These are the trends and tactics that are shaping today’s PR landscape.
The best way to shape your PR strategy for 2021 is to first get comfortable with re-imaging what you think PR is.
Let’s first remember folks, PR is a communications-led, brand building skill. It’s about creating language and content to shape narrative across every brand touch-point for a business.
Mistakably, PR is often considered as being ‘publicity’ alone. Publicity is one potential outcome of PR efforts and while powerful and important to the PR mix as a whole; it may not be ‘the one thing’ that changes outcomes for a business long term or be the best tactic in the tool bag; depending on the situation.
PR just like life is flux and ‘the only thing that is constant is change.’ This is the true of PR, always. But especially in 2021 and in what we hope will soon be, a post-Covid world. While the way in which we PR things is forever evolving, what hasn’t changed is that PR, as always will be the art of finding new ways to communicate with the people who need what you’ve got most.
In 2021, PR professionals will need to consider all aspects and interactions a potential customer has with a brand across its entire brand footprint – online and offline.
The tactics and communications trends shaping PR strategies for 2021:
PR TACTIC #1: Become a Magazine
The halcyon days of the print magazine are long gone. But the global consumption of content is growing at a rapid rate. We consume more content not less; but where we consume it has changed.
An important approach to PR is to consider that you’re actually producing a magazine on behalf of your business or the business you represent. You are the editor. I use the magazine as a tangible concept for content creation that gives your content clear strategy and purpose. It’s about applying a traditional medium and concept to a modern one.
By approaching content as though you’re editing a magazine on behalf of your organisation; it’s a substantial concept that helps you to consider the target audience, the design assets and imagery that support your content, the messaging, the articles, the interviews, the talking heads, special features and of course its frequency and consistency across platforms.
What does your magazine look like? Where is it distributed (social media only)? Who is it talking to? What is it saying? How is it saying it? Who are you partnering with and who is sponsoring your posts? All businesses are now in the media business and need to find ways to produce valuable content sustainably and at scale.
PR TACTIC #2: Organic Social Media
Executing on social media is being the teller of your own story. Why wait for media to tell your story when you can tell it just as you want it to be told.
Some businesses are still considering whether they should invest in social media at all. Crazy right?! What they should be considering is how they can make social media the linchpin and mouthpiece of all PR efforts.
Organic social media content (that is valuable) still matters and without it; it’s a race to the bottom. Or rather; it’s leaving a whole lot of opportunity on the table. Also ads don’t fire long-term without its back-up. While it doesn’t yield conversation rates like it once did without a paid strategy in tandem, it matters to shaping messaging, reputation management and contributes to third party endorsement. It builds online real estate. It’s the foundational step to a content strategy that works. Social media should no longer be seen as a debatable investment; it’s a necessary everyday, business cost. It is PR.
PR TACTIC #3: Paid Social Media and Digital Ads
In the olden days of PR, we didn’t manage ads and barely had any influence on ad strategy. Which is strange given that the PR function is the mouthpiece and shapes narrative for a brand right?!
The advertising suits and creatives were on one side of the partition and we were on the other. Sure, we’d stand around and marvel at the cleverness of new ad campaigns during the week and catch up for Friday night drinks but that was about as far as the crossover went for PR Pros and ‘Ad Land.’
They were telling, we were compelling. They were paid messaging and we were high-ground earned and credible, third-party, coverage. Different languages. But not anymore.
These days and especially in 2021 PR professionals are guiding the media spend agenda, managing the budget, art directing and creating ad content. PR Pros are pulling the levers on creating and placing ads to directly support organic and earned coverage.
The role of the PR professional is that of the chief communicator on behalf of the businesses we represent. We impart and guide narrative and story both internally and externally. But these days the external messaging won’t be seen or heard to its best ability without a paid content strategy on top. Brands will still invest massively in social ads for good reason; but it will go hand-in-hand with the organic content and PR agenda in 2021.
PR TACTIC #4: Micro-Influencer Relations
More and more brands are realising the importance of connecting with micro influencers who have developed dialogue, rapport, and trust with an intimate audience group about a niched topic. Micro influencers are more willing to align with brands as long-term partners because they genuinely care, this type of authenticity breeds trust, which leads to successful outcome-based campaigns. Micro influencers have great power in the ability to make an impact on the purchasing decisions of their followers. And content production via micro influencers is still the most affordable way to secure imagery and drive user generated content for a business.
Micro influencers have been a focus for some time now, because they’re more within reach, sustainable and because they provide better ROI than the insta-famous influencer campaigns. For this reason, sponsored posts will continue to gain momentum and brands will increase their focus on micro-influencer strategies in 2021. Micro-influencer campaigns work.
Sayonara to metrics that don’t matter – overinflated influencer follower figures, auto likes on posts, faked engagement via bot comments, and CEOs talking about accumulated social media campaign circulation figures. Ok, well maybe they’ll all still exist, but what the PR Pros will teach their clients in 2021 is that none of it matters and it shouldn’t be reported on as a badge of honour.
It’s all a vanity metric in a faked digital world that doesn’t make for impactful PR results. What matters is quality and consistent content as well as meaningful relationships with micro influencers who care about the products, services and people they produce content for.
As a side note, it’s an odd era in human behaviour when people thank their community for helping them reach 50k followers for example; when we can easily see on analytics tools that 40% of those followers were bought. Follower figures are mostly a ruse and marketing managers and CEOs will start to catch on what the PR Pros have known all along. Big follower figures (usually many of which a large proportion have been faked somewhere along the journey) is like counting Monopoly Money or parked cars in a garage you can’t drive.
