Welcome to 2016: the year of virtual reality, ad avoidance, the talent battle and specialist PRs

Mumbrella asked public relations and communications professionals about the opportunities and challenges the sector will face in 2016 and their thoughts on what defined 2015. 

Roberto Pace, managing director Diversified Brands (Eleven and FleishmanHillard) Whybin/TBWA

What was the communications trend that defined 2015?
Integration (again), but this time round, less so due to a desire to work smarter with budgets. With digital and social media at the heart of how most people engage, the need for all channels to work toward a common goal of driving engagement was key….and will undoubtedly continue in 2016.


Roberto Pace: PRs need to “become better planners”

What are the trends to watch this year?
Following culture used to be key, now it’s about creating culture. That is, a belief or opportunity that disrupts the norm to have people think and act in a different way. We need these bigger, inspiring opportunities to get past the immense amount of stuff that’s out there (good and bad). PR, with its innate understanding of what resonates, is well placed to be fearless and create these cultural moments.

We will become better planners. Not just in terms of insights and trends but in using data to inform and inspire work that works. PR needs to be as good as other disciplines in using analytical tools and understanding what these tools can tell us. As the lines continue to blur between disciplines and PRs continue to play a leading role at the planning table, being able to speak the language of analytics will be critical

With technology driving trends, PRs will keep a close watch on what’s emerging around the globe and jump on these innovations (or, for the brave, partner with them) to maximise opportunities. Doing so will enable us to create activity that is widely shared and talked about. Landing on the next big thing first will have genuine clout.

What are the challenges and opportunities for communications and public relations professionals in 2016?
Rightly or wrongly, we are perhaps the most diverse channel when it comes to capabilities. There’ll be a real need, however, to ensure we don’t become generalists. PRs have mastered the art of communication but we need to also be experts in the additional parts that ensure the story we tell is seen, heard, felt and shared.

This should result in PRs investing in specialist capabilities that see the core of what we do isn’t lost once it is put into the world. Planners, analysts, content marketers and more will hopefully become as common as creatives and social media experts working in PR teams.

It’s a no-brainer but often the opportunity we miss the most is the one that’s right in front of us: our people. The last few years has seen a rise in better courses offered to communication specialists; it’s great to see.

The next step is hopefully businesses developing long-term and formal learning and development plans that stretch and grow consultants. Too often we overlook a new hire as the next big thing, when perhaps developing those with potential that is yet to be realised is a missed opportunity for all.


Alexis Wilson expects VR to make “major headway” for brands

Alexis Wilson, managing director Hotwire PR

What was the communications trend that defined 2015?

For the PR industry the communications trend that defined 2015 was getting serious about measurement. In this regard the PR industry is now being supported by various SaaS-based PR measurement tools that finally begin to integrate some of the various KPIs that PR is measured against.

At Hotwire we’ve made global investments into measurement tools and training to meet this shift in the communications industry and, personally, I’m excited to see this continue to progress into 2016 and beyond.

What are the trends to watch this year?

I’m going to have to lean on Hotwire’s 2016 Communications Trends Report here and pull out three that I’m most interested in.

Virtuality Reality is going to be a new and deeply experiential communications channel that will make major headway for brands and causes in 2016. Already we’ve seen the tourism and not for profit sectors create compelling PR programs with VR in London and New York, expect more exciting VR campaigns this year.

TV is going to continue its renaissance as tools like Shazam bridge the gap between TV in all its forms – be it free-to-air, cable or streaming – and the second screen. No longer ‘old media’ TV is going to continue to thrive in a digital world.

And, thirdly, Values Based Activism will be a hallmark trend of brands that matter. Last year we saw Univision break its Miss Universe broadcasting agreement over racist comments from (Donald) Trump, and in 2016 I expect more brands, particularly in the Fortune 500 and possibly in the ASX200, to take a stand to support various social issues that define their values and position them as leaders. Some will do it right and some may not hit the mark.

What are the challenges and opportunities for communications and public relations professionals in 2016?

As PR services continues to diversify a staple challenge remains: understand the shifts in the industry from a macro point of view, while identifying and refining your core skills and market them appropriately.

Iain Twine

Timesheets are a challenge for the year ahead, argues Edelman’s Iain Twine

Iain Twine, CEO, South East Asia and Australasia at Edelman

What was the communications trend that defined 2015?

Surface area. A good term to describe how you need to think about where your stories go across all the available points.  I like it because it conjurs up images of an editor laying out their page. It helps you think about the entirety of a brand’s footprint.

What are the trends to watch this year?

The level of idiocy that will accompany the reporting of the US elections.  Don’t blame the media, chances are what is reported will be true with these candidates.

What are the challenges and opportunities for communications and public relations professionals in 2016?



PR agencies need to “create substance over sponsorship” says Annalise Brown

Annalise Brown, MD, Bang PR

What was the communications trend that defined 2015?

Real story telling. Everyone has been talking about content, content, content but 2015 saw a demand for more authentic content relating to a deeper story from brands. There was certainly a stronger focus on influence and impact of content rather than reach and engagement.

What are the trends to watch this year?

Added value for clients – how to get further proof of your pitch – journalists who are now multi-platform, we need to make them true brand ambassadors and believers rather than paid ambassadors. It will be more about deeper more meaningful relationships.

Marketing technologies that enhance the customer experience. A deeper collaboration between data and influence agencies ensuring more targeted, meaningful approaches, and the further proliferation of the internet of things!

What are the challenges and opportunities for communications and public relations professionals in 2016?

Providing ROI for a client that delivers brand impact and genuine talkability, working with clients to develop that genuine story and then strategically pitching for a trickle effect of coverage. We need to create substance over sponsorship.

