As with so many industries, PR and communications businesses and professionals had to quickly adapt and innovate in 2020 in the face of the sea changes that last year brought to our world, our culture and the way we all do business. Going forward into 2021, these changes in norms remain with us and continue to shape how PR agencies do business, and support their clients. I recently sat down with Marketing Report Forum to discuss how we can expect PR to develop in 2021. An excerpt of the interview can be found below, with the full article in Dutch linked here.
“A number of trends rapidly gained traction in 2020. One that stands out in my mind is the increased focus for businesses to take a position on ethical and social issues. More than ever before, the social aspect of organizations is in the spotlight. How sustainable, how involved, how inclusive are organizations and brands? And how sincere are their claims and stories? Giving frontline healthcare workers is a nice gesture, but that does not mean you’re a socially engaged organization. In many different areas, I see how social responsibility is becoming more and more important. Organizations and brands will have to more emphatically show that they are making a difference – not just for their shareholders, but also for their employees, their customers and their communities.
I also see that fewer organizations are looking for ‘traditional’ PR. Their requests are broader: less focused on channels or approaches, more focused on business results. PR, communications and, increasingly, marketing, are starting to blend together. Proper positioning and sharing a consistent and appealing narrative: it’s always an interplay between the two. That means our role as a PR and communications agency is changing, and that change has definitely been expedited in the past year. On the one hand, it was because budgets were tighter, which called for more creativity and the ability to combine various communications activities. On the other hand, proper communications was of major strategic importance for many organizations – to put clients at ease, to launch new services (out of necessity), or to keep their internal efforts aligned. As a result, PR and communications gained a real ‘seat at the table’ in 2020 and won’t be seen as simply a line on the balance sheet any time soon.
This development also requires agencies to take a different role in client services. We have the responsibility to our clients to optimize the results of the partnership. But I also feel a great deal of responsibility for the ‘third party’: the media. In a time when publishers and media are under increasing amounts of pressure, we certainly have a role to play in maintaining diversity in the media landscape and upholding journalistic independence. This again requires open and honest collaboration. It’s not our goal to score as much exposure as possible with tacky PR and spin. When journalists make the switch to PR – I’m fortunate to have several of them in my team – they’re frequently accused of ‘turning to the dark side’. But I believe that collaboration between agencies and media is of great importance and, if done right, will benefit both publishers, agencies, and clients. For me, nurturing that spirit of collaboration is one of the focal points for 2021.”