Like many of us, I am always excited at the start of a new year with new opportunities, new possibilities, new ideas, new stories and new technology – who knows what’s in store for us? Well, we may be finished with the Decade, but definitely not with Disruption. And while none of us can predict, in this fast world, how 2020 will really turn out, I anticipate that a few emerging trends will mark communications and PR over the next year. 

We must redirect and adapt our communications to stay relevant in today’s fragmented, story-saturated and data-driven world. I believe that results-driven analysis alongside solutions-creating communications expertise, will be the go-to approach in lieu of the crystal ball that doesn’t exist.

  1. In a world of shortening attention spans, defining key messages will require expert distillation. As the average attention span shrinks amidst the mountains of ever-increasing information and more channels to find it, developing those all-important key messages will become more crucial than ever before. 

    Soundbites without the right substance won’t magically land messages in the minds of our audiences. Most platforms continue to provide revised content formats suited to shorter attention spans – making the process of drilling down, refining, reviewing and testing key messages a foundational task of communications on which we should be spending more time. 

  2. I see more efforts from PR professionals to address the growing need of conveying context in content. Making sense of the world becomes complex with more data, more information, more analyses, more opinions, more outlets, more sources and more clutter. 

Context is absolutely crucial. To ensure we create compelling stories that build solid reputations for clients that will consistently stand up to the test of time, circumstances and evolving mindsets, we must be prepared to highlight context. We must share more information, paint the full picture, and be more transparent, while underscoring authenticity to add credibility.

3. Data insights and technological innovation will drive 80% of PR strategies. The fourth industrial revolution is now an undeniable part of communications. More accurate data gives us the ability to tailor strategies more precisely than ever before. The sheer speed at which technological innovations advance, will require us to make this the first and last stop of strategy development. 

Everything from data availability, new-tech communication platforms, stakeholder mapping and tools to obtain audience insights, analysis and impact assessments, will help us to optimize strategies that are relevant, current, specific, better targeted and more personalized. 

4. Gen Z is emphatically detaching itself from Millennials and staking its claim in society. No longer just the youth component considered for pester power, Gen Z will become more eminent as a veritable force of digital natives that will follow their own script. They see technology as a normal part of life that can be used to ignite movements and change the world. Greta Thunberg’s #FridaysforFuture is one example of the trigger points that have resulted in mass mobilization among this generation, reinforced by the recent Irregular Labs survey, in which 75% of respondents felt being politically or socially engaged was very important to their identity. 

Accordingly, communications will start customizing conversations for Gen Zers, who will engage with organizations, communicate with stakeholders and consume brands based on the beliefs that matter most to them: a return to mainstream ethics, improving humanity, across-the-board transparency, and purpose.

5. The playbook of influencer relations will feature an updated chapter on storytelling versus number-selling. There is no doubt that working with the right influencer can significantly enhance the impact of a communications campaign. Given everything we have learnt about social media influencers throughout the past decade, brands will have to revisit how they approach influencer marketing in 2020. Likewise, as some influencers become brands themselves, they too will have to review how to deliver real impact – not vanity metrics. 

Look forward to more relationship building, storytelling, thought-provoking angles and creative freedom rooted in shared values, rather than the number of posts, sum of likes, and the number of followers. By now, there are enough case studies to prove that local micro-influencers with specific, shared interests and values (note the theme of brand purpose emerging again) often reflect much better value, engagement and dissemination of key messaging. 

6. Strong, proven, long-term agency-client relationships will be valued even more. PR consultancies have long considered themselves partners of clients and in real partnerships we share everything: information, pain, and gain. In 2020, communicators are deepening their understanding of the business challenges and opportunities of their clients, embracing a new function as “Chief Problem Solvers”.

At Weber Shandwick, our focus is to provide solutions for communications and business challenges through bold ideas and innovative technologies, combined with sound strategies and execution. And to develop meaningful solutions that drive business results and behavioral change, communications need to reinforce its place at the decision table from the outset, not as the 11th hour fixer. The most successful relationships are often the ones that are started as they mean to continue.  With a strong partner in 2020, you will be able to anticipate and counter almost any surprise disruption throws your way.