We also need to ensure that we are actually delivering influence, not just impact. Our savvy consumers can not only tell the difference but they are actually looking out for the fake relationships.

Recruitment, recruitment, recruitment. As an industry we need to PR ourselves to entice a bigger slice of the best talent.


Carl Ratcliff expects artificial intelligence to continue to effect us in “mundane ways”

Carl Ratcliff, CEO, One Green Bean

What was the communications trend that defined 2015?

Social marketing. A la Optus’ Ricky Gervais campaign. With shareable content at its heart.

And, of course, social influence. Exampled by our very own Crowd Atlas.

What are the trends to watch this year?

Moments will matter more than mindset. A la Google and Facebook’s latest mantra.

Distribution will continue to play Queen to content’s King. And social influence will come of age.

A.I. is here and will affect more of us in ever-more mundane ways. (Let’s hope Alex Garland’s Ex Machina remains science-fiction, however.)

Oh, and ad avoidance will become properly mainstream.

What are the challenges and opportunities for communications and public relations professionals in 2016?

Earning attention will remain ever pivotal for brands. Originality will move from golden to platinum status.

Long-term brand building will continue to offer greatest dividend for businesses. Yet short term conversion will continue to drive marketers in a world where marketing effectiveness remains elusive.

Above all, the consumer will retain their power as the most powerful medium of all.

James Wright

James Wright says the biggest trend of 2015 was “the death of the press release”

James Wright, group COO Havas Worldwide Australia and managing director Red Agency Australia and Havas PR Asia-Pacific

What was the communications trend that defined 2015?

I think looking back at 2015 one of the biggest trends was the death of the press release. It’s a bit like newspapers, they still have a role but there are more effective ways to get your message across to engage a journalist, blogger or other influencer.

I would say 90 per cent of the communications we are putting out now has no press release anywhere near it, yet I would say less than 10 years ago it was closer to the other way around.

On the channel side, I think the emergence of much more personalised experiences from brand to consumer emerged – content that is far more skewed to either an individual or highly specific interest group has developed.

Virtual reality and immersive experiences came to the fore in a big way, for example, and that will start to start to roll out massively in the next few years, particularly in the fields of tourism, automotive, sports and real estate.

What are the trends to watch this year?

The two big trends that will continue to advance in 2016 will be the role of the influencer and the acceleration of real time PR.

In terms of influencers, clients are realising much more the role an influencer can play in their campaigns. They help a brand stay relevant and if you can utilise them in the right way it can create a much more personalised and authentic channel to deliver your message.

I am not talking about paying an influencer just to say something but finding the right one that you can engage and utilise to share their experience of your brand.

Harnessing their power and (the) trust they have earned with their audience in the right way can become a very cost-effective channel.  I also think we will start to see brands use them more strategically, utilising influencer ambassadors long-term, not just for specific campaigns.

With real-time PR, I think 2016 will be the year brands finally ‘get’ that they need to cater to the insatiable appetite for speedy responses and the ‘must have it now’ nature of today’s world. The brands that can deliver ultra-fast turnaround content that understands what their audience wants will win.

Cutting out approval times and unnecessary bureaucracy to open up real time conversations with consumers will become increasingly critical to success.

What are the challenges and opportunities for communications and public relations professionals in 2016?

I think the biggest issues will continue to be the battle for talent, which is a constant in this market. At the heart of every agency should be the development of strategies to finding and keep the best people. If you don’t have the right talent, you won’t be able to do the type of work that will sustain the needs of your clients.

The talent pool is small, particularly at the mid-senior and very senior levels, so they need to be bought into a very clear vision and purpose of your agency. The biggest opportunity is to take advantage of the blurring of the lines between agency disciplines.

In PR-land, 2015 saw more opportunities than ever before to take big budgets from ad agencies, and many have taken advantage.

But to keep taking a slice of the pie, and bigger portions, the PR agency needs to invest much more than they have in the past in tools and specific offers that helps bring greater value to clients, particularly in the digital and social space.

We have an opportunity, the door is open, PR agencies need to have the confidence to kick it down.

Steven Spurr

“It is our challenge to show that we have skills in research, strategy, creative and digital,” says Steven Spurr

Steven Spurr, incoming Edelman Australia CEO

What was the communications trend that defined 2015?

2015 was the year that sponsored content finally matured and moved beyond advertorial 2.0.  This has reshaped the storytelling landscape once again.

Key media titles have really successfully taken this forward and worked out how to leverage their brand’s commercial value and still offer credibility and compelling storytelling.  This is both an opportunity and a threat for PR consultants.

Some titles have gone direct to clients, however the results have been patchy, so this is unlikely to be the only route for our clients. I have found [that] developing stories through the combination of PR expertise, understanding our clients’ business needs and creating partnerships with the right titles ensures that the content produced credibly fulfils the needs of the readers, the title and the client.

What are the trends to watch this year?

As brands and enterprises fight for attention in our age of information overload I predict the resurgence of social purpose platforms and the rise of problem-solving will be two trends that will help brands cut through the clutter.

Brands that authentically prove and communicate that they care and have a conscience or show how they help solve life’s little (or big) irritants will appeal to those who want more from their brand experience.

What are the challenges and opportunities for communications and public relations professionals in 2016?

I think the challenge and the opportunity for the year will be the continued battle to place the power of conversation at the centre of the marketing mix. Continuing to prove that PR has the ability to deliver smart, market-moving ideas [and] not just amplification.

Ideas that are born of an amplification mind-set travel further, have more advocates and reach more of those who need to see them. It is our challenge to show that we have skills in research, strategy, creative, studio production and digital anchored to our PR skills to deliver this for our clients – otherwise other types of agencies will do it for us.


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