“As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him,” Charles Darwin 1871.
Change. Adapt. Evolve. That’s been the mantra for the past few years – certainly since the financial markets shook everything in 2008 – and that was the key message I took from the CIPR’s state of the profession survey.
I did originally want to use that Darwin quote that’s plastered all over the internet about “it’s not the strongest that survive, but those most adaptive to change” but it turns out he never actually said that, but hey that’s the internet for you.
Looking at the results from a personal point of view it’s clear that the issues highlighted are really pertinent ones from my own experience over the last couple of years:
- Reducing budgets and riding out a recessionary storm during a time of falling salaries and staff– yes.
- Battling to influence at a strategic level. Check.
- Closer cooperation and converging departments – absolutely, but this has seen loads of innovation and a better overall service for the public.
- Coping with challenges online and dealing with the new world of two way conversations – By challenges I would read opportunities because I really do think this is probably the most exciting time to be working in PR as we have a host of new tools to experiment and work with.
The last three years at Northumberland has seen us transform almost everything we do around PR and in the grips of recession we’ve embraced these tools and seen some excellent results.
Despite huge change and significant budget challenges we’ve seen the level of people feeling well informed increase by more than 10%, attracted more than 46,000 people to our social networks and regularly engage with thousands of people a month using them.
The recent bad weather in January again demonstrated just how valuable this new approach is to local government (I blogged about that here) and our latest analysis shows that we had 8,500 direct interactions with residents on Facebook alone in that single month.
So how will PR/communications continue to change? Will this exceptional pace of change increase? What’s round the corner? Sorry I’ve got no idea and won’t pretend to, but some of the things I’m sure will be important to comms professionals (certainly in the public sector) could be:
- The way we influence and measure engagement across all channels.
- Our impact on customer services and social reporting.
- Channel shift, web transactions and how we contribute to savings.
- Visual search and how people find information online.
- Advertising to increasingly niche audiences in smarter ways.
One thing I have noticed recently is perhaps a feeling that digital communications is the only show in town and that everything else is the PR equivalent of pushing your smalls through a mangle. It might seem strange for me to say this given all my previous bluster but I come at this from a slightly different angle.
We got into it through necessity, the need to adapt our comms so that it thrived and survived in the modern online world, but the truth is that it is still only part of the overall mix.
It’s a hugely exciting and powerful channel but is still only part of the picture (certainly in Northumberland) that still includes print, broadcast, direct, advertising and face to face communications.
In the ‘two way street’ (See the excellent book Brand Anarchy) modern PR is heavily dependent on social media but still intrinsically linked to a whole range of other channels and influencers.
I’ve found that every council, area, organisation or sector is different and has its own unique challenges. So for me the most important thing is communicating in the most appropriate way that gets the best results for your particular organisation.