#PRC2010 Trends impacting Public Relations world

This is the time of year when many of us are reflecting about the future, trying to figure out how our profession, our companies, our clients, our societies will be influenced by tendencies and trends. Often this happens because we’re preparing our plans for next year and want to seek opportunities generated by external context; but also because we want to anticipate what is going to impact on our profession. PR Conversations readers are invited to share their views and identify the major trends and tendencies impacting the public relations world in 2010.

We invite you to share your views related with some main categories like:

  • Organizational tendencies
  • Media tools and communication instruments
  • Theoretical developments with relevant impact to the field
  • Social tendencies (including political, economical and legal developments)

If you have written about this topic elsewhere and want to share it with PRC readers, please leave your comment with links to the relevant contents. In Twitter, participate in this discussion using the hashtag #PRC2010 to post your ideas.

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20 Replies to “#PRC2010 Trends impacting Public Relations world

  1. I enjoyed reading both Kristen and Loao in their latest bout, and they both bring up relevant and political points we should be more aware of.

    The first (Kristen) has to do with the growing relevance that a minimal understanding of basic scentific concepts have on an effective practice of our profession.
    As much as this has always been true, it is also a fact that some scientific knowledge has become much more pervasive and necessary as both science and public relations have become much more relevant in the public discourse and the way organizations decide.
    As you, Kristen, are an expert in this area, I would think it might be useful if you could elaborate somewhat and give some suggestions as how the profession might want to go about implementing this….

    Joao, instead, touches on another priority issue for us.
    As much as it is a fact that media relations have declined in our day to day activities for all the reasons we have often discussed in this blog, it is also a fact that we would not be capable of performing our role in any significant way if we we did not update and refine our practice in this area.
    I am aware that this is by far still the most discussed and studied area of our practice, but I fail to find intelligent concepts and rationalizations on how our role could benefit from an improved and creative approach to advocating the need for the younger generations to develop a critical approach to the issue of ‘media literacy’.
    Therefore I hope that you will want to also elaborate on this issue.

    Maybe both subjects could be each a separate post, so that we may all participate to this discussion more comfortably?
    thank you

  2. Very good points Kirsten. From your comment I would like to underline the big difference between accessibility and literacy. And whereas accessibility may not be a purely PR problem, literacy is to a great extent a topic of concern to Public Relators. By promoting ethical standards, disclosure and sound relationships (for example) with our journalist colleagues we should enhance citizen’s capability to understand the public sphere. The so called “media literacy” is not a new issue (indeed this topic has been subject of analysis for many scholars), but can it become a trend for PR in the near future?

  3. Joao — I’d like to through a few ideas in the ring, although I definitely think these will extend well beyond 2010:

    I think we need to look much more closely at concepts like convergence and globalization. I certainly do not want to dispute the existence of these trends but rather to acknowledge that they exist alongside their contradiction: just as all politics is local, so it could be argued that all PR is local. How many of us have interacted with social networks in Japan, China or Russia? Alphabets and languages are a first barrier, as are other aspects of culture, but our “local” concerns also “divide” us…not necessarily because we disagree but because we have discrete preoccupations. (However, I think our definition of “local” may need to be revised somewhat in the age of virtual networks and friendships.)

    With regard to Africa, we are divided by bandwidth: while some countries are increasingly communicating through video and audio files, Africa’s bandwidth currently makes text messaging on “unsophisticated” handsets the mobile technology of choice. It will be interesting to see what impact the new undersea cables will have for Africa, although I suspect their impact will mostly be felt along the coasts and not inland.

    The multiplication of communications via audio and video creates another divide, this time due to accessbility, by which technicians mean the ability of people with disabilities to access content. Text content can be rendered by machines for the blind, the deaf can read it…audio and video currently pose greater problems (although YouTube has just introduced a new feature to simplify the creation of captions).

    Ironically, we can learn how to embrace the contradiction of convergence/globalization on one hand and localization/individualization/division on the other from the very Eastern countries that Paul claims can also teach us a lot about social media. Eastern mysticism has long taught that the unity of the whole contains polar opposites — yin and yang being the most well known and understood in the West. On this point, I would strongly recommend reading “The Tao of Physics” which gives a good overview of the main elements of Eastern mysticism and puts them in the context of our growing understanding of quantum physics (all in terms that the layman can grasp).

    Because I think science is another important trend. As we come to terms with the interrelatedness of our world, we will also need to become more scientifically literate in order to grapple with the complexities of the issues we face. I am convinced that dogmatic arguments about how to resolve sustainability dilemmas will get us nowhere, nor will narrow discussions that only look at a single sub-issue. I see a critical role for PR in coming years to be facilitating informed discussions that are focused on joint problem-solving to achieve jointly defined outcomes, not defending entrenched positions, regardless of how noble they may seem. In order to play this facilitation role, PR practitioners need to understand and be transparent about their own beliefs and interests and be literate in the hard facts and “softer” cultural and ethical aspects.

