17.05.2012 - The future of public relations

As a consequence of social media, the portfolio of the public relations worker will continue to change dramatically. Speed to market and accuracy is everything. Crisis communication and the response time the public relations worker has to react, has decreased dramatically over the years. From three hours 10 years ago, to zero minutes today, due to the immediacy of social media. Proactive engagement with social media and news channels will take priority over other measures. However, the dilemma the consultant faces is the reaction time by the client on content, accuracy and approvals. This is likely to remain slow and the consultant is often challenged as the meat between a triple-decker sandwich – the client, content accuracy and the news channel. It requires a new mind-set of immediacy as different tools will have to be developed for professional time management and prioritising of tasks.

The public relations sector may change depending on the characteristic of the client – technical, retail, commercial or other industries. The measure of sophistication of the executive management of the client will influence the application of social media in the communication mix.  In the past consultants created and distributed messages as a ‘push’ effect. In future these will be ‘pulled’ by universal audiences. While client objectives and target audiences may remain the same, budgets are unlikely to grow and the same people who were previously in the public relations profession will be there as the sector will not be able to accommodate new workers as rapidly as in other sectors such as in information technology. Therefore those currently in the industry will have to change.

New media channels will continue to change the user values and expectations of decision makers, especially amongst the emerging generation. Trust, reliability and honesty of the public relations worker will be under scrutiny, especially by company managements who engage the services of consultants. The global trend is that people are turning away from passive to interest-based media consumption. The public relations professional will have to seriously embrace content, context, community and connectivity when developing the client’s online strategy. It is vital that the social media strategy has clear objectives and understands the audience in question. An emphasis on speed of response is critical, as word of mouth can destroy a brand’s image in a frighteningly short period of time. A social media strategy needs to be integrated with other communications elements as it has the ability to creatively engage a company or brand’s target audience

The future challenge for the consultant is to move much closer to the client’s business objectives and be positioned as a strategic partner. The income model of the consultancy will need to change rapidly and diversity needs to be part of the business model. There is an increase in medium to large companies permanently engaging the services of graduates in marketing, communication and public relations. Public relations workers in consultancies therefore have to be well equipped to stand up to the knowledge of their counterparts at the client level.

Dealing with social media may not be an incidental activity during the day’s work assignments, but as the digital realm grows, the skill set of the consultant should grow accordingly to accommodate this new medium. Younger consultants are helpful during a time of crisis because of the practical knowledge of social media they possess. At times, younger consultants may lack communication and public relations knowledge which seasoned professionals have, but they have a greater knowledge of how to deal with and utilise social media. Consultants must possess the knowledge and insight to leverage communication in the client’s favour and allow brand building messages to spread as quickly as possible ahead of any potential complaints. Reputation management skills are more important than ever and there is no room for error. Keep it short and simple, relevant and easy to find.

Prepared by Marketing Services and Communication (MSC) Global Alliance.

Martin Snoek (RSA), Prof. Ralph Hartleben (Germany), Guida Pereira-Muller (Portugal), Simone Warden (Australia)


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