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Here are the areas of marketing, media and public relations that I’m thinking about for 2017 in my day job in at Ketchum. Let me know what you think. We’ve love to help your organisation think through some of these challenges.
• I’ve spent the first few days of 2017 taking stock of
the business of marketing, media, and public
• 12 months is an arbitrary period to measure
change in the sector that is rapidly innovating
in some areas such as artificial intelligence
and digital media; but woefully slow in others
such as diversity and professionalism.
• There have been some notable shifts in 2016.
Propaganda has made an ugly return to the
business of public relations.
• You can trace the history of post-truth in the public
relations business from Edward Bernays in the 1900s to
Max Clifford in the 1980s. More recently from the Iraq
War dodgy dossier in the early noughties, to so called
fake news in last year’s UK Referendum and US Election.
• Here are the issues that I’m thinking about in my day job
at Ketchum for 2017. Let me know what you think. We’d
love to help your orgamisation work through these
• I’m publishing this essay under a Creative Commons
license. Please help yourself and share far and wide.
#1 Artificial intelligence
We're starting to feel the impact of machines in at least
three areas: content production; content distribution and
publication; and workflow.
The significant step forward in 2016 was content
production. At the end of 2016, Quill Content reported that
it had created more than 15 million words for customers
including Boden, Regus, and Virgin.
In public relations algorithms are commonplace for
searching and organising how information is displayed.
They create bubbles that insulate us from contrary
It’s a disservice to our intelligence and democracy. In 2017
work hard to break out of algorithmic bubbles.
We increasingly use tools to make sense of conversations
and content shared in networks. Algorithms crunch
through huge amounts of data to identify influencers,
networks and trending topics.
Public relations like other professions is sleep walking into
the issue of artificial intelligence. No one has properly
characterised its potential impact on our business. This
needs to change in 2017.
#2 Data fatigue
Public relations has moved quickly to integrate
data into its workflow to better understand
publics but is in danger of viewing it as a
means to an end and overplaying its value.
Third party tools are now commonplace in a
variety of communication and public relation
functions to identify publics, make sense of the
content that they are sharing, and identify the
best means of engagement.
In 2016 data failed the marketing, media and public
relations professions by incorrectly predicting the outcome
of both the European Referendum in the UK, and the US
Polls are not predictive indicators. At best they are an
assessment of how the public is prepared to admit it feels
on the day the poll is conducted.
If you're working on a campaign for 2017 use tools to
establish a hypothesis and then put them down and go into
the real world to talk, and more importantly listen to your
#3 Rethink content formats
Press releases remain the dominant form of
content for the public relations profession.
They are well understood by organisations.
The press release is a common format,
created through a process of iteration and
approval, for communication with external
Everyone knows how they work.
In 2017 most press releases won’t be written for
the press. Instead they’ll be posted on a corporate
website and carved up into a multitude of formats
for customer emails and Tweets.
If press releases are your primary means of
communication it’s time for a rethink.
Press releases still have a place as a form of
content but their role is less significant as media
channels continue to become increasing visual.
#4 Internet shifts to video formats
2016 has seen innovation in virtual reality with significant
platform development. This technology has huge potential
for learning and development, including immersion in
situations that would otherwise be dangerous in real life,
and experience of hard to reach locations, or destinations.
Live video could be equally disruptive.
I was brought up short recently when the Associated Press
shared live video on Facebook of the offensive to retake
Mosel from ISIL and rescue the one million people trapped
in the city. It’s a powerful form of first person storytelling.
Both Facebook and Periscope have invested in tools for
#5 Paying to play with influencers
Public relations in practice is evolving from media
relations to influencer relations, and then from
community management to social business. These
changes are the story of this blog.
Each new form of media from Snapchat to
YouTube, and Instagram to Twitter, has given rise
to a new breed of influencers.
Media relations, a core area of public relations
practice, has shifted from pitching traditional
media to working with these individuals across all
forms of media.
Whether they are opinion leaders, experts, ambassadors,
creators, celebrities, activists or healthcare professionals,
the goal remains the same. Influencers provide a means of
building trust with specific communities through third
It’s put the public relations business on a collision course
with marketing. The last five years have seen the
emergence of paid influencers and creators.
Public relations seeks to negotiate with influencers and
build long term relationships, whereas marketing wants to
buy access to audiences at scale in the same way you'd buy
#6 Representing the publics we serve
According to the PRCA’s 2016 Census the PR industry
remains a young industry, with an average age of 28.
Public relations is a female-led industry, with 64 per cent
of its employees being women. There is a significant pay
gap between the sexes, on average £9,111 in favour of men.
This is consistent with CIPR State of the Profession
survey, which characterised the gender pay gap as £11,698.
It’s a situation that is consistent with other markets.
There has been little change in the diversity of the public relations,
with 91 per cent being white and 89 per cent being British.
However, there are signs of improvement thanks to initiatives such as
the Taylor Bennett Foundation. The youngest generations in the
industry represent important improvements in diversity levels.
