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The Role of Public Relations in 2016

Published on
February 26, 2016

The Past and Present Role of Public Relations (“PR”)

In 2015, I saw the PR industry coming into its own, as companies and organizations across the globe recognised the fundamental need to shift how, and how quickly, they need to communicate in order to meet expectations consumers for information. In 2016, the opportunity for PR and strategic communications will only expand. The reason for that change and growth is, in part, due to the broader recognition of what PR really means and putting notions to rest that PR professionals are “spin masters.” The truth is, to be successful in PR – you require a distinct ability to dissect problems, competitors, opportunities and markets. As trusted public relations professionals, every single strategy depends on one’s ability to calculate risk while not being too risk averse to any recommended approach you bring to a client. As companies and brands have come to realize this, our seat at the table has become more solidified. We are no longer an afterthought to business planning, advertising or marketing strategies. The demand for PR has never been greater, but our role has changed and here is I see things shaping up for the industry in 2016.

Larger Role in Overarching Communications Planning

PR is now part of the initial planning process for most companies and, in my view, 2016 will be a year where PR professionals will touch nearly all aspects of a company’s communications. Gone are the days when PR was execution only. It has now moved into a role where we are seen and regarded as advisors who guide organizations on an on-going basis in communicating and behaving in the best interests of its stakeholders. In 2016, our role will be akin to being the conscience of an organization and ensuring it does the right thing, not just says the right thing.

Greater Focus on Crisis Communications

In 2015 we witnessed CEOs being fired, stock prices plummeting and reputations left in tatters. We saw airlines, banks, car companies, restaurant chains, and even dating sites under attack. Companies facing threats to their reputations is not something new. What is shocking is the number of companies facing a self-inflicted reputation crisis finding themselves caught so badly off-guard. There is so much to say on this topic (worthy of another post), but put simply, all organizations must start expecting the unexpected. It’s time to consider the most highly unlikely scenarios and prepare, prepare, prepare! Who could have predicted the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal? Was that ever a factor in VW’s scenario planning? In 2016, we also see a shift from binders and notes of crisis manuals to mobile versions that are shorter, mobile friendly and easily accessible anytime from a cloud-based service. There is no reason for the “how-to” guide to be inaccessible in a time of crisis. Data analytics will be used more-and-more to predict threats, and response times will need to be cut drastically as we work to contain a crisis in the digital age. According to Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, the majority of crises are visible within 59 minutes, whereas, it takes an average of 21 hours for companies to respond. This means that for an entire 20 hours, those company reputations were being shaped by viewpoints of others and rarely favourably. In other words, we must find out more quickly, think more strategically, and act immediately. Response times on steroids.

Link to study http://www.freshfields.com/en/global/

Helping Clients to Better Leverage The Digital World

Fast evolving technology means that we must embrace and implement new tools into our clients’ strategies. In fact, they will expect it. We already know that people are hungry for short, quick, temporary bursts of social and real-time communication. I believe that we will continue to see a rise in everything from Periscope to Virtual Reality, all vying for the chance to be the tool that connects companies to key audiences. While these types of digital tools have been mainly used behind the scenes, in 2016, these tools will provide corporate communications clients with an opportunity to find new and creative ways to communicate more effectively. As technology continues to evolve, Clients will rely on PR teams more than ever to decide which tools to use, when and how.

Greater expectation of PR’s Role in Policy ( Bridging the Gap Between PR and Government Relations)

Like most things, PR cannot operate in a vacuum, especially because we are often relied on to be the “eyes and ears” of an organization, constantly watching for opportunities or issues that could impact its business. To be successful in 2016, PR professionals must look beyond the front page stories and closely watch for key policies that have the potential impact on a client’s business or industry. For example, how does the Climate Change Policy impact a chemical manufacturing company? Today, our role must include collaboration with government relations experts so that policies can be mapped in advanced and their impacts anticipated.

Content and Monitoring is King for Social Media

Thankfully, we are seeing a shift back to quality over quantity and more “strategy” is being implemented to what we say, how we say it and where we say it. With so many platforms out there, it can be difficult to discern where we should play, if at all, and how often. These types of questions will become critical as PR professionals are asked to develop content-driven social media campaigns. Online media impressions are great, but for those in the know, we understand that targeting will become a common line item in communications plans. Monitoring and measurement are not to be overlooked. From a monitoring perspective, you can never be too early to the game. Issues that could either positively or negatively impact your clients must be flagged and raised quickly, and be capitalized on (or mitigated) depending on the situation. With today’s software, this is entirely possible if monitoring strategies are in place early and sophisticated tools are working in the background. From a measurement standpoint, clients expect more, and as a result, we must deliver more. At the end of any project, we must be able to verify success and prove return-on-investment to the clients we represent. Measurement is essential if we are going to adjust strategies and tactics on developing situations with a changing audience. Without this, we will never be able to improve.

Back to our Roots: Traditional Media Relations

Finally, let’s not ignore traditional media and the importance of our relationships with media. We need to ensure that our teams continue to develop the necessary skills to have thoughtful and productive conversations with journalists and reporters. To do this, we must stop acting or accepting the characterization that PR practitioners are gatekeepers between their companies and the media. Actually, we are quite the opposite. We should be their access point, their first call, and an irreplaceable and available resource. If we fail to be of utility to them, our clients’ stories will never make it into the news. Our focus in 2016 will be to remind ourselves that PR is all about building and sustaining relationships – especially with reporters.

Final thoughts….

Public Relations is, and will continue to be, critical to fulfilling a company or organization’s objectives. Our role as professionals will be to ensure that you, our client, are better prepared to react quickly and to have the tools in place to do so. It will continue to play a bigger and more vital role in promoting and protecting companies from external threats, or from themselves, and if you don’t believe that, prepare yourself — the ride will be rocky.

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