Whether you’re new to the PR industry or a well-established expert, there’s no arguing that 2020 has given a lot of us whiplash. The speed at which the global pandemic has forced businesses to adapt our outreach strategies is supersonic. More and more businesses are moving online, whole departments are working remotely, and digital media is evolving by the second.
In a recent interview with a Master’s student in the US for his dissertation, I asked him how PR companies in his neck of the woods were coping with the pandemic. “Nothing’s really changed.” He shrugged. Then, “Everything’s changed.”
I understood what he meant. The demand for PR services hasn’t decreased as a result of the global crisis. In fact, 86% of PR pros working in an agency believe the net revenue of their company will increase in the next year!
If anything, there’s a growing need for companies to form relationships and gain mentions from relevant, cutting edge media platforms and journalists. It’s just that the way we build those connections and how we choose those platforms is changing – and will continue to change as we head into 2021.
There’s no denying that conventional media mentions are still HUGELY relevant today. TV spots, newspaper features, radio spots, etc. – all these channels still hold massive (and currently captive) audiences.
However, the growing tilt towards digital PR through platforms such as blogs, social media, podcasts and Youtube can hardly be ignored. Nor can having a solid working knowledge of how these platforms work, and which are worth the time involved in building a relationship and scoring a feature.
At Pearl Lemon, for example, we’ve built a unique approach to PR by combining it with our knowledge of SEO. The idea of merging multiple departments such as content creators, web designers and SEO experts to create a ‘PR machine’ might seem controversial. But the fact is that all of these factors are necessary to build a winning PR strategy in today’s evolving world.
Don’t take my word for it, though. We’ve reached out to experts in the PR industry for their thoughts on how post-Covid19 PR will work – and what we can expect in the coming year!
Got your (digital) notebook handy? Here come the tips:
PR Director - Pearl Lemon
There have been whispers that backlinks are no longer as relevant to a brand’s online presence as they have been in the past. This is categorically untrue. 46% of marketers spend $10,000 or more annually on link building, while 22% spend between $1,000 and $2,500.
This level of expenditure has to result in significant R.O.I – or it wouldn’t be a consistently performing statistic!
Quality, dofollow backlinks drive your brand’s website up the search engine page, increasing organic traffic as a result. However, it’s less about the volume of backlinks secured and more about the value of the links themselves. Brands need to create engaging, collaborative content with other high-performing companies.
I think we’ll see a renewed focus on link-building and its role in digital PR as more companies develop an understanding of its importance!
Managing Director -
Global Sound Group
Video content will continue to grow in popularity, especially on social media. As a result, more PR messages will be delivered through videos and businesses and celebs etc. will continue to leverage it. Also, presuming COVID is still around early next year, expect agencies to be adapting their messages to be even more relatable to the pandemic and lockdowns.
Founder & CEO - Mavens & Moguls
I started a branding/marketing firm 19 years ago. I think Content marketing is the new PR. It is a great way to build your brand, increase your visibility more broadly, raise your profile and attract more clients. I regularly share quality content based on my experience personally and professionally.
To make content even more attractive and drive conversion further in 2021 I will try to understand not just what or how to purchase a product, experience or service but also be able to inspire audiences by identifying the underlying motivation. The key to becoming more influential, I think, is when you can answer why they do what they do and connect with people on an emotional level. I think the pandemic makes PR and content more relevant than ever because things change so quickly now, news and information are on 24/7, and everyone is home with their phones and screens nearby, so you have a captive audience. The key is just to pick your platform, it does not matter which ones you choose, just pick one or2 that are authentic to you.
Career Expert - ResumeLab
One of the up-and-coming public relations trends is brands’ improved cooperation with micro-influencers.
While micro-influencers have been gaining momentum for quite some time now due to their accessibility to start-ups and smaller brands, things will only escalate in 2021. That’s because micro-influencers help businesses start a dialogue and create rapport with a close group of people, which results in higher levels of trust, brand loyalty, and, ultimately, more sales.
That’s why it’s critical for small businesses today to use an influencer agency to search for the right micro-influencers and start collaborating with them in an effort to establish long-term partnerships and connect with their audiences.
Marketing Manager -
Influencer collaborations will be a rising trend in 2021. Three out of every 4 consumers report spending more time on social media since the pandemic. We can expect strong social media usage to remain throughout all of 2021. With consumers spending more time online and on social, PR needs to hone in on digital strategy.
PR experts can leverage influencer’s platforms for increased visibility and exposure. Collaborating with influencers on social platforms, like Instagram, is a great way to encourage positive brand perception. The influencer has already established trust with their following, which means that if they endorse a brand, their following is likely to perceive the endorsed brand as credible.
