2018: The Year of…?


On Friday I joined the PRCA for their conference on ‘2017: The Year of…’. Wide-ranging topics included business and consumer trends for 2017, post-truth communications, the continued rise of VR in PR and the PRCA’s 17 recommendations for great communications in 2017

With only one mention of Millennials this time around, time will tell what will be on the agenda next year but the clues may well be in the wide-ranging debate that followed.

‘The Emotional Economy’ was highlighted as one of five key business and consumer trends for 2017 by Trevor Hardy, CEO from The Future Laboratory. Consumers are increasingly obsessed with how things make them feel and it is their emotional buttons that need to be pressed by brands for maximum relevance and engagement. This, as it was pointed out on the day, continues to be a key opportunity for the PR industry.

A question that arose in the debate on post-truth communications was whether institutions, brands and the public were really listening to each other. There have been enough shocks over the last year to suggest that that the answer is no.

We heard how audiences are increasingly distrustful of facts – preferring to communicate with like-minded peers in echo chambers – and there is a lack of understanding on the part of communicators, too many divorced from reality.

The panel discussion on 17 tips for successful communications in 2017 moved freely from topic to topic, and touched on PR automation – in at number 10 in the PRCA’s 17 for’17. If technology can improve monitoring and evaluation, strengthen insights when it comes to what audiences are thinking and saying it should be embraced, enabling time to be better spent on strategy and creativity.

Facts may be less trusted by the public – and communicators need to be more transparent than ever – but insight from the real world is vital in order to create the right content that will resonate with audiences on the emotional level that is so important now. The requirement for real world insight to really hear what people are saying has not gone unnoticed in the advertising industry either. Ogilvy & Mather has recently launched ‘Get Out There’ to encourage their planners to do just that, to get into the real world to find insight direct from target consumers in their natural habits.

Facts and emotion may be poles apart when it comes to post-truth communications but effective communications requires both. By allowing us to better listen to our audiences, PR automation can play its part in enabling us to communicate more effectively.

One statement that resonated was that the public trust algorithms more than they trust editors, and if algorithms and Artificial Intelligence can improve insight from listening tools we should trust and embrace them too.

As ever, it is an exciting time in the industry and it will be fascinating to see where PR automation takes us. It is more likely to mean we will become more effective at our jobs, rather than out of a job.

If I were to pick out two more recommendations to highlight from the PRCA’s 17 for 2017 list, the first would be Escapism. After the recent period of upheaval, consumers are looking for adventure, creative immersion and self-improvement through fresh new experiences. There is a desire to learn and ‘doing’ resonates more than ‘learning’. This is ideal territory for brands that can educate and form new connections with consumers in engaging and innovative ways.

My second, semi-reluctantly, would be Fake news, which can’t be ignored and isn’t going away. One month into the year so far and a client has already been a victim of the rumour mill on Facebook which sparked journalist enquiries – cue rapid statement rebuttals. My hope is that this time next year fake news will only receive a minor mention in passing when we debate 2018: The Year of…?

Jonathan Smith
Director, Trade

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