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Guest column: PR Trends in 2018: Anup Sharma

30-December-2017
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Guest column: PR Trends in 2018: Anup Sharma

There is a lot of noise out there. I don't want to follow the trend - I want to create the trend: Iman

As 2018 comes knocking at our doors, these are some of the major shifts and trends in the Indian Public Relations industry:
More Time will be spent by organisations on fighting issues: If it was United Airlines or IndiGo in 2017, expect more such PR crisis issue in 2018. As social media become the key source of views, news (real/fake) and now life-influencer, managing the crisis of credibility and perception for brands will be more important than fact-sharing. Every communication and organisation behaviour will be under lens-eye and brands will have to truly walk the talk. To be relevant the PR firms will have to invest in technology - Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning for Social listening and in predictive analytics to identify and mitigate potential crises for their clients.

Role of Influencers and Brand Ambassadors will be questioned – If 2017 saw influencers/ brand ambassador like MS Dhoni being trolled (for delay in the Amrapali housing projects he endorsed), 2018 is going to witness the new trend of consumer holding the celebrity accountable for the performance of the brand they endorse and influence. The blurring line between paid and earned media had brought the issue of credibility and trust in communication, leading to the growing importance of influencers who were being used to drive the engagement but in 2018 PR firms will have to identify and work closely with ‘real’ influencers and authentic voices not only to strengthen flow of information but also to control the narratives and manage the Truth-Trust-Transparency.

‎Internet penetration will drive Regional language communications: In 2017 India had 1186 million mobile subscribers and 430 million internet users - more than 30% of these came from the rural areas and 94% connecting through mobile devices. A 2017 KPMG and Google study found that nearly 70% of Indians consider local language digital content more reliable than English content. In 2018 this number is expected to grow exponentially with mobile players like JIO offering (almost) free internet services and cheaper smartphones supporting regional languages, opening a whole new set of users from across the country, who will adapt the digital platform in their regional language and on their device. PR firms will have to create authentic, engaging, high-quality, and real-time content in multiple languages catering to this growing digital population.

Clients will demand more face time with senior leadership: With the changing media landscape, media consumption habits and the growth of social media, organisations are realizing the importance of managing reputation more than ever. In 2018 the role of PR firms will go beyond reputation management to being strategic advisors. While Big Data, AI, VR driven communication will be a powerful tool, but how that data translates to the stakeholders engagement will be paramount in PR campaigns of 2018. This would mean that the teams have to upscale their skills and the clients will not only demand more face-time from the senior leadership team of the firms but also expect the team members to focus more on developing and implementing creative strategies and programs.

The debate on PR measurements will continue: With the work scope of Public Relations firms growing beyond just a media management relation not every aspect of communication outreach being managed by the PR firm can be quantitatively measured. The trend of PR Measurement as a topic to be discussed and debated will continue to be restricted to seminars / conferences and tweetchats in 2018.

The audience will be more Mobile: In 2017, Indians internet users spent about 34% of their time on social messaging and average Indian spends 7 times more time on their mobile phone than on watching TV and 14 times more than on reading print material. In 2018 expect the media consumption habits will change further with TV news viewing decreasing further -- more people will consume news / views online – ‘on-the-go’ on their mobile device. As the attention spans of users decrease, in 2018 PR Firms will have to rely more and more on creating more multi language non-newsy but engaging interactive short snackable content to compete with the user-generated content on Instagram/Facebook stories and original webseries.

Print will still be critical: Globally, India continues to be one of the few growth markets for print media. In 2018, though Print media is likely to continue its robust growth, it will be the slowest rate among other media platforms like TV, Radio, Digital, etc. but it (print) will continue to remain the most credible source of information, despite the fact that most people now, consume news from social media. While all communication mandate will have Digital at the core of the brand communication strategy the challenge for a PR firm of getting coverage in print will remain, as most clients will want their stories to “see the ink” in print.

Messaging services will override all traditional media platforms: The growth of digital and new-age media has brought a major change in the media consumption habits, not only in terms of content but also in mode and time. With a huge population getting together on single platform, online messenger services like ShareChat, WhatsApp will become the biggest media channel to make or break stories. Local news will get transformed by the power of digital technology and single platforms of Messenger services. PR firms will have to educate their clients on the new model to ‘promote’ Earned media through Owned and Paid media and multiply reach through a ‘Push’ through the Shared media (Messenger services / social media) - which is becoming the syndicated news distributor.

(Anup Sharma is an Independent Communication Consultant with more than two decades of experience in political campaign management, corporate communication and social media engagement)
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com.

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