Ten Trends That Will Affect Public Relations Pros In 2011

PR is reaching a golden age, triggered by the growth of social media and new, more relevant metrics. PR is dead, a bridesmaid in the hot pursuit of larger budgets and sexy social programs. The predictions are all over the map, but, as usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Here’s our list for the top trends that will have an impact on how we do our jobs in the coming year.

1.  Curation, not just content, is king. For social media platforms to maintain their hypergrowth, they must make it easier for us to organize, filter, and customize the content coming our way. And, as creators and aggregators, we’ll fill that role for the content we distribute to client and corporate audiences.

2.  Digital storytelling is a big story. As mainstream media opportunities shrink, communicators are increasingly the producers and packagers of our own content. Use of images, video, and particularly infographics, to impart news and track trends, will be differentiators. Check out Bob Pickard’s blog for excellent insights on digital storytelling, and the more scientific approach he forecasts for public relations.

3.  Social everything. The explosion of social shopping, gaming, and learning will create more opportunities for branding and consumer engagement. Look for the Groupon promotion model to migrate beyond consumer sectors, perhaps into professional services. (PR programs by the dozen?) We need to find ways to make content as social and “spreadable” as possible throughout the Web.

4.  Multicultural marketing gets more attention, and funding. In addition to demographic trends, the Web is rapidly becoming a more multicultural, multilingual place, making multicultural marketing and communications talent in our business highly sought-after.

5.  Reputation management drives corporate priorities. Marketing PR as a demand generation and brand-building tool isn’t going away, but “defensive PR” will be even bigger than ever. The tolerance for a poor or inadequate response to bad customer feedback, or a genuine crisis situation, will become even smaller in 2011.

6.  Customer service is the new PR. Public relations practitioners and customer service professionals will collaborate more, as each needs to be skilled in dealing directly with the customer – often under stressful circumstances. With the ubiquity of the social Web and the growth of the “complaint culture,” our skills in interfacing directly with communities, and managing a two-way communication channel, will be highly valued.

7.  Offlining gains steam. We’re hyper-connected, yes. But as data speeds grow and devices proliferate, many of us will be unplugging, at least temporarily, to recharge and detox. I’m convinced that Eric Yaverbaum and Mark DiMassimo are really onto something with their offlining movement, at least among those over 35.

8.  Mobile is mainstream. The Web is dead, long live the Internet. Given new categories of mobile devices and the coming of 4G, the content we distribute will be increasingly adapted to tablets, smartphones, and other devices. This has implications for length, optimization, graphics, and links. More importantly, our audiences may be accessing the Web from behind pay walls and commercial apps, which means we need to be more creative and forward-thinking to reach them with branded messages.

9.  New measurement models catch on. Communicators have gained a grasp on the measurement tools that help justify our budgets and benefit from a return to pre-recession marketing expenditures. The currency of the future isn’t just reach, popularity, or traffic, but sentiment and influence. Industry vendors like Cision are hyping new tools that offer real-time monitoring of all online content, with automated features like sentiment analysis for more sophisticated profiling of a wider range of influencers.

10. The “new” influencer is the crowd. Influence will become more democratic in 2011 and beyond. Look for more media companies to take decisions about top stories, lists, and even business direction to their readers. Corporations will also be more willing to crowdsource new products, company promotions, and possibly try out new business models in the coming years.

What do you see as trends for 2011 and beyond? Please tell us your ideas, and we’ll post updates with the most intriguing suggestions.

Etsy’s “Homemade” Ads Are A Hit

Just when I was about to write off the “crowdsourced” advertising trend as a fad…I happened to read about Etsy.com‘s consumer-generated commercial campaign in AdAge. The online crafts marketplace launched a contest among its own members for 30-second spots, and some of the entries are wonderful. You can view them and vote for your favorite handmade moment here.

