What are the PR trends facing us in 2021? Whether owned, earned, shared or paid for, the power of PR has always focused on being talked about. There’s no doubting that 2020 certainly showed us the importance that, but in a world full of worry and negativity, it was finally the time to be talked about for the right reasons.
Sometimes, PR can be a tough gig. You’ve got great stories to shout about, but journalists are looking for controversy and click bait. I didn’t quite need a global pandemic to turn the tables, but along with Brexit and Trump, it certainly helped as suddenly the media wanted positive and light-hearted stories. Cue every PR pro reaching into the archives to pull out their best press releases.
This wasn’t just about funny April Fool’s headlines (although we all remember the ‘grow your own condom’ story that we did with Pasante a few years ago!), this was about showing the importance of connection, putting the spotlight on our communities, and flooding the media with people. Actual real people.
As we kickstart a new year, my biggest hope is that we aren’t too quick to forget our lockdown learnings. We need to remember each other, keep that kindness going, and continue to care about our impact on the world. 2020 is the year we learned some tough lessons and 2021 is the year that we action them.
So, what’s in store this year and what are the PR trends that we’re likely to see? I know better than to anticipate what the universe has in store for us, but here’s what I think will be at the top of the agenda for PR agencies and in-house pros in the coming months.
The brands that came to the forefront throughout 2020 were those with great values. Those owner-managed businesses who do everything with purpose and want to create change. Finally, these businesses, who have often struggled to get their positive news stories covered, will be the first port of call for journalists looking to better represent what’s actually happening in the world.
I think it’s really important that we broaden how we see change. We don’t all have to be Greta Thunberg – and it’s about more than just carbon emissions. We’ve seen the world fall apart in front of our eyes, so this year has to show people the small changes that they can make to create a better environment for everyone; from going plastic-free and shopping small, to ensuring we’re diverse in our thinking and representing all communities across the board.
Any PR pro knows that the “spray and pray” tactic of sending a press release to a giant press list isn’t how you do good PR, but the importance of focused messaging and one-to-one journalist relationships is more important than ever. The media had to move almost wholly online overnight back in March, so a key PR trend is using this to our advantage with more exciting and dynamic content.
This digital acceleration will also see a greater focused placed on multi-channel messaging, with a rise in translation making brands more ‘global’. As well as prioritising better accessibility, to help reach those sometimes-forgotten audiences. Even simple website descriptions can start to open up a world to those who have all too often been missed from PR campaigns; those with learning disabilities and visual impairments will now have their needs considered beyond public sector guidelines.
INSIGHT: MORE THAN JUST RESEARCH AND REPORTING
We’ve always known the value of audience insight; after all, PR is about understanding people and making messages work for them. This year, I think this will truly come into its own, as we carry through some of those 2020 lessons about people and understanding what truly makes them tick being a key PR trend.
Consumers no longer just ‘buy’ from brands… they join them. They jump on board with their values and become part of communities. Even for the simplest of products and services, this is going to be the case so dump the old school audience profiles and get to know who you’re selling to and why they buy from you.
CREATIVE MODELS OF WORKING
Yes, here I am back on the flexible working bandwagon, but I truly believe we have a big opportunity to change. For some of those resistant to a new way of working, they’re going to be forced into it by a workforce that demands more, but for agencies like EAST VILLAGE. who have embraced it wholeheartedly, exciting things are coming. Businesses have to be more flexible in how they operate; with hybrid and home-working becoming the “norm” even after we start to return to a more normal way of life.
Added to this, I think we’ll see a lot more collaboration. Agency owners will likely understand me, but in the past we’ve started to deliver things that aren’t our expertise… it just kind of ‘happens’. You do a favour for a client and then, suddenly, they expect you to keep doing it. So, you do and it’s only a few months (or maybe even years) down the line that you realise you’ve stretched yourselves too thin or lost your original discipline. I think 2021 will see people move away from the ‘360’ agency model and, instead, work with other agencies, freelancers and creatives to offer clients a more focused and expert approach.
THE RISE IN DIY PR
Anyone in PR who hasn’t seen this coming must have their eyes closed, but it’s an obvious move and one that we should embrace. ‘DIY’ PR is here to stay, and it means that agencies need to adapt how they operate so that they fit into this new landscape. There are some great PR experts out there, who I often share and direct people to: Lucy Werner, Fiona at Boss Your PR, Antonia Taylor and PR Dispatch are all helping businesses learn how to do their own PR. Even as a business owner, I’ve suggested people do it themselves when I’ve looked at their business and struggled to justify what we could do for them. I don’t believe in taking people’s money if we’re not providing true value.
This, of course, isn’t for everyone but it’s exactly why we set up Pocket Sized PR. I wanted to support small business owners at a time they needed it most; with free PR and marketing tips, templates and how-to guides, as well as easy-to-understand PR and social media packages tailored to #smallbiz budgets. The old PR agency model isn’t quite dead yet, but it does need to change because the 10-day-a-month retainers with brands who have huge marketing budgets are few and far between.
So that’s it… my predictions for PR trends in 2021. PR finally stepped into the spotlight last year and now it’s time to truly flourish; we’ve showed that we’re about more than just column inches and opened people’s eyes to why traditional ROI models don’t work for PR. So, let’s embrace the chance and evolve as quickly as our consumers… it’s going to be an exciting year for anyone marketing a brand!