Financial Journalist -
I think we cannot manage to ignore the increasing importance of Social Media in our lives. It is crucial to come up with new ways to reach out to your audience. One of the growing trends is Influencer Engagement, the process of collaborating with influencers on social media to post about and market your offerings. This can be through an organic, business, or paid collaboration. Determining the correct type of influencers from your industry who have a high reach will give you great exposure.
Social Responsibility and Reputation Management
CEO - Ericho Communications
I think an effective crisis response will continue to play an outsize influence in the PR landscape in 2021. The ongoing pandemic, responding to reputation damaging viral scandals or misinformation campaigns, and the current hyper-focus on corporate social responsibility means that organizations and individuals looking to maintain their reputations be proactive in creating crisis responses that present unified, consistent messages across the media.
Comprehensive crisis responses should be quick and include input from numerous departments, have consistent messaging, and provide as much information as possible in order to maintain transparency. It should address all the relevant stakeholders and be an ongoing process that provides clarity or a resolution where possible. The worst time to prepare is with the rising tide so companies need to use foresight and these principles to create broad organizational plans and cohesive crisis responses before they are needed.
MBA - Platinum Star PR
Marie Y. Lemelle
The most significant change is a result of the pandemic and the unapologetic spotlight on diversity and inclusion. This has led PR professionals to re-examine standard tactics and approaches to responsibly serve their clients’ needs.
As an African American woman-owned public relations agency, I continue to be culturally relevant when analyzing, planning and implementing an idea, product launch, brand and marketing campaigns, and media outreach. Diversity Is a top consideration when expanding a client’s demographic reach. Black, Indigenous, People of Color population’s purchasing power is estimated at a trillion dollars, and the political influence continues to dominate.
Using the S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound) goal approach is a timeless way to ensure progression and success. The SMART concept has been around since 1981 when George T. Doran published, “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives.” People continue to rely on this approach to achieve goals and success.
Both tactics and approaches would stand the test of time because the population will continue to be diverse and culturally different. The pandemic is a global health threat and the move to stay safe and slow the spread has created the need for businesses to pivot and operate more effectively in a virtual society and using the SMART framework would put you on the right path.
Owner and CEO -
The Content Factory
If 2020’s cancel culture and division has shown us anything, it’s that Social Responsibility is something people want and are actively looking for in brands now. Reporters and journalists cover what their audiences respond to. So brands need to marry themselves to a cause their audience cares about if they want to stay relevant.
We’re looking into our tried & true formula of Community + Cause, which helped Fairtrade America reach over 1 million Twitter users with branded events around the cause of fair labor conditions.
Fairtrade America Graph
Marketing Director - CloudTask
Community engagement might not impact sales like it used to, but it is still huge for branding, especially in these times of social unrest.
In 2021, I think companies will put an even bigger focus on connecting with the communities they depend on and even give back in ways they haven’t done before. Potential clients have an interest in the good things brands are doing for others, and PR teams will pay particular focus on this into the new year.
PR teams will be asking themself “how can we make a difference in our community”, but beware: an ingenuine effort could lead to negative PR rather than positive.
Director - Netlawman
PR trends generally follow the public’s trends, so I thought I would weigh in on what I believe we will be seeing and how PR experts are going to respond.
- Huge attention to health and safety – obviously. Even if we are tired of the fear associated with COVID – knowing our health and safety is paramount is still forefront in our minds. PR needs to be aware and provide that sense of security without broadcasting and reminding us of the reason why.
- That need for human connection – now that we have entirely digitized.
Digital PR vs Traditional PR
PR Manager - Kinzoo
Press releases can be expensive and have not proven to always be effective.
Roughly half of the journalists worldwide (53 percent in the United States and 41 percent outside the U.S.) don’t use press releases to find new story ideas. I see this number continuing to decline and press releases being repurposed to serve as a timestamp of the companies accomplishments displayed on their personal websites rather than being “newsworthy” content.
Marketing Consultant -
- SET UP GOOGLE ALERTS:
Have a proactive approach by keeping track of what’s being said about your company and your competitors. Once you know the competition, you can do better PR for your company. The easy way to do so is by using web monitoring software tools like Google Alerts or TalkWalker Alerts to get an alert whenever your search term is mentioned.
- CONSISTENT BRAND NAME
Being a PR company, you should be active on all the relevant social media channels so that people can easily find you. Moreover, use the same company/brand name across all social media platforms.
