2024 “The year to re-imagine our PR competencies.”

Reflecting on the year gone by, under the shade of a Mango tree at my Karjat farm, I am fascinated at the pace at which the PR profession is changing.

Adoption of technology in Comms, AI or at least the conversations around it, reliance on data and research driven narratives, increased focus on measurement, increase in regional media relevance, authenticity and empathy in narratives, and many other pandemics infused idiosyncrasies have impacted the PR profession. I reckon the change will only accelerate from here.

Are we ready for it? Do we have the competencies to deal with this pace of change.

In addition, the global macro-economic and socio-politico scenarios, consequences of climate change, multi-country elections, proliferation of AI etc., will profoundly affect our communication strategies.

I am taking the liberty to share a few views that lie on the intersection of my own analysis of public relations and brand communications in 2023 and my aspirations for our function in 2024.

  • Focus on capability building – be future ready … 2024 is the time!

If one thinks that ‘AI’s impact on PR’ dominated the conversations of PR professionals in 2023, prepare yourself for it to permeate deeper and start demonstrating its impact in 2024. Have we mastered the art of using AI yet? It is important to refresh our skills. Sharing experiences – success stories of application of the technology and then setting aside time to research and implement in our own work area would be an imperative – if one wants to be well positioned in 2025. Enhanced competencies around data analytics, measurement, consumer behavior, creative writing, understanding ESG, DEI and the ever-changing digital medium will define a consummate PR professional.

  • Create simplified, pointed content rather than spray and pray!

The clutter and chaos of information overload continues to be on rise. Be it with AI based content proliferating the media space and multiple brands creating owned content through blogs, videos and podcasts, the pressure on brands to be heard is increasing amidst the diminishing human attention spans. On the other hand, media space is shrinking. The fatigue is visible from the multiple squabbles between PR professionals and journalists witnessed during the year. Hence, we’ll see a rise of ‘to the point’ content that is authentic and truly impacts the audience.

  • Invest in cause and purpose based real human centric content.

As the universe gets bombarded with AI-generated content that is sans emotions, authenticity, empathy and maybe visibly fake, the audience connect will start diminishing. It is a good time in anticipation to start investing in more realistic human first content. Think of your employees as real ambassadors and encourage them to be the spokespersons of your organization’s good behavior. Maybe media-train more employees to be solid advocates. A human connection can only build an emotional attachment that is the hallmark of brand love.

  • Build communities through owned media properties.

Building your own communities across stakeholder segments will be key. These owned media platforms – be it blogs, podcasts, interactive sites, or social media handles offer audiences free access to content that is unique and interesting, sometimes co-created. The objective is to reach the desired audiences organically, build affinity, provide experiences, and express your purpose. The bottom line is, if your customers feel included, they remain loyal to your brand.

  • Manage reputation and more so the online reputation!

I have always believed in the maxim – Reputation is majorly about behavior. And reputation is owned by stakeholders and not by the brand. Corporate communications professionals will have to educate leaders and employees on good corporate conduct. Public scrutiny is on the rise and the vulnerability of even good corporates to come in the crossfire of public opinions has increased. ORM (Online Reputation Management) and listening will garner larger significance and will be an indispensable tool in the arsenal of every PR professional.

  • Measure, analyse and use data to drive effectiveness of PR.

Tracking impact of communication has become an imperative and PR teams will have to measure KPI’s that can demonstrate return on objectives and/or impact of PR on CEO KRA’s and the company’s bottom line. Having data and analytics will help professionals measure results against goals and channelise their ERP’s (Efforts, Resources, Processes) and hence garner larger credibility with the C-Suite. The trend of using data to make informed decisions around content that resonates with audiences, changing tactics during a campaign, and respond during a crisis will elevate stature of the PR industry. Archaic measures like AVEs will become obsolete. It is a surprise some still use it!

  • Use ‘Lo-Fi’ unfiltered content to engage with audiences.

‘Lo-Fi’ is the opposite of ‘Hi-Fi’ that has reference to superior audio/video quality. However, the concept can be extended to include all forms of raw content. Imagine content on Insta or any other platform that comes through filters and beautification versus the regular point and shoot content. The latter is refreshing, relatable, authentic and real. Also, if you observe keenly, audiences on social media like organic, real feeling content from creators. I am for sure going to incorporate Lo-Fi unfiltered content into our communication strategy.

  • Approach media and influencer engagement with a regional, hyperlocal, sharper, and niche-based lens.

In 2024, just like 2023, I see a trend of deeper engagement with existing content creators and building newer regional connects. I also see a shift in priority from quantity to quality of content from the influencers/creators. The pandemic has made us focus our attention on hyperlocal news. What is happening closer to home or the office? Is there a night curfew or lockdown? Are Covid cases increasing in my area? So sharper messaging and curated content for each region in regional languages rather than one common message would enhance overall effectiveness.

  • Enhance PR around DEI and ESG to garner competitive advantage and build a strong employer brand.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) are today seen as key objectives by organisations and seen as a competitive advantage. Research has also shown that employees prefer working with organisations that demonstrate concern for the environment, are socially responsible and have a good reputation. As more and more employees, consumers and other stakeholders raise their expectations of brands on ESG and demonstration of DEI at workplaces, PR professionals should use the opportunity to build a strong employer brand through more and more focused PR campaigns around these themes.

Parting shots…

The past few years have provided enough opportunities for us to understand what works and what does not. The ‘Covid cleansing’ has helped eliminate resource draining, non-value adding processes. The pandemic also turned the attention of the board towards communications and the CCOs. It is incumbent on us to understand that the relevance gained is not lost. The positioning of a communication function needs to shift from being a cost-center to that of a value-generator. And this will happen when professionals upskill themselves and stay relevant with the times.

2024, for me, will be a year to re-imagine my competencies and build on new ones to remain relevant in this fast-evolving landscape of PR and reputation management.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

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Sujit M Patil, ABC
Sujit is a IABC (International Association of Business Communicators) accredited business communicators and a three time winner of the IABC International Gold Quill award. He has been listed as India’s top ten men in corporate communications by Reputation Today and featured on the PR Week Global Power Book, the definitive guide to PR industry’s most influential operators around the world. From 2018 to 2022, he has been listed every year on Provoke media (erstwhile Holmes Report) Influence 100 research and listing of the world’s most influential in-house marketing and communications professionals. Sujit is a part of the prestigious Arthur W Page Society..

Sujit is a qualified Instrumentation engineer with MBA in marketing and a Diploma in advertising and PR. He is a regular speaker and jury at various national and international bodies such as the World Communication Forum, Davos, AMEC, ICCO, PR Newsweek Asia, Public Affairs Asia, etc. He volunteers as a guest faculty at various B-Schools, is a weekend farmer, loves travelling, understanding cultures and experimenting with new cuisines. He is passionate about Sparrow conservation.

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