While PR faces many challenges in 2018, finding and retaining high-quality personnel, meeting increasingly stringent government regulations on customer data, and responding to fake news may be the toughest PR tasks.
Recruiting Quality Staff
PR agencies and departments will have difficulty recruiting – and retaining – personnel with both analytical abilities and traditional PR communications skills. A survey by the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations found that PR executives believe hiring and retaining top talent is the top challenge facing the PR industry. Analytics skills are increasingly essential to measure PR campaigns and demonstrate PR’s contribution to the corporate business goals.
PR’s reputation as an area for intellectual light-weights concerned with fluff and trendy fashions presents an obstacle.
“Many a PR pro has lamented, ‘I’m not a mathematician.’ Unfortunately, that won’t cut it in our current environment,” says Michelle Garrett, PR consultant at Garrett Public Relations.
Colleges and universities can improve the situation by offering, or even requiring, courses in statistics and data analytics. PR professionals can enhance their careers by completing continuing education courses in analytics. Some PR teams can also outsource analytics tasks such as media monitoring and measurement, to third-party specialists skilled in data analytics.
PR agencies and departments that offer flexible work arrangements, including telecommuting, flexible work hours and other family-friendly arrangements will gain a human resources advantage. “Larger, less agile agencies should be concerned at the increasing appetite for fulfilment and flexibility at work, which freelance work can offer,” says PR consultant Lucy Werner.
In addition, some commentators urge PR and marketing teams to increase their ethnic diversity. Greater diversity boosts creativity and may better reflect a brand’s multi-cultural consumer base. Team members from different backgrounds can spot potentially offensive marketing ideas that might prompt a backlash, such as Dove’s recent Facebook ad.
Stringent Data Collection Regulations
Some PR experts predict that the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will upend the PR industry. The regulation strengthens data protection and privacy of EU citizens, regardless of where they live or work. The law applies to companies that collect personal information from EU customers, receive web traffic from the EU, or do business with EU citizens.
Marketing and PR staff may need to scrub email lists and ask subscribers to re-opt in to ensure compliance. The act will legally require media distribution lists to obtain opt-ins from journalists, says Paul MacKenzie-Cummins, managing director of agency Clearly PR.
PR agencies that still keep media lists in desktop Excel files may be in for a shock. “For direct-to-publics activities, opt-in will soon need to be verified manually – meaning the quality and relevance of content will be essential,” MacKenzie-Cummins says.
“Even if your legal team says you are exempt from GDPR, adhering to its compliance measures future-proofs you in case you eventually work with EU citizen data, or your country adopts GDPR-like data protection requirements,” advises Christopher Penn, vice president, marketing technology at Shift Communications.
Fake News Stories Challenge Reputation Management
Fake news sites will make reputation management more challenging in 2018. Fake news stories show no sign of abating and are afflicting businesses as many had feared. PR pros may now need to add attacks in fake news stories to their PR crisis plans.
Worried about regurgitating fake news and misinformation, media outlets will become more diligent than ever. Journalists will be more likely to try to verify information from politicians, corporations and other types of organizations. Third-party research or studies from universities, think-tanks or non-profits will help PR gain credibility and favorable media mentions.
Some fake news sites circulate fake news to attract website traffic and advertising income. However, a range of characters — including political extremists, anti-corporate activists, disgruntled customers, stock short sellers, and unscrupulous competitors — now post fake news on websites and social media networks. While fake news purveyors most often target politicians and celebrities, they increasingly make up stories about businesses.
Out of the top 50 “hot” fake news stories that fact-checking site Snopes compiled over a few weeks, 12 were about companies, according to the Financial Times. Fake news reports included: Starbucks gave out free Frappuccino’s to undocumented migrants, beauty chain Ulta closed after a buyout, an Xbox console killed a teenager, and Costco stopped selling memberships.
Organizations will turn to PR experts to counter reputation problems caused by fake news and fake online reviews. PR veterans recommend that organizations and celebrities:
- Create a plan that outlines when and how you will respond.
- Monitor social media, online media outlets and especially fake news sites.
- Subscribe to real-time alerts to learn immediately when your company, products or other keywords are mentioned online.
Depending on the severity of the story, you may decide to ignore it, contact a lawyer, or contact law enforcement. “The best choice is to try to get negative information taken down, however, it’s not that simple,” writes John P. David, president of David PR Group. “Exactly how to handle fake news is bit of uncharted territory, but monitoring, a quick assessment and a sensible action plan could save your business from tremendous reputational damage.”
Bottom Line: Top challenges greeting public relations outfits as they greet the New Year include finding employees with strong analytical, writing and relationship-building skills, meeting more rigorous regulations on data collection, and defending corporate reputations in the face of increasingly frequent fake news attacks and fake reviews. But PR teams have tools and strategies that can help. Following these recommendations can help PR overcome those obstacles and complete a successful 2018.