PR pros predict which industry trends will matter most in 2019

How will the industry change in the coming year? These veterans offer their insight on which outcomes can be expected and what developments savvy pros should watch closely.

With every new year it’s important for PR professionals to reflect on the prior 12 months’ successes and failures—and to prepare for what the coming year might bring.

2018 presented many interesting and new challenges for communicators.

“2018 was a year of distractions and diversions. The political environment, economic uncertainty, leadership crises and bold advocacy dominated headlines. There were many surprises, breaking news, news-breaking tweets—business was never usual for us in PR,” said Julia Sahin, senior account supervisor at Edelman.

Other challenges included earning media coverage in a politically-fueled and shrinking media climate, measuring the impact of PR efforts and scaling to meet more communications needs outside of pitching than ever before.

However, there’s plenty to look forward to in 2019. Nearly all the industry professionals we chatted with for this post predicted that content will become increasingly important in the new year.

We checked in with 11 PR professionals to hear about the biggest challenges they faced in 2018—and to hear their predictions for 2019.

1. Stephanie Matthews, executive director of integrated media, Golin

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a PR professional in 2018?

As a former journalist, the assault on the media and truth, in general, were the biggest challenge for me in 2018. In the case of social media and issues of fake news, fake followers and general manipulation of the truth, it has gotten harder to find trusted storytellers and vehicles to tell our clients’ stories.

What are your predictions for the industry as we head into 2019?

Marketers have already started coming around to an earned-first mentality—something those of us in PR have always known. Brave creative ideas that are good enough to earn attention will automatically work better in the paid and owned spaces. As we use data to better tie our efforts to business results, PR’s star will continue to rise.

2. Gini Dietrich, founder and author, Spin Sucks

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a PR professional in 2018?

The biggest challenge I faced as a PR professional in 2018 was helping our community and, by extension, the PR industry understand that professional development is so incredibly important to our ability to evolve. By nature, we don’t invest a lot in ourselves—we’re too busy doing it for our internal and/or external clients.

We have the mindset that our role is to be behind-the-scenes. But there is a shift happening right now and I’m fearful we’re going to be left behind. Search specialists are pitching journalists and bloggers to get the coveted link to their sites—and they’re also doing influencer relations. Marketers are doing content and social media. And we’re still focused on earned media.

Not everyone—it’s a gross generalization—but the majority are, which is why we have to get out of our comfort zones and learn new skills. Our vision at Spin Sucks is to change the perception that people (business leaders) have of the PR industry. The only way to do that is for every professional to take control of his or her career and learn not only new skills, but how to measure our work.

What are your predictions for the industry as we head into 2019?

My major prediction for 2019 for the industry is voice search. Nearly half of [all homes] has a voice-activated device (Alexa, Google Home) yet communicators are still creating content, writing news releases, and crafting messaging that’s meant for the online world. We have to learn how to produce content that is going to easily be found by voice activation—and is semantic in nature.

That means storytelling is even more important because humans don’t keep asking questions. They start by saying, “Alexa, tell me about dinosaurs. Where did they live? What did they eat? What do they hunt? When did they die?” (You can tell what we’re studying at home right now.) But our content doesn’t always follow that flow. The big thing we all need to focus on next year is how to be found in search—online and voice.

3. Grace Lynch, senior account executive, InkHouse

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a PR professional in 2018? 

Identifying and understanding how the media landscape changed was a challenge in 2018, as more companies got press for how they behave—not what they sell. Over the past year, a challenging but worthwhile task was helping clients understand that the intersection of their news and the news was one of the most successful ways to get them press.

What are your predictions for the industry as we head into 2019?

As we enter 2019, I think we will become increasingly dependent on meaningful content that can be repurposed and amplified through earned, owned and paid channels. As the news cycle shows no signs of slowing, brands will need to reverberate their message in order to reach their target audience. I also suspect we will see more companies and executives leveraging their platforms for good, standing up for ideals they believe in, which will continue to be another way to break through the noise in a time filled with negative headlines.

4. Rob Wynne, president and founder of Wynne Communications

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a PR professional in 2018?