  4. Great summing up João! But I wish to share a thought leadership white paper I wrote for Xing’s First Tuesday Zurich think tank entitled “The reality of convergence – mobile content”. We brought together some of the world’s leading thinkers in the field, including academics, company CEOs, entrepreneurs and opinion leaders to brainstorm this over one whole day in Zurich. I then produced a 132-page document, containing my white paper, speeches, case studies, interviews and a summary of the results from the various workshops we held. It provides a goldmine of material for those of you interested in mobile communication and where we are headed.

    Click here to download the complete Mobile Content book:


  5. This post is intended as a collective effort to identify trends impacting PR in 2010 #PRC2010. Thanks to all who have participated so far.

    Here’s a summary of what contributors to this post have discussed for further ellaboration and integration:

    1. Mobile, technological convergence, social media are inducing changes in the lifestyles and continuing to change fundamental concepts such as space, time, boundaries (also freedom?)

    2. Communication is becoming simpler, shorter and more immediate (does this mean more sincere rather than strategic communication model?) and from “user generated” we can move to “user evaluated”;

    3. Informal communication is becoming more important (is the dynamic of Public Opinion changing? How is the notion of credibility evolving?)

    4. Organizations are changing closer to network organization models (does this require different concepts and practice from PR practitioners?)

    5. Inside organizations, PR will need to get closer to financial directors and face the growing need to “moneterise” (can we do more to leverage on PR’s important support to efficiency projects and change management related with organizational transformation?)

    6. PR will be, more than ever, connected with democracy. There seems to be a rise in tendencies for internet censorship (see interesting article http://tinyurl.com/ya5rwsb) and the distinction between propaganda and PR should be a priority.

    7. PR professionals will need to pay much more attention to societal changes (and the factors driving them), looking to east and west

  6. I agree that trends don’t just go East to West or even just West to East. My point is that the future of PR is going to be shaped by the East much more in the future than it was in the recent past. Social media is one example, but hardly a trivial one. Broadband 4G mobile services and the generation after are another that’s hardly trivial. The games culture – which is modern youth culture – is another one that’s being driven more East to West (South Korea and China are the new USA when it comes to setting many of the trends that we will dominate ours in ten years’ time at many levels).

    Moreover, Japan’s long flirt with recession/stagnation and how that has impacted its industrial relations and firms is, I think, a foretaste of how things are going to be in Europe soon. So get ready to see the consensus approach to decision-making and change management bite lots of dust (no country was more consensus-driven than Japan: not any more).

    We’ve got to get used to the fact that R&D and innovation is taking place in the East while it languishes in the West. Confidence and economic growth is alive in the East right now while we are stuck in recession and looking to cut back on such things.

    All of these developments will alter PR practice fundamentally at a practical level, because it alters the driving forces behind the world economy (how we work rest and play). However, when I read stuff about PR developments – and I read widely – I rarely see these real social societal changes discussed in depth by PRs. That’s a shame.

  7. Fascinating debate about East and West. I saw first hand in China about five years ago how SMS was THE only trustwortht mode of what has now eveolved as ‘tweets’. In a society where tradtional media is state-controlled with heavy censorship, the people stopped trusting their media and trusted-quelle surprise- their friends who shared real news over SMS- the only airwaves that the state could not control.

    I agree that it travelled East to West and that social media is a revolution in our we relate to institutions, states and organisations- all of wich are painfully slow to adopt these techniques and when doing so in very controlled ‘push’ mode which defeats the purpose and creates more mistrust.

    However I don’t agree that the trends only travel East to West which is what i think my friend Joao is trying to say. There were some that travelled the other way in the past- one could argue that modern public relations which is now 110 years old according to Bernays ! travelled west to East and is still being implemented by Middle East and Asian countries.
    I subscribe to the notion that public relations and democracies are indisacociable. Where public relations tactics and approaches are practices in non-democratic societies, it becomes propaganda. There is no intent to dialogue and debate issues which i beleive is at the root of effective public relations.
    As far as trends, I agree with Heather, Toni and Paul.

    For me the tactics and functions of public relations are fluid and evolve with time. The fundamentals however don’t change: building and nurturing relationships for the purpose of effective two-way communication, advice and counsel that is in keeping with good relationships also includes an ethical dimension which should really be as simple as answering the question: ‘Is this good for our community,or country-in other words,the bigger picture- and in the best interests of a vast majority of those with whom we have a relationship?’

  8. @João Duarte then perhaps we should be discussing my country of domicile Switzerland – arguably Europe’s most technologically advanced state when it comes to broadband, mobile and convergence. Once again your vision of the changes you expect to see is not reflected by reality. That’s not to say nothing has changed, just that it is not as you describe it (there’s not even much activism by consumers in Switzerland, few, if any, changes to working practices etc,. give or take some rare examples such as Xing; and traditional media is bouncing back).

