Top priorities for PR consultancies in 2020

Guest Column: Nitin Mantri, President ICCO & PRCAI and Group CEO, Avian WE, lists down some of the crucial things that will shape PR in 2020

e4m by Nitin Mantri
Updated: Mar 16, 2020 3:51 PM
Nitin Mantri

The year 2020 is special because I have finally got down to writing my own blog which I hope will be consistent! Since it’s a new year, I’ll make my debut with a long-form essay on the top priorities for PR consultancies this year. I’m purposely not using the phrase "public relations trends" as much has already been written on that subject.

I believe that Technology, Digital Media, Corporate Reputation and Purpose will dominate our work in 2020 and the next few years.

Technology will drive the global agenda

There is no escape from technology. It’s the air we breathe in. And given the speed, breadth and depth of this technological revolution, we can expect more innovations and disruptions in the coming months.

Data and analytics should be on the top of consultancy lists in 2020. With technology throwing up so much information every single day, we will need big data to sieve through the ones that are relevant to our clients, interpret them, and create more niche and creative campaigns. Analytics technology has become incredibly sophisticated in recent years and agencies should take full advantage of it.

Artificial Intelligence and machine learning will also change consultancy structures all over the world. We will employ data analytics, designers and more creative people to decipher exhaustive amounts of information and make data-driven decisions that would transform the customer experience.

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) will proliferate in 2020 as PR firms seek better creative ways to deliver brand messages to consumers.

Be human to the core

Consumer expectations from how brands will use technology are high. They are moving towards a more holistic understanding of the roles that technology and brands play in their lives. On the one hand, they want brands to use technology to innovate and make their lives better, and on the other hand, they want brands to harness technology in a human way and provide stability in a world that feels increasingly out of balance (Brands in Motion Study 2019).

So, it’s important to remember that we need both technology and people to engage and influence. While technology will make our work easier, human interface will always be at the heart of our business.

Ethical use of technology

Across genders, geographies and generations, consumers want innovations to simplify their lives, but are hyper aware of the trade-offs. Look at this data from the Brands in Motion 2019 report:

  • 69% of the people surveyed globally said change was happening too fast.
  • 97% said companies were responsible for using technology ethically.
  • 91% said brands could be adding speakers, cameras, and sensors to products to collect more data.
  • 92% said they would stop using a product or service due to the unethical use of customer data.
  • In India, respondents were more optimistic about the benefits of technology, but also more pessimistic about the downfalls.

Consumers want to respect the brands whose products or services they are using and in return want brands to treat their data and privacy with the same respect. If brands want to survive in this new world order, they must strike a balance between tech innovations and thoughtful accountability. As their strategic advisors, it’s our job to find ethical solutions that would help them to take advantage of the latest technologies without sacrificing consumer privacy.

Digital Media will further consolidate

In 2019, digital media was the top growth driver of the PR industry around the world. Year 2020 will be no different with influencer marketing, social media & community management, and multimedia content creation seeing maximum growth, according to the Holmes-ICCO World PR Report.

Clients will increasingly turn to PR firms to lead non-traditional services, with digital media topping the list. In this connection, I must mention an interesting trend which was brought to light by the ‘State of the Industry Survey 2019’, an annual study conducted by the Public Relations Consultants Association of India (PRCAI). The study pointed out that while large PR firms in India are still getting more than 50% of their revenues from conventional businesses, the younger firms have reduced their dependence on conventional media relations in favour of digital, social media, content, and design services. This cultural shift is also visible in the increase in technology spend by all PR firms and their efforts to focus on lateral employment to expand service portfolios to cover more digital, social and data-related services.

The flipside of social media proliferation

With nearly three billion people active on social media channels, news spreads at an incredibly rapid pace. Social media has made it impossible to separate fact from fiction and brands are more at risk of being criticised or judged for their actions. In countries such as India, WhatsApp and Facebook are being used by a lot of first-time users who do not know much about verified news/information. Facebook has taken several preemptive measures to stop the spread of disinformation. But the problem of fake news persists.

With every piece of false news, consumers are losing their trust and the freedom of being human. The chilling effect of loss of trust is digital restrictions which will eventually thwart our creativity and imagination.

We cannot let that happen. As communicators, we must do our bit by speaking the truth, and ensure that our clients communicate with their customers and other stakeholders in a transparent manner. Only transparent communication can cut through divisiveness, build new levels of respect between brands and customers, and lead to stability and peace - two critical things consumers expect from brands today.

CEOs will take corporate reputations seriously 

Reputation has and will always be a strategic asset for every business and that is why managing it is vital to a brand’s success. More so in in today’s era of ethics where the identity or image of any company is synonymous to good reputation.

Corporate Reputation topped the priority list of agency heads surveyed for the Holmes-ICCO World PR Report in 2019. Over 70% of the agency heads said that they expected to see the maximum growth in corporate reputation over the next five years.

The new brand loyalty

Building a good reputation in this interconnected world is not easy. Consumer expectations are exponentially increasing. The new brand loyalty is not driven by a product or service, but by a shared understanding of humanity and respect. During the Brands in Motion 2019 study, 94% of the respondents said they would not hesitate to shame their beloved brands if they stepped out of line.

Bottomline: A company’s reputation must be a part of its business strategy; it cannot be visited only when a crisis rears its ugly head. Unfortunately, many companies are looking for quick PR hacks to build a good reputation. They are commodifying social and environmental causes to appear sensitive and human. This is dangerous for our industry as it threatens to destroy our credibility which we have earned after years of hard work. 

We must make brands understand that in this age of social media, consumers can see through such stunts. Even though it is an intangible concept, reputation gauges the degree of trust that the public holds for a brand. And this trust can be earned only if brands are authentic and genuinely purposeful.

This brings me to the final and most important priority of brands and communicators alike – Purpose.

Act with purpose and purpose alone 

Brands can no longer survive by being faceless entities that provide solutions through products and services and stay immune to the issues that are close to their customers.

Consumers want companies to care about social, environmental, and ethical issues and take meaningful action. This explains why over 70% of the agency heads surveyed for the World PR Report said that companies were now paying more attention to Corporate Purpose. There is a growing realisation that purpose drives reputation and reputation drives business. According to the World PR Report, sustainability & climate change, diversity and social inclusion, education, and healthcare are some of the issues that brands are most like to address in 2020.

Indian consumers, however, expect brands to prioritise local issues over global issues, differing from the global consumer base which prefers brands to address both local and global. For that reason, companies must demonstrate positive change at the local level before they can win consumers over with global initiatives in India.

Beware of woke washing

A brand’s purpose should be genuine and come from its soul. It must be at the core of everything the company does, and it should be lived by each of its members – from the interns to the C-suite. If that’s not the case, consumers will know, and they will shame and disown the brand. Sadly, several companies are trying to hijack legitimate social and environmental causes to seed their products.

As their communications partner, we must ensure that brands don’t piggyback genuine causes for personal gains. It’s our job to help companies define their purpose in a way that’s meaningful to society. Purpose must be the lens for all business decisions, it must be in the DNA of every company.

At WE, we believe that our purpose is to use our gift of communication to move people, businesses, and society into positive action in the world. We must use our ability to engage and influence to bring about systematic changes in society, environment and government policies. We have the power to build a better and purposeful world.

So, let’s not waste a moment being ordinary. I hope the above analysis will help you craft your campaigns better. If I have missed anything, please let me know.

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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