A combination of a degree and work experience is the typical route into
the profession but data is hard to find.
The PRCA has developed an apprenticeship offer working with the UK
government that combines paid work placements with classroom
learning, equivalent to the first year of a degree.
Around 250 people have graduated from the PRCA apprenticeship
scheme since 2011. It’s becoming an important, mainstream route into
#7 Media monopolies
The marketing and public relations profession may be working hard to
improve gender, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity but the digital
media environment is coalescing around a group of monopolies.
Mergers and acquisitions are becoming the norm. We haven’t seen a
new platform since Meerkat launched in 2014. It has since folded.
In the UK Google accounts for more than 85% of searches according to
Facebook has a strong and growing platform of services including
Instagram and WhatsApp. Meanwhile Google+ has fallen by the
wayside. LinkedIn, now owned by Microsoft, is pursuing an advocacy,
content and learning strategy.
Pinterest has posted strong growth in visual imaging. SnapChat has
nailed visual messaging and is becoming a strong channel, widening
its appeal to an older demographic.
The future of Twitter, Periscope and Vine remains a work in progress.
There are signs that the ad funded model on which almost all these
platforms are based is creaking. Tech savvy consumers are
increasingly using ad blockers.
400 million internet users blocked ads in June 2016 equivalent to
around 12.5% of the 3.2 billion internet population. In the UK the
figure was 21% and in the US 24%.
#8 Inside out: social media in the enterprise
The application of social media technologies internally within an
organisation have shown early promise but adoption rates are low.
Behaviour, culture and technology are all issues.
Facebook’s Workplace offers a potential solution. The platform,
launched as a commercial product in 2016, applies all the learnings
from the consumer product to a private enterprise environment.
Most of us intuitively understand how the news feed, threaded
conversations and groups work. We know how to publish posts and
share images or video. We use Messenger for direct conversations.
Applied to the enterprise this technology offers huge potential for
communication, collaboration and sharing.
#9 Talk to me
Advances in speech recognition and computer intelligence are set to
bring about the next wave in internet disintermediation.
I first tinkered with voice recognition in the 1990s using Dragon
Dictation. It was a lousy experience. By comparison the speech
recognition built into Apple iOS and Google apps is incredible.
Have a go for yourself – accuracy rates are more than 95% in my
Now imagine voice technology incorporated into Amazon Echo, Apple
Siri or Google Home and combined with the contextual data that each
organisation has about you and information from the open web.
Both Echo and Home are internet connected devices which
summon up services from the internet based on voice
commands, and which will create another wave of internet
There’ll be no need for ads or search engine optimisation
for a kick off.
#10 Conversations: let’s talk
Organisations have struggled to get to grips with the
change of tone required to engage with people on the
internet. Much corporate marketing remains focused on
the organisation rather than the intended public.
It’s frequently broadcasted with no effort to listen or
engage. The result is pointless at best and a reputational
issue at worst.
More enlightened organisations are using new media as a
means of conversation. Facebook and Twitter are
frequently used for customer service.
These modern forms of media frequently now replace
customer phone lines or webchat.
Facebook took this medium a step further at its F8 user
conference in 2016 when it announced customer chat and
bots via Facebook Chat.
Investigate bots for yourself. They offer a huge opportunity
for public relations.
#11 Digital discontinuity
We get excited by technology but for now there’s
almost always a disconnect between old and new.
No organisation will accept my Facebook or
Twitter profile as verification of my identity.
Instead I’m typically shunted off to a web form or
a traditional channel.
I can order tickets for the cinema or train online
or via an app but I’ll need to print them out or
collect printed copies in order for them to be
Apps requiring two factor authentication are
becoming the common means for an organisation
to establish a verified relationship with a
Every aspect of the customer journey from
marketing to purchase, and from delivery
notification to customer service, is managed
within an app. My phone has become a wallet of
logos for banking, shopping and travel.
#12 Living your values
Take back control was the Brexit campaign's rallying cry
during the UK Referendum, backed up by potent
messaging around immigration.
President-elect Donald Trump sought to turn around post-
industrial economic decline in the US by blaming
globalisation. His rallying call was to make America great
Whatever your view of these campaigns, they were built on
a rock solid message that allowed disparate groups to come
together. They set out a simple unifying ambition that was
Every campaign needs a clear purpose, something
you can summarise in four or five words.
Beyond that organisations will need to take a good
look at their values in 2017 and be prepared to
take a stand.
Publics are looking for a point of view. A value is
only a value when you’re prepared to defend it.
#13 Trump cycle replaces the new cycle
In 2016 messages published to social networks, whether
true or false, can quickly become accepted wisdom within a
community, even if they’re nonsense.
The Trump campaign during the US election turned the
exploitation of these factors into an art form. It moved at
speed spraying the internet with propaganda.
This wasn’t about news cycles, they’re long dead, but the
Trump cycle. Opponents struggled to counter as Trump
moved onto the next story.
Just how much influence issues like fake news had on the
UK Referendum and US election is yet to be determined.
