sutherland’s brilliant TED talks.

More magic

People in Western Europe receive over 4,000 commercial messages every day. Attracting attention is all about creativity. But how many PR activations can you remember right now? One or two, at best.

There is an irresistible tendency for account handlers to become more like their clients. The ad agencies realised this years ago and set up a barrier between ‘suits’ and ‘creatives’. I think we will follow the same path.

Relationship managers will continue to resemble their clients. Creative talent will be anything but. PR firms will hire ideas people from every conceivable background. New ideas are what win clients and keep them happy. A genuinely diverse approach to recruitment will – I’m glad to say – be seen as not just the right thing to do but also as the best strategy for business success.