Of course, you might expect  some extraordinary entries from people who are creative and entrepreneurial enough to market their own jewelry, crafts, and accessories on Etsy. It’s a wonderful community, but as with anything handmade, there’s a huge range in quality and taste. That’s why the homemade ads are such a refreshing surprise. They show the passion, creativity, and soul of the Etsy community in an effortless way. I can’t see a traditional creative team making it look so natural.

Yet, I still have big doubts about crowdsourcing. There’s no way the Etsy campaign is typical. In many cases, these kinds of contests are dominated by out-of-work advertising creatives (which I’m sure is the case with the Unilever Peperami sausage product that I blogged about earlier.) But, here the rules state that advertising professionals are ineligible to participate. There’s also a strong public relations component to the contest. All companies want to use their own customers as brand evangelists, but it’s unbelievably difficult to do that well, and with credibility. Here, it’s a natural fit, which is why throwing it open to this very atypical “crowd” makes for some terrific ads, and a well-crafted brand message.

Will Crowdsourcing Make Agencies Obsolete?

It sounds so easy. Instead of hiring a pricey ad agency or PR firm, just tap into the wisdom of the crowd to market your product. After all, they’re the ones buying it.

Crowdsourcing is being touted as the latest trend in creative services, from logo design to advertising.

Yet, most so-called crowdsourcing initiatives don’t truly harness the collective wisdom in the Web 2.0 sense. Not like the Netflix Prize or Starbucks’ virtual suggestion box. Most often, they’re contests. They dangle ten minutes of fame and a prize package for a public relations payoff and (one hopes) enhanced customer engagement. And, they’re usually the brainchild of the agency, and run by them, too. VitaminWater’s “flavor creatorFacebook app is yesterday’s M&M New Color Contest. Nice idea, but not exactly Wikipedia.

Recently, though, Unilever London shook up the agency world by adopting a crowdsourcing strategy not as a PR gimmick, but as a long-term move to spice up the marketing for its Peperami snack, which seems to be a Slim-Jim-style stick of salami. Peparami fired its agency and set up an open call for fresh ad concepts on the website Ideabounty. The winner will receive a $10,000 fee, and, the fame (or infamy) that results.

Even before the sausage incident, Crispin Porter Bogusky’s Colin Drummond wrote that crowdsourcing would commoditize creativity, warning his agency peers in a blog post, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

Others are sounding the death knell for creative services. You see, the decision wasn’t about quality of work. The ousted firm had done a bang-up job for over 16 years. The client admits that the extraordinary brand equity built for the product – embodied in a quirky animal mascot – makes this kind of user-generated initiative possible. That’s gratitude – and the agency business – for you.

Yet, I’m not sure the budget bite will be that big. No matter how you slice it, the Peperami campaign isn’t true, replicable crowdsourcing. It’s more like outsourcing to an engaged few –  in this case, probably out-of-work or aspiring copywriters. The unique circumstances and social media element give it some PR flavor, but to me, it seems like a creative way to downsize the budget, seasoned with a little dash of something new.

The other thing is this. The contest-as-crowdsource idea isn’t for every brand, or every situation. In fact, it can work for Peperami only because the brand foundation was already laid in the form of intrusive commercials and supported by millions in paid media over 16 years. It’s one thing to liven up a long-running campaign with a fresh execution, but another to come up with strategy, creative direction, and execution for a lesser-known brand, or in a vacuum.

Sustainable crowdsourcing to achieve innovation is self-limiting, precisely because it’s hard work. It also requires real collaboration and continuity – the wisdom of the true crowd in a spirit of continuous improvement — not a series of one-off competitions for a clever phrase. (And, at the end of the day, someone’s got to go through the thousands of suggestions and ideas, find the gems, and turn them into a dazzling, finished product…no small task.)

The idea that crowdsourcing will kill agencies based on a salami snack campaign is…well, baloney. In fact, it could be a win-win for all involved. If it does turn out to be a revolution in creative services, expect a new “Idea Economy” to follow. Despite changes in delivery channels, any kind of creative meritocracy is ultimately good for our business. The best rise to the top – and to a new pricing level and all that it implies. And then we start all over again.