Donald Trump was the biggest challenge for 2018. Whether it was starting trade wars on a whim, or insulting his many enemies, or sending the military down to Mexico to fire tear gas on women and children, or the many findings of potential criminal activity unearthed by the Mueller investigation, Trump hijacked the news. Unless your client was commenting on Trump, the news hole for other stories shrank considerably.

We had a client scheduled to speak live on CNBC a few months ago and he was bumped at the last minute because of coverage of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. I’m sure many other publicists have similar anecdotes. CNBC is a financial news channel but even they are not immune to the pull of political coverage under Trump.

What are your predictions for the industry as we head into 2019?

For 2019, this trend will continue on stories about Trump, but I think the media is headed more toward fact-based coverage. For example, Alex Jones has been banned from Facebook and Twitter and the media is no longer covering some of these fringe right-wing storylines which are completely false.

2019 will also continue the trend towards more audience share for the major media like CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the major networks.  Local newspapers continue to shrink or shut down and more people are turning to the national news sources and focusing on national news stories such as health care, the economy, immigration and the Russia investigation of Trump.

5. Michaela Kron, senior PR manager, Duolingo

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a PR professional in 2018?

I’m sure absolutely no other PR pros will relate to this one (kidding!)—but I’d probably say measuring the impact of PR. Duolingo has been fortunate to get a pretty high volume of press coverage throughout 2018, but the challenge has been figuring out the best way to measure PR so it’s quantifiable. As a data-driven company, it was important that we had a solid measurement system in place, which we were able to develop this year and get executive buy-in for. While not the end-all, be-all solution, it was a significant first step for us, and we’ll continue to find more ways to improve our PR measurement next year and beyond.

What are your predictions for the industry as we head into 2019?

Unfortunately, many newsrooms won’t be getting any bigger, so it will become ever more important for PR pros to be thoughtful and super targeted in their media outreach in order to see the results they’re going after. This obviously isn’t anything new, but I think that hyper-targeted and personalized outreach—based on good relationships—will continue to grow more and more critical as the media landscape continues to evolve.

6. Julia Sahin, senior account supervisor, Edelman

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a PR professional in 2018?

2018 was a year of distractions and diversions. The political environment, economic uncertainty, leadership crises, and bold advocacy dominated headlines. There were many surprises, breaking news, news-breaking tweets—business was never usual for us in PR. Many companies had to pivot, rework strategies, and adapt to the news cycle. An exciting environment, but also an extremely challenging one.

What are your predictions for the industry as we head into 2019?

Companies that have traditionally resisted the opportunity to tell their own stories will finally start to do so, both during the normal course of business and in transformative moments. The increase in business activity and intensity in industry competition, combined with shrinking newsrooms, creates an environment where companies need to own their narratives. The challenge will be to use data to create a compelling story, leverage digital channels the right way, and actively connect with all stakeholders.

7. Sarah Evans, owner, Sevans Strategy

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a PR professional in 2018?

The biggest challenge I faced as a PR professional in 2018 was scaling to meet more needs and ever-increasing demands in the digital PR space. From traditional media outreach to influencer relations [and] content creation, it all has a separate tactical breakdown, skill set and time and attention needed to execute successfully.

What are your predictions for the industry as we head into 2019?

The public relations industry needs to continue to find ways to truly connect with communities. We’re in the time of “social care,” not just publicizing and marketing but truly connecting in a way that is real and allowing others to help tell brand stories and experiences. It takes a little longer because it involves building real relationships and finding unique ways to engage with multiple online communities. All of this needs to be done utilizing current top trends: video, planning for more voice search, multiple devices, changing social media dynamics and AI.

Nano-influencers are an important group of people who have unique influence on a specific topic with an engaged community. Don’t forget about them in your outreach plans.

We will see more tools to help ease the content creation process (e.g. design, writing, etc…). I’d love to see these packaged together in a full suite to make creating more efficient.

8. Gita Amar, senior director of brand communications, PMK*BNC (Los Angeles)

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a PR professional in 2018?

One of the biggest challenges we face as PR professionals in a congested, 24/7 media landscape is knowing how to shape a story that’s still relevant.

One of the client’s I work on with a PMK Team, is The VOID.  The VOID is a leader in location based experiences of Virtual Reality. The entertainment experience is like no other, stepping into another world. It’s not your home-based VR. Journalists who come experience it cannot believe the story-telling and the sensory experience.

