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2017 – the challenges and opportunities ahead 15.12.16

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Whilst other colleagues will rightfully talk about the effects of external factors, such as Trump or BREXIT in their sectors and regions, I’d like to take some time to consider how the role of PR itself is changing.

Nowhere is change more prevalent than in one of the key constituencies of our group – the B2B technology sector. There is a well-worn and long-won argument that PR and its almost synonymous tactic – media relations – cannot exist in isolation without the support of other elements such as social media and thought leadership. Also that the world is moving towards a position where companies create their own content, and the filter of the media is less important. This is certainly true. However, I think that journalists, along with other influencers such as analysts, industry leaders, academics and various twitterati, will be with us for quite some time to come.

What hasn’t permeated to the very core of every in-house or agency PR professional is how much we must now be fully integrated with other elements of the marketing mix. It’s easier said than done, but rather than trying to find ever more complicated and elaborate ways of evaluating and justifying ourselves, we should be tying ourselves to the business objectives of the organisation. We should all be aligning ourselves to a marketing strategy that makes the most of the assets available.

For example – if “content is king”, the biggest challenge to the throne is not using it for maximum impact. If organisations don’t realise the full potential of their content through a full suite of integrated marketing and PR tactics, they will be behind their competition. A white paper written by the CTO and currently hiding on a desolate outpost of the website could be the ticket to increased pipeline and sales. All that’s missing is a strategic dissemination plan and methodology, which combines traditionally siloed tactics – demand generation and nurture, organic and promoted social, media relations and events – into a single powerful campaign that not only gains thought leadership but drives sales. Many technology organisations and brands are beginning to understand the importance of this approach, but those who continue to see PR in a very traditional sense may soon be left behind.

Science communication is not immune from these trends. Broadsheet media coverage may still be a good way of demonstrating the impact of research to funders and some sections of the public. However, when it comes to a new generation of scientists, or building trust with those who are not in our natural field view, digital methods such as Reddit AMAs and Facebook Live will continue to grow in importance.

Open access publishing will also continue to erode the vice-like grip of the big journals as new and different content providers, even as scientific papers themselves come on stream. Gradually, we as science communicators, will have to deal with a new publishing (as well as marketing) landscape when representing our universities, funding organisations or research establishments.

Of course, not all modern phenomena are for good. And one area that science communication can help to combat is the increasing move to “post truth” politics. As defined by Wikipedia, this terrifying phrase means “a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored.” As those representing science, it’s very much our duty to support evidence-based policy, to conquer fake news and to promote the views of the science community. To be successful, we have to use a wider set of tools and connect more powerfully with the public, in much the same way that B2B technology organisations should be using the full marketing suite to connect with its buyers.

If you have any questions about this blog, please email me at jim.sutton@aprilsixproof.com

This blog originally appeared in the CIPR publication #PR2017 Insight and trends impacting UK public relations