The ongoing challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, combined with global VC investing hitting an all-time high in Q1 2021, the Consumer Confidence Index rising again in April and predictions of a major, lasting economic boom, all point to 2021 being another transformative year. At the same time, we continue to see the growth of social media influence, communication echo chambers, and consumer engagement across digital channels, posing real challenges – and opportunities – for organizations.
What does this all mean for public relations (PR) and communications? Well, if you are planning to launch a company, rebrand, or roll out a new product, or simply work to regain lost ground, now – while the country is awakening from historic shutdowns and postponements – is the time to target new markets and launch strategies. With fellow organizations also seeking to grab mind and market share and ensure a positive public image, the PR market is expected to grow from $64 billion in 2018 to over $93 billion in 2022. The role of PR will continue to be elevated, with 38% of PR professionals reporting to the CEO (JOTW), and more than half of organizational executive teams briefed on PR weekly or more often (Muck Rack).
Why is PR a critical strategy for companies in 2021? Following are three reasons why organizations must consider it as an essential part of their comms strategy this year, because public relations support speaks to all of these areas.
1. Brands Demonstrate Authority Through Content
In the past few years, we have seen big changes in the ways we, as a society, consume news and entertainment–from a seamless ever-growing sea of options to get information, to even greater reliance on social media and apps, to many traditional outlets seeking to adapt to survive.
Consumers regularly took to scouring the internet, private sources, and social media, in addition to looking to traditional media with the rise in discourse, polarization, and threats of “fake news.” Ever more content was instantly shared in 2021—from videos and life moments, feedback on brands, politics, and society with friends on TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social platforms—as consumers sought to navigate the pandemic.
Apps like Clubhouse emerged to offer access to ad hoc conversations with experts on important topics and some of these conversations have even made the news, such as when Elon Musk questioned Robinhood CEO on GameStop trading on the platform. We saw the emergence of even more podcasts (there are two million today) from brands, publications, and thought leaders. Streaming services continued to rise, with 54% of internet users live streaming more shows and films, Amazon’s Fire TV and Roku accounting for over 80 million households in the U.S., and Disney+ seeing an increase of 24 million users in 2020.
Simultaneously, “cord-cutting” continued. Today only two out of three U.S. households pay for cable TV, and over 55% of Americans are expected to have cut the cord by the end of this year.
An unfortunate effect has been the downsizing of staff at many traditional, major media outlets that continue to struggle financially due to dwindling ad sales. The NYT estimated about 37,000 workers at news organizations in the U.S. were laid off, furloughed or had pay cuts in the height of the pandemic. Many of these are looking to new models of revenue, such as with Reuters and Bloomberg instituting paywalls, and others offering podcasts, looking to pay to play and/or accepting more outside contributions from industry experts, given the increasing need for content but limited staff. The latter is a trend that is expected to continue, with 93% of editors saying they expect to publish a similar amount of guest contributions or even more this year.
CEOs and CMOs also realized the importance of communicating clearly. Many stepped up with strategies on policies and regular updates surrounding Covid-19, social justice, equality and philanthropy. Others, like Adobe, Crunchbase, and CDW, continued to leverage their own industry-specific digital publications and others like 3M, UBS and Johnson & Johnson also leverage podcasts.
2. The Need to Build Trust
With more sources to consume news, coupled with the ability for brands, the media, and consumers to instantly photograph, video and communicate on topics, values and transparency are being brought closer to the forefront. More shareholders and customers are demanding companies focus on more than just revenues. They are looking for a greater brand authenticity and for business practices that prioritize equality, diversity, sustainability, and giving back to the community. Companies and executives must be prepared to examine their own practices and provide authentic answers to hard questions when asked.
In the book, Reset: Business and Society in the New Social Landscape, authors James Rubin and Barie Charmichael from University of Virginia Darden School of Business find:
- 71% of those surveyed say they have increased expectations for companies
- 68% say it’s more important to know how companies operate than what they are selling
- 75% say they have converted their opinions of how a company operates into action
Additionally, The Brookings Institute reports that 83% of millennials polled say they believe corporations have too much power. This is a group that is expected to comprise three-quarters of the American workforce by 2025.
Deloitte finds that both millennials and Gen Z expect to more actively patronize businesses—especially smaller companies—after the pandemic and to penalize those whose practices and values conflict with their own.
Customers want to know: What are companies doing to address important topics like diversity? Sustainability? And giving back to the community?
3. PR Sets the Tone, Creates the Brand Voice
“A public relations specialist is an image shaper,” according to The Princeton Review. PR’s goal is to generate positive publicity for the organization and enhance its reputation. And PRSA defines the role as a “strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
PR helps to curate the story of what you and your organization want to be in the eyes of others—whether those are employees, stakeholders, customers, prospects, and/or the public. It sets the tone for the entire organization – to live, practice, and convey your principles on your organization’s behalf.
It offers an opportunity to enhance your reputation, maintain your message/frame your narrative across websites, collateral, and content. PR shows thought leadership, expertise, and commitment to your industry and community at large.
Some predict even more of a convergence of PR and marketing over the next five years. Many envision it will encompass a broader, more integrated approach to delivering effective messaging for organizations, which is becoming increasingly important for organizations to break through and be heard in a cluttered and noisy digital world.
As the media landscape continues to become more crowded, brands will seek out new and creative ways to have a greater voice on their sites and social. More companies will work to create narratives to strategically amplify their strengths. They will also look to public relations to create a strong brand image, maintain relationships with target audiences and opinion leaders, including the media, and stand out as a trusted authority.
How will these brands do this? They will rely heavily on PR advisors, adept in business strategy, positioning, and storytelling. Outside firms will provide added perspective and context to help hold brands accountable and to live up to credos, as well as to pivot as necessary. They will help organizations stay on the cusp of industry trends, by monitoring customer and competitor sentiment. PR professionals will help companies take control of the conversation by responding quickly and honestly to manage reputations in these times that make honest, straightforward communications absolutely essential.
What are you effectively saying to others about your brand? Contact us today for a free assessment firstname.lastname@example.org.