2014: Change is in the Air

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  • December 18, 2013
  • Starr Million Baker

We’re working with clients on 2014 predictions this month, pitching stories on what’s next in mobile or how SMBs will fare in the new year. While we’re at it, I thought I’d wax philosophic on the PR industry – or will we even call it that in 2014? Read on:

Earlier this year, Michael Nyman, chairman and CEO at PMK*BNC said, “Clients are less concerned about hiring agencies for every silo and more concerned with finding smart partners who they like to work with.” Right on, Michael. We’re seeing this in action with our current and new clients this year, and expect even more partnerships and less “we just want a media relations agency” in 2014.

Speaking of media relations, it’s not the end-all-be-all. There, I’ve said it. (Actually, I’ve been saying it for years, but this time I think people might listen.) Public relations is not equivalent to media relations – it’s just one tool in the toolbox – and 2014 will be the year that clients truly get that. Yep, it’s important to have strong relationships with the media our clients need to know. And yep, it’s just as important to know how to build relationships with new media. But if that’s all your public relations program is built on – no content, no graphic design, no social media campaigns – it will fail. You can’t build a house with just a hammer.

In 2014, we’re going to see clients and agencies focus even more on brand journalism, becoming their own content machines (we’re going beyond the corporate blog now). I am slightly concerned this will mean a massive outpouring of content that’s not focused or interesting to anyone as some brands go for the mass appeal/shotgun approach, and suspect in 2015 we’ll see a shift to better content curation. But in the meantime, there is opportunity for brands to create content that not only stands out, but strengthens its position among its key audiences. And there is opportunity for agencies with good writers and visual designers and thinkers on staff to grow.

Lastly, in 2014 I predict a total and complete identity crisis for PR firms. The seeds are already there – agencies across the board are dropping “PR” and “Public Relations” from their names (heck, we did it too), yet still struggling for that perfect descriptor of what they do. Content creation? Check. Messaging and brand identity? Check. Media and analyst relations? Check. Research, measurement and analytics, strategic counsel on the best way to communicate with your audiences? Yep, we do that in spades. So what IS all of that? I say it’s public relations. But I do recognize I’m fighting an uphill battle with those that have a much narrower definition of the field. Is it just communications then? Or is it what we make of it, the PR industry’s opportunity to redefine itself? In 2014, we’ll see a huge blending of what were traditional marketing-advertising-public relations roles. Call it whatever you want, but the agencies who come out on top will be those that have the best communications people – verbal and visual creative thinkers – on teams clients want to work with.

 Bring it 2014. We’re ready!