Academics, media and technology execs have
proposed a variety of ways in which search and
social media organisations could address the
Whatever the case, it's beholden on
communicators to be honest in their
communication. The CIPR and PRCA both have
an ethical code of conduct.
Bullshit and spin have no place in modern public
#14 Integrated Measurement Framework
In the last five years AMEC members have worked hard to
create a framework that helps practitioners define a direct
relationship between the objectives of a public relations
campaign and the outcomes.
The Integrated Measurement Framework guides
practitioners through a series of seven steps to create a
measurement approach for a campaign.
It was launched last year with a comprehensive website of
resource material and an interactive tool to steer
practitioners through the process.
It has become a standard at Ketchum. Every conversation
around measurement within the business is framed
around the Integrated Measurement Framework.
Best of all it’s free. There are no excuses and I guarantee
the return on investment of you implementing it will be
AMEC’s job for 2017 under the leadership of executive
director Barry Leggetter and incoming chairman Richard
Bagnall is to make its Integrated Measurement
Framework a standard in practice throughout the
#15 Social capital: a community life force
Community is a much abused and maligned word in this
social media era.
Create a Twitter hashtag, or build a Facebook or LinkedIn
group, and people will come.
Except they don't. The internet is littered with failed
community building efforts.
Robert Putnam's book Bowling Alone tells the story of how
bowling alley attendance is increasing in the US but
bowling alley leagues are in decline.
He suggests this is due to a decline in social capital. It's an
issue we're seeing in almost every area of public life.
In metropolitan Britain we bowl alone, or in small groups
of friends, rather than collectively. Life is becoming more
solitary and we've lost access to a cross section of society.
Social capital isn't something you'll find on a profit and
loss statement but it'll be increasingly important for
organisations seeking to build trust with their publics.
They have an opportunity to help bring people together.
#16 Community of practice
Public relations is practical. We should learn from the body
of knowledge that academic colleagues are investigating
and apply it to our day jobs.
Academic colleagues are enabling greater understanding
in every area of practice. Meanwhile practitioners
challenged by the pace of innovation are reaching out to
theory to help make sense of the changes in practice.
A close working relationship between academia and
practice is a hallmark of any professional discipline –
enhancing real-world practice with research, reflection and
In public relations this relationship is limited, and without
the historical perspective and insight provided for by
academics, practitioners lack rigour and are limited to
trading in simple crafts and tactics.
I travelled to BledCom in Slovenia in 2016 to explore areas
in which the two communities could work closer together.
The outcome was published as a toolkit with eight
The Institute for Public Relations under the vision and
drive of Dr. Tina McCorkindale is providing excellent
leadership in this area.
#17 Creativity as a public relations discipline
In the shift to data driven programmes there’s a danger
that we lose sight of creativity.
Tools help us identify publics and their motivation but
storytelling and content will always remain the means of
At Ketchum the creative function is deeply embedded
within our planning process, StoryWorks newsrooms and
teams. Creative thinkers are held in high respect.
Public relations is rightful place alongside advertising and
creative agencies at Cannes and Eurobest winning awards
in our own right and as part of integrated solutions.
#18 Are you any good?
How do you train in a profession where the skills you learn
are likely to outdated before you complete the qualification
or training programme?
Continuous professional development (CPD) integrated
with your personal development is the only solution.
The Global Alliance under the leadership of Professor Anne
Gregory has completed an excellent project that sets out
the skills required of practitioners at both an entry-level
and mid-career or senior level.
The Global Capabilities Framework Project sets out a
series of behaviours and skills have been attributed to
In the second half of 2016 the PRCA under the leadership
of Francis Ingham launched its CPD scheme with 16
partners including the Association of Police
Communicators, Association of Professional Political
Consultants, Holmes Report and PR Week, that put it on a
collision course with the CIPR.
I’ve long argued that the CIPR and PRCA should cooperate
in areas of mutual benefit to the professional. Creating a
single CPD standard for the profession would be a good
Addressing some of the big issues outlined in this essay
such as artificial intelligence would be a good next step.
#19 Professional status
Public relations as a management discipline has become a
drum beat of modern public relations in recent years
thanks to the CIPR and initiatives such as Sarah Hall’s
To be recognised in the boardroom we need to adapt the
rigour and discipline of other professions.
More than 100 people have achieved Chartered PR
Practitioner status in the last 12 months compared with 50
people in the ten years between 2005 and 2015.
It’s a long way from establishing a critical mass in a
business of 80,000 people in the UK, but it’s a start.
The challenge now is to scale Chartered status so that it becomes
normative not just for practitioners but also for other professional
CIPR President Jason Mackenzie and Past President Rob Brown have
the goal within their sights.
Chart.PR, the post-nominal letters for someone who has achieved
Chartered PR practitioner status, needs to be recognised as a
benchmark of quality by anyone hiring public relations services and
the broader public.
If you believe as I do that the public relations industry needs to make
the shift from a craft to a profession then you should sign up to CPD
and start your own journey to Chartered PR Practitioner.