PR predictions for 2011 reviewed and 2012 foretold

Fireworks, green, background, landscapes, desktopOn 11.1.11 (or 1.11.11 depending on your dating preference) I wrote my 11 PR predictions for 2011.  I’ve added some thoughts on the past 12 months, and a new prediction for what 2012 will bring.

1. The mid-to-late-majority enter social media – we’ve definitely seen continued growth in social media usage, with what I claimed would be “lots of money spent on initiatives that no-one will notice or care about”.  Being on Twitter, having a Facebook page, using LinkedIn and so forth have become common practice.  One issue however, is that it is becoming harder to filter out what is interesting owing to the trend towards retweeting, “junk” commenting and general nonsense.  Where once you could search via Twitter for updates on a situation, today you’ll struggle to find the news among the spam and irreverent comments.

2012 Thoughts: Peak presence is on the horizon with an increasing number of people abandoning or at least reigning back on their engagement in social media.  The challenge for PR campaigns will be to gain attention in an overloaded SM world.

2. Social media demands pay to play – again, I think I was reasonably accurate with my observation that “money will replace ‘conversation’ as the core currency”. Although it is still free to engage with much social media, we have definitely seen increased marketisation of social media presence.

2012 Thoughts: We are likely to see increased acceptance of payment for privileged social media services, which may exclude advertising, offer enhanced access or greater privacy.

3. Journalists find a slower revolving door – okay, the door into PR is still open for hacks, but I’ve noticed fewer such appointments headlining in PR Week.  Mind you, criticism of PR graduates as failing to understand mainstream media needs continues which indicates ongoing focus on the traditional journo skills.

2012 Thoughts: Much of mainstream media will continue to be under pressure, and with the increased number of PR practitioners (particularly ex-public sector) in the marketplace, journalists will not find a move into PR an easy option.

4. Opportunity of too few good PR people – I was spot on with the statement that “demand for intelligent, capable PR practitioners will continue to exceed supply”.  The ongoing economic situation hasn’t eased this situation as I know through the MIPAA JobSearch service that demand is outpacing supply.

2012 Thoughts: The demand for intelligent, experienced PR practitioners will escalate despite the influx of job seekers.  I do envisage that many organizations will save money by cutting top PR jobs, as the need to advocate the value of PR at the most senior level has not been won.

5. PR disasters hit record levels – I think it has been an interesting year for the “PR disaster” market.  My take is that the crisis cycle has shortened to a matter of hours or days, with many disappearing as quickly as they appeared.  We’ve definitely continued to see online commentary on situations, but there avalanche of corporate and celebrity crises has accelerated to such a pace that many are hard to recall.  In the UK for example, the Nurofen tampering crisis lasted barely a weekend.  Others such as News International’s phone hacking scandal are ongoing, but it’s hard to feel the public has as much interest as the mainstream media on that one.

2012 Thoughts: Next year will see this short-crisis cycle continue which could have a mixed-impact.  It could mean that how an organization handles a crisis becomes less important – they simply have to survive the initial attention before the heat moves elsewhere.  Alternatively, crisis management will get smarter and recognise the need for a more flexible and higher value approach that identifies risk and manages issues before the bubble of a high profile crisis occurs.

6. PR goes 24/7 – I feel that life-work integration has been an ongoing trend with the UK PR Census reporting an increasingly longer working week.  But I’m not sure 2011 was the tipping point that I predicted.  In fact, an interesting end of year story is that of VW which has introduced out of hour Blackberry restrictions for its German workers.  I doubt this applies to those in PR, but work-life tensions

2012 Thoughts: Working in PR will get tougher – with redundancies and increased expectations from clients and employers.  We’ve benefited in the past three years as marketing spend was shifted towards PR, but 2012 will see demand for proof that PR is delivering.  Rather than demonstrating value added, I believe we’ll see the industry respond by trying to deliver more for less – which will mean increased expectations on the PR function to respond around the clock.