    However there is much to learn from the East about how SM and mobile impacts rest work and play, and how it impacts the relations between adults, children and young people. There’s much to say about innovation, new business models and experimentation (not mention their love of R&D). The striking thing is that in the West SM and its usage, not to mention the technology that supports it, is so comparatively backward and underdeveloped.

    So, yes, I think we can see an image of our own future by looking at how what comes next here in Europe has already impacted those who have it and have had it for some time already.

    Surely that’s just commonsense approach, even if there will be differences between cultures – as there is the East on a grand scale.

  9. @João Duarte, about my dissertation, I will be sharing some information on the new blog – http://www.brunoamaral.eu

    But a paper as already been presented at this year’s BledCom Conferece by me and David Phillips, and is available here: http://www.bledcom.com/home/knowledge

    However, the dissertation does take a few ideas further, presenting a stronger method and a case study using the British Olympic Association.

    I feel that the value of that work is not the methodology alone, but that it shows that it is possible to work on corporate communication with a different assessment of values. And I think it needs work, there are several ideas that I could not explore at the time.

  10. Paul, by no means do I imply that “people in the East are not like us in the west”. Honestly I don’t understand what might have given that impression to you.

    My points are very simple:
    1. I believe it’s wrong to assume that the only valid reality check to assess if a social trend (based on new technologies or in any other area) is “right” or can become relevant for the PR community is to compare it with the “developments in the East”.
    2.In my comment you can see that “the East” is included so your point about the views in this blog being unrepresentative of “the East” is not accurate.

    Thanks for the link to your blog I shall read it and get back to this interesting topic.

  11. @ João Duarte, I hope you are not suggesting that people in the East are not like us in the West. That is not an opinion I can accept for obvious reasons.

    What is certain is that social media was pioneered in the East rather than in the West. Moreover, the convergence of computing and communication (which is the reality behind the mobile content and communication you refer to in your post) is far more advanced in the East – particularly in South Korea – than in the West, perhaps by as much as ten years.

    We are not talking about geography, racial characteristics or national ones (Japan, China, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong are as diverse as any combination of countries you could list in Europe) but about social trends that have a certain basis in the technology under discussion.

    I’m sorry, but if what you put forward in your post and comments as the social consequences of new technology have validity, then the developments in the East should support your view. But the reality is that the evidence suggests otherwise, as I have argued here:


  12. Commenting what Bruno said about Anne Gregory’s trend related to the growing need to bring PR work closer to financial directors, I can tell you that excellence and efficiency projects are certainly a reliable venue for that. By effectively supporting the excellence culture, change management process and efficiency projects (not just classic cost cutting or headcount optimization, but lean and total quality methodologies) PR can become truly a positive contributor to key indicators related with financial performance.

    The trend related with Game Theory application to decision making in PR seems interesting. Would be great to have Ana’s elaboration on it! As for the capability of having real time information about on-line corporate communication efforts based on contents and qualitative data (not just on quantitative data) is also appealing. Can you provide readers who are potentially interested with some links to learn more about it?

    Paul, your point about geography is interesting, and you are probably right that many innovation is coming from the east. Indeed, if you see the link about the upcoming conference about informal communication I mentioned, you will note that it regards Singapore.

    I take the opportunity to invite all our readers from that part of the world to join the conversation and add to this. But certainly I do not agree when you say that “if it doesn’t exist yet in the east, then it’s not a trend”.

  13. @João Duarte you missed my point. The changes you talk about with mobile and social media communication have already taken place out East. The West is ten years behind, may be more (that’s at both the technological level and the social one). João, if you’ve identified the right trends the evidence would be there to be seen in South Korea, Japan and parts of China right now. There is much to report, much that has changed, some it very exciting, but the reality there does not speak to your vision.

    I fear this blog sometimes sees the world through US and European eyes – but the advantage is moving East. The world really is changing and so its drivers (social media spread from the East to the West).

    As PRs, we need to broaden our vision, open our eyes – the future is already to be seen on a grand scale, but for the first time in a long time the centre of gravity is not in the West when it comes to new technology introduction, innovative social trends and radical business models or even R&D.

  14. This years’ PR meeting at the school of communication and media studies had “Main Trends in Communication” as a theme. And as if this was not enough, we had the opportunity to listen to Anne Gregory and to Jesús Timoteo Álvarez.

    While Jesús Timoteo Álvarez focused on the growing importance of digital in a number of fronts, Anne Gregory shared some interesting thoughts on the growing need to validate PR not just to the C Suite, but specially to the Finance Directors. She moved on to the Edelman trust barometer where we see that overall, trust factors have greatly declined in Media and even in “people such as ourselves”. On a brighter note, trust in Academics as risen.