In today’s environment, having journalists give of their precious time to visit The VOID whether it’s in LA, Dallas or Florida has been a challenge. However, whoever comes to visit, whether it’s a Forbes contributor, the Dallas Morning News or Rolling Stone, the journalists all admit—it’s the experience that showcases the high-caliber technology and creativity. The one-on-one interviews and relationships and story crafting still drive journalists who are looking for innovative stories and readers who are captivated by learning what’s new.

Journalists and readers still want to hear the why and it’s our job as story-crafters to make these stories come alive and hopefully encourage others as well. The challenge is getting these stories out in times of tumultuous news cycles.

What are your predictions for the industry as we head into 2019?

In 2019, brand authenticity will take center stage. Knowing a brand is authentic, diverse, transparent and gives back to the community is part of the public relations professional’s mantra to communicate to the consumer. We also have to very consciously guide our clients and help them identify their roles as a brand and understand what responsibilities a brand shoulders.

9. Arik Hanson, principal, ACH Communications

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a PR professional in 2018?

Helping clients reach key audiences in an increasingly crowded social media space. So many challenges here—shifting algorithms, creating content that cuts through the never-ending clutter and constantly changing back-end advertising systems on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, just to name a few.

What are your predictions for the industry as we head into 2019?

Since I work more in the social media marketing world, here are a few modest predictions in that space:

  1. Instagram will take over as brands’ social media “home base” (from Facebook)
  2. Brands will give more focus to niche and overlooked social media sites like Nextdoor, Pinterest and Reddit
  3. Leaders and employees will drive more engagement than brands on LinkedIn.

10. Meredith L. Eaton, director of North America, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a PR professional in 2018?

Media outlets are becoming increasingly scrutinous of contributed content. While requests for bylines are on the rise, given shrinking newsrooms and a need for more expert sources, getting them placed is getting tougher.

Not only does the topic have to be a unique, fresh take that hasn’t been placed anywhere else, and that avoids any kind of self-promotion (no matter how remote), publications are now also looking more at the credibility and reach of the authors themselves. If a contributor doesn’t bring their own audience and following, they may be less likely to get their piece accepted.

PR pros now need to look at coupling content and byline programs with executive awareness opportunities to raise individuals’ thought leadership and personal brands. They’re already going hand in hand and will continue more and more in coming years.

What are your predictions for the industry as we head into 2019?

Tech trends are really impacting how our industry operates. Next up, I think we’ll see some interesting changes as a result of voice technology for PR, and especially content marketing. Now we’ll not only have to create content for clicks, shares and likes, we’ll also have to consider creating content that’s easily “speakable” for audio platforms. As voice search continues to rise, we’ll need to write content for approved publisher platforms that voice assistants can easily grab and replay. It will be a whole other aspect of brand awareness that the PR industry will want to capitalize on—and of course try to measure.

11. Jasmine Leeward, communications specialist, New Virginia Majority

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a PR professional in 2018?

Staying afloat in the ever-shifting news cycle. With so many reporters not having a specific beat, especially at the local level, knowing where to invest in relationship building is becoming increasingly challenging, as is finding niche publications in the ever expanding digital media market.

What are your predictions for the industry as we head into 2019?

I predict the industry will see a stronger shift towards niche media outlets as well as the use of influencers by organizations like mine to elevate messages. I am also seeing a jolt in independent non-profit structure media publications as traditional local media steadily consolidate. I believe the PR media, especially non-profits, will start to dig into social listening tools to better understand their audiences and the current narrative.

What are your big predictions for 2019, PR Daily readers?

Jessica Lawlor is the features editor for the Muck Rack blog and handles content initiatives and social media for Muck Rack. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.

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COMMENT

2 Responses to “PR pros predict which industry trends will matter most in 2019”

    Linda Uban- PRO Institute of Archaeology and Muswum studies, Jos. Nigeria says:

    I agree with the assertion that 2018 biggest challenges were the inability to connect with the community. The existence of fake news, insurgence and political crises was really on a rise, poverty and corruption all gave a conflict globally.
    However, we believe that 2019 will give us more opportunity to focus on development communication than just social media, publicizing and marketing.

      Ted Kitterman says:

      Interesting Linda! Are there any tactics you see as particularly helpful in reaching communities this year?

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