7. Weather will worsen – my point here was to advocate “a new flexibility in leading their organizations in managing risk, issues, relationships and reputation”.  I’m not sure that PR has responded in this way.  My feeling is that the industry has looked for easier money by ramping up the promotional side of PR rather than look for more strategic influence.

2012 Thoughts: Sadly as with point 6, I feel PR will continue to devalue its services.  There will be more of those made redundant working as freelancers and needing to deliver whatever is required to pay the mortgage.  

8. Everyone’s a celebrity – give me 10 out of 10 for this one.  I wrote: “those who have already had their time in the spotlight will act in ever more extreme ways to get attention”.  I think that Charlie Sheen and Frankie Cocozza (UK X-Factor reject) make my case.

2012 Thoughts: There will be more attention paid to nonentities in 2012, but I think the pioneering approach of Lady Gaga will see more celebrities try to follow suit in building a profitable fan base, particularly though social media and links to big brands.  The attention and loyalty that celebrities today can achieve offers a new channel which is irresistible to consumer brands.

9. Privy to privacy – my prediction was that “secrets will make a comeback”. On the one hand, people have been ever more prepared to say it all online.  We’ve also had social media successfully outplay court injunctions.  But, we have seen the backlash start – not least as a result of the News International exposure of media hacking of mobile phones.

2012 Thoughts: I still maintain that privacy must be valued and that at some point the public will recognise that they need to protect their data and profile online.   

10. Slow is the new fast – I thought we’d see PR practitioners take more time “to develop relationships, manage a reputation, build good narratives, and respond professionally”. The tortoise will win the race, but the hare appears to be ahead at the end of 2011.

2012 Thoughts: PR practitioners are missing out on real results by focusing on the short-term immediate needs of mainstream and online media.  I’m not sure this will be recognised in 2012 however.

11. Bad practices are not dead – my view was that “despite greater recognition of the need to demonstrate value and measure PR by more than advertising value equivalent (AVE), poor practices are not yet ready to lay down and die”.  I know this is still the case, but some significant moves away from AVE at least have been made.  I also noted “anyone will be able to call themselves a PR professional despite lacking any evidence that they have either experience or a qualification (or ideally both) to prove their capabilities.”  I think that some initiatives by the UK professional bodies have, on the face of it, undermined the arguments for better educated PR practitioners – but I’m open minded on their impact.

2012 Thoughts: Taking part in the CIPR’s 2020 Project I envisaged a schism between those focusing on tactical delivery and more strategic practitioners.  My feeling is that this is closer in 2012 – fed in part by all the above points.

12. PR won’t be a lot of fun – I’ve been researching PR in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s and something that emerges is that PR used to be more fun!  I don’t think we will see a return to those days anytime soon and perhaps calling for increased respect, intelligence and strategic thinking is part of the death of fun in PR.  But if fun means focusing on organising events, schmoozing journalists and using social media without any real purpose or benefits, PR doesn’t need to be a barrel of laughs everyday.  What I would like to see is a high level of professional satisfaction from working in a PR field that is increasingly recognised for its capabilities rather than its frivolous reputation.

As ever, I believe que sera sera – but look forward to your thoughts on what 2011 brought and 2012 will bring.

Published by

Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

2 thoughts on “PR predictions for 2011 reviewed and 2012 foretold”

  1. Heather, I like your list; only disagree about privacy because radical transparency is now part of the DNA of the internet.

    I do want to go much further. PR is getting more complicated if it is to be really good.

    You see, I don’t think we have got the size of this right. Use of Click and Collect operations to buy online from John Lewis and collect from 129 John Lewis and Waitrose stores, rose by 90% in December. A rise in double figures is usual but to nearly double activity, and John Lewis is not alone, is much more significant. The way people interact with organisations to meet day to day needs is changing yet again. It is no longer using a PC to ‘shop online’. It is much more.