What matters in 2021 is interest-driven community and connection with micro influencers at the heart. What PR Pros will continue to do is foster these strategic yet meaningful relationships on behalf of the brands they represent.
PR TACTIC #5: Long Form Text Articles, Blogging and SEO PR
Long form text copy is absolutely still relevant and important to an evergreen and sustainable PR approach. Long form text articles published via third party websites and social platforms as well as owned platforms – the blog on your website builds trust and online real-estate. It helps businesses provide value to their audience when they’re making a decision about whether or not to buy and it’s still the best way to generate SEO PR. Long form text articles that are hyper-focused not only support businesses with being more visible online by expanding the digital footprint via organic search; they generate the right traffic and attract niche audience groups.
PR TACTIC #6: Media Relations
Of course a media relations strategy is still an important PR tactic for businesses executing thoughtful PR. Publicity is powerful, third-party credibility that can cross borders, go global and reach audiences en-masse generating instant brand awareness, followed by enquiry and potential purchase. It also has the power to place coverage for you in micro niched publications and interest-specific media outlets. Regardless of whether publicity is a result of the media outreach effort; good media relationships ensures that your brand is higher on the agenda and well-placed for publicity than before.
PR TACTIC #7: Podcasts/Audio
Audio content is seeing a continued uplift with consumers enjoying the benefit of passive listening. Whether it be hosting a podcast and using that as part of your PR strategy or securing guest spots for talent on relevant podcasts; audio content platforms are providing a huge benefit to PR practitioners enabling powerful cut-through and brand awareness. There is also huge benefit from paid ads and sponsored giveaway collaborations that can be placed as part of YouTube pre-roll strategies or Podcast ads.
PR TACTIC #8: Clubhouse
Be sure to hot-shoe-shuffle towards Clubhouse a new-type of social media platform based on voice alone. No need to curate beautiful looking feeds, no need to invest in photo shoots here, this is ephemeral, live, non-recorded content via your voice. Kind of like instant global talk back radio. It’s immersive conversation, it’s connection in real life and it’s disrupting social media as we’ve come to know it.
You can listen in as an audience member to chat rooms and contribute to conversations as they happen. This is the next big social media thing that will become a normal part of the PR and brand strategy landscape. Brands will get strategic with setting topics, creating Clubs and Chat Rooms and curating guest moderators to discuss pre-set topics. This is live, transparent, democratised storytelling that truly connects brands via their employees and their audiences in the most primitive (human to human) way on a global and instant scale.
PR TACTIC #8: Social Listening
PR Pros in 2021 will be tasked with gatekeeping and culture-testing to social listen for opportunities as well as to prevent brand-damaging hashtag campaigns or manage online conversations that need responsiveness (all of them!). Social listening allows you to finesse content, protect reputation, grow customer sentiment and build community. It also allows you to be better positioned to contribute to conversation, report on sentiment analysis and piggyback on news story trends. As well as live listening, social media apps that provide insights and analytics will continue to play an important role in PR reporting and social strategies.
PR TACTIC #9: Community Management and Direct Messaging
Despite the introduction of new social media platforms and communications technologies great PR still relies on human-to-human engagement to ensure brands remain relevant. Meaningful engagements with deeper connection have greater impact and so direct messaging is where the greatest opportunity for ROI can be had as well as responsive community management. It’s no longer enough for businesses to tick the social media output box; publish content and then walk away. It’s a far better strategy to pull back on the frequency of posts to ensure that there’s quality time available to spend on community management as well as appropriate and strategic direct messaging. DMs should not be seen as an interruption but an important space to connect and grow brand.
PR TACTIC #10: Video and Lives
With the development of ephemeral content options, PR professionals will consider all aspects of their clients’ social and digital footprint including short form videos for social media, filmed podcasts for online interviews, videos and lives across all platforms more than ever before. Facebook and Instagram Lives, Youtube, LinkedIn video, IG Reels and of course TikTok will continue to gain popularity in 2021 with businesses taking a more multidisciplinary approach to content across social platforms. Can’t do them all?! Triple down on one.
PR TACTIC #11: Cause PR
Consumers have become even more invested in social purpose for good and expect this of their favourite brands – they want to know what the brands they invest in stand for on social, political and environmental and social issues. As consumers put more pressure on brands to take a position on social issues it means PR Pros in 2021 will need to facilitate the delicate balance for brands with how and when to speak up; ensuring it’s well-positioned and relevant. For many people, what a business stands for outside of its products and services dictate whether or not they continue to follow and spend money with that brand. This means we’ll see more of the PR budget dedicated to crisis communication and reputation management as PR Pros strengthen brand voice and corporate reputation.
Business is in the midst of the content era and this is good for PR professionals who will be relied upon to lead the way to produce and place content as a public relations priority. In 2021 and as always, the most effective PR strategy will be one that matches the right message with the right platform to ensure relevant, and connected outreach. And social platforms will play a make-or-break role in the success of this. However, there is content overload on social media, and the competition is high so content needs to be entertaining, educational and/or enlightening.
Distilled to its essence PR is a fast evolving, forever changing landscape and even for the professionals in the PR trenches it can be hard to keep up while servicing clients at the same time.
The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken things up for consumers, their expectations of brands and how they should communicate and therefore the PR function from a tactical standpoint. But as things evolve for public relations effectiveness and the top communications trends it still remains the pursuit of connecting people and building relationships.
Words by Jade Roberts
raraPR Founder and Creative Director
raraPR is above all the sum of people who together help build brands and share stories. We are present in our determination to make a positive difference to the world by representing individuals and businesses that are doing good. We are an extension of the personal stories within us, those that we exist for and those within you that need to be heard.