pr trends 14

It’s that time of year when we start to reflect upon the past and consider the future, and take stock of our personal skills and development. The significant changes in the digital media environment that are so instrumental in shaping public opinion today require us, as communicators, to continually update and refresh our strategies and tactics.

Here some PR trends we’re seeing for the coming year.

Niche amplification: As of this writing, Google’s revenues are greater than the US newspaper and magazine markets – combined – and their business is built on delivering niche information. And social signals play an important role in how Google (and other search engines) categorize information – in fact, according to the latest data I could find, eight of the top ten factors Google uses to index information are derived from social interaction.

All that orange at the top of the graph signifies the role social media play in informing search results.

What does all this mean? Simply put, it means that digital audiences are drivers of message visibility, and generating interaction around messages – likes, shares, tweets, pins and clicks on links – are crucial components of digital visibility today.

To generate the authentic sort of interest among audiences who care, communicators are driving deep into niche interests. They’re not targeting the top 100 food bloggers, for example, for a pitch about gluten-free ingredients. Instead, they’re drilling into the gluten-free community, identifying and connecting with active and well-connected members of that group. Additionally, communicators are doing something else. They are crafting increasingly ….

Focused content designed to engage audiences, not just media and influencers: From Google’s emphasis on conversational search to the strength of niche magazine sales, one thing is clear: tightly focused content is eagerly consumed by audiences, especially when it offers unique insight or real utility.

What does this mean for PR pros? Audiences are telling us what they’re interested in and what they value, and this intelligence creates an important contextual framework for a variety of communications, from the pitch to the press release.

new school banner

This means framing messaging in the context of the audiences’ interest, in the form of answers to their questions, solutions to their problems and advice that ultimately makes their lives better – whether it makes a job easier, a hobby more fulfilling or a cause more compelling. This trend – the development of more focused content, is also having an impact more broadly as …

PR teams are publishers & creators of more owned content: One could argue that the definition of newsworthiness has changed, as media outlets are changing up their model and chasing the digital golden rings – namely, larger audiences and more web site traffic. In addition to emphasizing stories designed to grab public attention (such as CNN’s spectacularly comprehensive coverage of Miley Cyrus’ performance at the Video Music Awards), journalists and bloggers are actively curating content on social networks, working to bolster their own social media presences, as well as those of the outlets they represent. As a result, the digital news hole is huge, and outlets are very willing to reference owned content, including market research or user surveys. A few years, ago, a PR team probably would not have dreamed of pitching these kinds of content, but in reality, company data can offer insight and provide significant story opportunities. Savvy PR teams can work with their marketing counterparts to acquire rich visuals they can repurpose to add richness to a pitch, and they also know content that may not make the cut for a column or show can still gain exposure if an influencer shares it with his or her followers. To maximize a message’s potential; communicators are grasping another trend, which is …

Employing multiple message formats & content distribution channels: It’s a rare campaign that doesn’t have multiple news hooks or angles, and it’s a rare audience that is found in just one place. To ensure maximum uptake of a message, public relations professionals are increasingly employing a variety of message formats, and they’re deploying this content across multiple channels. Done well, this approach does two things – it acquires new audiences for the organization, and encourages deeper engagement from the audience. Delivering content across multiple channels is a sure-fire way to bring messages to new audiences, as long as the communicators behind the message are sure to synch the content with each audience. And employing a variety of formats – short form video, long form text, illustrative infographics, snackable posts and pithy tweets – ensures that people will find content in the format that is most appealing to them – which is the first step in building engagement.

Measurement of outcomes not outputs: It wouldn’t be a PR trends report without a reference to measurement, but this year, there’s a twist. Marketers are growing more and more adept at measuring campaigns, channels, messages and outcomes, and that’s increasing the pressure on PR to tighten the screws on the key performance indicators we use to describe our work. The nails are in the coffins of the equivalency metrics (such as ad value equivalencies, or worse, ad cost equivalencies) as communicators are learning to correlate message outcomes and interactions across channels, and are developing the ability to connect message reads and interactions directly with the marketing funnel and lead-generation databases within the organization.

PR is a bigger job than ever before, and the profession is growing in rigor. What’s on your radar screen as you head into 2014?