- KEEP YOUR HEADSHOTS UPDATED
When was the last time you updated your leadership team’s headshots? If it’s been a while, schedule it right now!
Head of PR & Social - upUgo
As brands and news outlets shift larger budgets towards the digital landscape, it’s vital to scope opportunities to use new technologies to better connect with audiences. As annual roadmaps fade away – with no certain future ahead – I’d recommend taking a more reactive approach in 2021. Consume the news, keep up to date with trends, and really understand what’s going on in your target market’s wider world.
Step outside traditional comfort zones and look at how consumer trends are changing, why viral stories work well and take a fresh approach to your PR strategy. In 2021, be prepared to jump on topical talking points and add value – more than ever before!
Owner - Junipr Public Relations
With marketing budgets a fraction of the size, public relations will revert to its trusted role of “heavy lifter” in the marketing discipline. PR will be the most cost-effective way to achieve goals at every level of the funnel by amplifying efforts against awareness, engagement, growth and sentiment/loyalty KPIs.
Aware of the need for a rock-solid crisis communication plan, brands will be more proactive about the gaps in leadership, culture and philanthropy. This will require PR to advise and develop authentic, strategic and impactful brand reputation efforts.
What has changed permanently:
- How we connect with media – deskside meetings, screening events, and product launches will continue to require a virtual component moving forward (at a minimum). PR pros, media and clients are now aligned on the effectiveness of virtual events and their ability to reduce time, cost and resources for all parties.
- The role of influencers – the economic landscape has given publicists and influencers a level playing field, now allowing publicists to create more relational equity with each influencer partnership to not just negotiate flash-in-the-pan endorsements but rather as an opportunity to collaborate directly with the agency/brand team to serve as more robust content creators and media spokespeople as budgets rebound.
Vice President - BLASTmedia
Audiences wise up to newswires — kind of.
For better or for worse, 2021 is not the year the newswire dies. In simple terms, newswires have value because we believe they have value. So, until your CEO stops forwarding you Google Alerts he has set for competitors’ press releases with the “why aren’t we getting this type of press” note attached, newswires are a necessary means to a “make the CEO happy” end.
In 2021, marketing and comms leads will start considering the broad spectrum of places outside of a wire we can place releases. A company blog or, if you have some extra budget, a paid posting in a trade publication are valid options to consider, and can often have the same impact as a newswire posting (minus the syndications).
While wires themselves are likely to remain a piece of your PR puzzle in 2021, I think most PR people will no longer find value in the “outreach” efforts offered by wire services. The claims they send your press release “directly to the newsrooms of all the top media publications,” while technically true are completely useless.
CEO - Techloris
Being a founder of the company, I think that the results of Public Relations have always been challenged because they have not been quantifiable. PR is crucial for any company, and it benefits you to give long-term results. It is now possible to determine the impact of PR through proper data analytics and make your decision according to that.
It is essential that we establish Data-Driven metrics to help measure the accurate results of PR activities. You can use data to analyze the type of audience you are targeting, behaviors, understanding the right time to publish information, etc.
CEO - Prowly
- PR agencies will undergo a true business transformation – with freelancers taking the lead.
Given the uncertain times we live in, PR agencies are (and will be) forced to change the way they operate. Since clients will rather be interested in one-time or recurring PR projects (instead of continuous support), agencies might soon turn to working on such projects with an established network of freelancers rather than keeping their teams in-house.
- The revival of niche & boutique agencies.
In my opinion, next year, businesses will be searching for relevant niches they could leverage for PR & communication more than ever. That’s definitely good news for smaller, specialized PR agencies that focus on specific niches, such as mental health & wellness, or environmental protection.
- Customer-centric communication.
For many companies out there, putting customers at the center of their businesses is crucial to get through tough times. These companies will then expect their PR departments & agencies to do the same—and here’s where I can see the potential for the cooperation between PR & customer support teams, as well as PR campaigns that truly focus on customers and their well-being.
- The growing importance of link building in digital PR.
A lot has already been said and written about leveraging SEO for digital PR, but, as PR specialists, we still seem to be learning how to use it to our advantage. I’m hoping that 2021 will bring positive changes in this regard.
Whether it’s influencer marketing, link building or producing amazing content, the face of PR is definitely changing. And while traditional media features (such as TV, radio or newspaper channels) continue to hold a strong ranking in the PR space, we’re seeing digital platforms booming as well.
The best PR strategy seems to be a combination of both traditional AND digital PR outreach. Finding a company that can merge these methods will guarantee your brand a major growth spurt in the coming year!