The public relations profession has been evolving. For example, digital PR strategies that focus on social media management and multi-channel communications didn’t exist until the early 2010s. At that time, social networks achieved critical mass in their user numbers, while various specialized tools for management, analytics, and more became widely available to PR and marketing professionals.
We can expect PR to continue to evolve, and major changes will continue to impact the profession. In this context, it will be important for PR practitioners to have the experience and background to navigate a wide variety of challenges, as well as shifts in their responsibilities. A major 2017 survey of PR executives found that 87% of them felt “public relations” wouldn’t fully describe what they would be doing five years in the future.
The biggest trends in PR in 2019
Two years later, what trends are influencing PR the most? Let’s take a look at a few of them, and then at how earning your Master’s in Strategic Public Relations (SPR) from the George Washington University (GW) can help you succeed as a modern PR professional.
1. Content marketing and PR are becoming more intertwined
PR does not have to involve direct promotion of a company’s name or even its cause. With the rise of content marketing, PR professionals have new avenues for reaching and influencing the public through educational posts that provide more value and less heavy-handedness than an ad or even a press release.
A content marketing strategy might include blog posts, white papers, ebooks, infographics, podcasts and other types of media, but the format in question is usually less important than what’s actually being communicated. Effective content marketing is often educational, taking the form of a how-to guide, a list of tips, an analysis of trends or something else that helps establish the organization as trustworthy and knowledgeable and in turn generate positive PR.
2. Audio is turning into a pivotal channel for PR communications
When you think of PR content, what comes to mind first? Probably something written or visual, whether that’s a press release, infographic or video. But audio content is coming into its own, thanks to the rise of podcasts and the proliferation of smart speakers and virtual in-home assistants.
According to Edison Research, more than a quarter of Americans listen to podcasts, and podcast listeners are also more likely to own speakers like Amazon Alexa, Google Home or Apple HomePod. A 2018 HubSpot survey also found that one in six marketers planned to add podcasts to their content strategies over the next year.
Podcasts provide a great format for content marketing, as PR professionals might lead an in-depth discussion of a topic, interview an industry expert or answer submitted listener questions. Meanwhile, smart speakers are becoming more important to the delivery of news updates and general consumption of media, making them key focus areas for PR professionals looking to shape narratives.
3. AI, machine learning and other cutting-edge technologies are taking center stage
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are two of the most prominent innovations in consumer and enterprise tech of the 2010s. Thanks to AI and ML, software programs can perform basic and advanced tasks without the need for human intervention or reprogramming.
For example, AI is the engine behind every voice-powered assistant, giving it the capabilities to parse natural language input and formulate an appropriate response. Similarly, ML supports the continuous improvement of services such as image recognition software and CPU-controlled opponents in video games.
In PR, both AI and ML have major implications. An AI program might eventually be able to produce well-written press releases at scale, curate media contact lists, potentially predict crises and suggest a feasible response.
4. The public’s trust in the media is becoming more uneven
Effective PR requires projecting credibility to your audiences. Unfortunately, doing so is becoming more difficult as the public’s trust in the media continues to fluctuate.
The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer found a huge gap in trust between informed individuals and the mass population. This imbalance means that PR professionals have to continue to think about the different ways their work could be perceived depending on its audience and reach.
The same Edelman survey revealed that 70% of respondents worried about the weaponization of fake news. This widespread anxiety may be linked to the fact that overall engagement with news-related content rose 22 points from 2018, meaning more people are giving importance to the trustworthiness of what they read, view and listen to. PR professionals must take these concerns to heart.
5. Corporate social responsibility is on the rise
Organizations are always thinking about ways to improve their image. One reliable strategy is to pursue corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives showing that a company’s leadership cares about more than just whether it turns a profit.
Dunkin’ (formerly Dunkin’ Donuts) took this route in 2018 when it announced that it would be eliminating polystyrene styrofoam cups from its supply chain that year, with a full phase-out set for 2020. Those cups aren’t easily biodegradable and as such have long been a sticking point in conversations about environmental sustainability. Its move toward CSR addressed those concerns and positioned the company as a force for good.
Prepare for the future of PR with an SPR master’s degree
The SPR program at the George Washington University provides in-depth coursework that will prepare you for managing CSR initiatives and much more. As a 100% online track, it offers a combination of rigor and flexibility that’s perfect for today’s busy PR professionals.
You will have the opportunity to work with world-class faculty, extend your professional network and complete a capstone project that brings all of your interests together. Learn more by visiting the SPR overview page today, where you can fill out a quick form to receive a copy of our brochure.
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