    I do not find that PR people understand that their work has now shifted from email to social media. The nature of email is changing fast. It is becoming, not a channel for communication, but a record of transactions. In the meantime, the newer forms of communication carry with them a lot of added data about who ‘you’ are and what ‘you’ are about. This year we will be able to find the patterns in ‘you’ behaviour. Such capabilities are reputation and relationship sensitive. Thus our work, our transparency, will be as much measured by our action as our (no doubt beautifully crafted) words.

    I live close to the M4. It is no longer a road. It is a data super-highway. Every truck and car is belting out data, collecting data, processing data and dependant on data as it cruises by at 80mph and we are only just beginning to understand that the 60 people in the coach passing by has as much connectivity at 70mph as they do at home. It is not just data any-more, it is broadcast and available to anyone with a good idea.

    The average UK home broadband user downloads 17 gigabytes of data each month. This is a lot. In doing so they generate almost as much data in various computers round the world. We are now pretty good at digging around in that (Big) data to create yet another new economy. Trading in social responses to be better at resource management (lets call it response to news, reaction to brands, health or electricity use and application as examples) and similar interactions is opening up a new world of economic and social relationships (aka PR) and understanding.

    The average press article, when published online generates several (tens of) thousand fields of information about the article from the sex, age, location, reading device and time the story was read to its semantic structure, Part of Speech make-up, media it is read on and the changed and morphed nature and demographics as it passes from site to site and hand to hand. This is BIG PR data and this year it will be available to anyone who wants it (plus social media as part of an ‘every kind of media’ ambition). Mix this data soup with outcome data, and PR evaluation will change yet again. I think this will be available this year too.

    Thus while the PR industry will continue to get excited about the technologies of the last decade (MySpace – 9 years, Facebook – 8 years, Twitter – 5 years etc – all pretty old), it has to recognise some of the new stuff that has been coming up behind.

    At the same time, the demise of the PC (except in the offices of the professions) is writ large on the wall of future and fortune (would you buy a replacement PC this year?, next year?, the year after?). What kind of relationship can an organisation have with its constituency if its web site is not optimised for a smart phone?

    In examining the PR landscape, I believe the industry and practitioners have to look across a much broader horizon to be relevant in 12 months time.

  2. David – thanks for your comment. I do think that privacy is an issue regardless of “radical transparency”. One of the challenges is that although data is shared knowingly and unknowingly online, how it is used as a result is what concerns people. So numerous issues come to mind, from scams to hacking, losing data to abusing the trust that comes with holding information about people.

    I agree very much with you about how PR is getting more complicated if it is to be really good. Indeed, I think we have to be able to embrace complexity and take a lead with the increasing feeling of chaos that occurs as the illusion of control is exposed.

    My feeling however, is that most PR people think that they’ve cracked digital PR – either by learning the basic social media skills themselves or by outsourcing the responsibilities to agencies (or passed elsewhere in organizations apart from a media-oriented Twitter account probably).

    As you indicate, however, we’re only at the edge of the cyclone. But I don’t think this just means transparency in our work, because frankly I’m not sure most of the world cares that much about what PR people are doing – although its results should be of strategic value. That for me is one of the greatest challenges which is illustrated by your evidence of the data increase (overload?) and accessibility to everyone.

    You are right about the creation of new information via the social machine concept of human interaction online. It is a huge challenge for data protection and reputation management presenting opportunities and threats. Monitoring a complex web where information not only interconnects but continously changes will be like wrestling with fog in many respects. Not convinced that most PR people, or their organizations, will really get their head around that type of communications environment, let alone engage with evaluating with it. After all, we’re still in a world of AVE and Likes!

    I don’t think the PC is dead – but we’re in another phase of the And… world. Yes, mobile is the new means of accessing through a variety of devices, but home access will remain beyond the tablet and phone device. I envisage more like hybrid phone-television-PC-gaming devices in the future wireless home which interconnects as per the Day of Glass Corning video.

    This presents a challenge less around whether a website is optimised, but what ‘data’ is available from organizations to support the increased human interconnectedness and user-creation aspects that are coming our way. So, yes absolutely a much broader horizon – and if all PR can offer is an understanding of words and traditional influencers, then who knows what next year’s review will bring.

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