    But as far as trends go, the work of two of my colleagues from the master’s program in PR and Strategic Management point to interesting ideas. Both works are dissertations, one referring to PR in the Health Sector and the other about Game Theory applied to strategic decision making.

    My colleague Sandra Bessa conducted a diagnosis of public relations practice in public hospitals, comparing among other aspects the difference between the functions assigned to PR professionals and the functions that are in fact carried out. In doing so, she created an interesting basis that can lead to a development of this particular branch of Public Relations. The trend I see here, and that I hope is right, is that we will see other studies to particular branches of PR practice that will help the profession grow in relevance, acceptance and hopefully understanding in all levels of the organization.

    Another interesting approach comes from Ana Raposo, in her dissertation she applied game theory as an instrument for public relations at a strategic level and in the process provided us with an instrument that makes our work more credible. Her work primes on both originality and value to the profession, viewing “the game” as a succession of strategic interactions that do not have to focus on the simple resolution of a conflict, aiming to a win-win scenario for the parties envolved.

    My contribution to the field came with the help of David Phillips. My dissertation applies the analysis of values and values systems to identify and map online publics. It is an area that can give PR a great deal of real time information and that for the first time provides us with the means and tools for a quantifiable assessment of corporate communication efforts.

    This possibility becomes especially interesting if we take into account that mobile platforms are indeed a trend that is upon us. I even dare to say that no PR Campaign should be devised as “online” or “offline” since these two stages are in fact one and the same.

  15. I very much agree with the mobile trend that Heather identifies. I think this is one of those types of transformation that McLuhan described in “Understanding Media” (where he described the “electronic era”) arguing that when technologies permeate a society they change the way we perceive the world and organize our experiences. Mobile is quickly (consistently) changing our perception habits, changing the notion of time, vaporizing traditional spatial borders (such as life/work), promoting immediate reactions and information rather than deep analysis and careful deliberation.

    From the organizational point of view, the growing adaptation of mobile devices (clearly much more than mobile phones) represents a major opportunity for PR areas connected with knowledge management (e.g. trip advices for colleagues; intelligence gathering directly from the terrain; sharing of safety observations), with the increasing bi-directionality of internal communication systems (allowing use of and participation in internal media through comments and suggestions by sms, twitter and other applications working in mobile devices); but also with change management processes (for example, using the storytelling approach building on simple inputs given by people through mobile devices).

    This means that the promotion of the network organization model (a new trend Toni adds) should require some core activities from PR like the (1) development of a coherent and functional communication model with some of the features above mentioned; (2) helping complex organizations we live in map and identify stakeholder networks before developing (3) relationship programs; and finally also the (4) measurement of the quality of relationships within the organizational network or amongst the various networks.

    On the technological Convergence Paul mentions, I believe it is more than just summing computing and communication and that it goes beyond the issue of “downsizing” mentioned by Joseph. It really originates a different type of communication: simpler, more immediate and (one might hope) more sincere and less strategic. Just think about the impact that Twitter has on newsgathering. This creates, I think, two interesting features on which I would like to have your views:

    From “user generated” to “user evaluated” content
    After the rise in user generated content, people are fed up. From Blogging we are going to micro blogging; from SMS to VERY SMS; will the future hold more and more the evaluation of the user as the key concept? Sharing, valuating the interest for others, bookmarking are strategies that more and more confer credibility to contents.

    Informal communication rules
    From rumors to urban legends, from gossip to jokes: every token of this type of informal communication has now an immense probability of aggregating public opinions (sympathy from the part of few or many who adhere to the opinion represented) and therefore impact on PR. Read here about an upcoming conference on this issue. Are we ready for this in terms of our deontological principles? Are our schools considering these challenges?

    By the way, on Twitter, Brad Rawlins joined this debate saying ng that “social media will continue to press for greater transparency and authenticity for organizations”. Keep the discussion going with #PRC2010

  16. let me advance another couple of major issues we (are) and will be facing as professionals in 2010:

    governance processes related to all forms of organizations and the changing role of the public relations function in this context: both from the perspective of the new competencies needed, as well as a more thorough understanding whithin our own colleagues (even before that of our stakeholders) of their consequences on society.
    the consequences on our role produced by the increasing management led institutionalization of the network organization (in the context of a network society), which could lead us to be more concerned of the quality of relationships between the actors of organizational networks and amongst the various networks, with the risk of losing attention towards more corporate, societal and marketing communication related issues.
    Of course this is a huge risk of which I am aware of, but if we don’t live up to the latent (and enable them to become explicit) expectations of our fuzzy and immaterial networks we will not contribute to the creation of organizational wealth and will inevitably be squeezed to the same corner of the organization (when not outside of it) many of us are in today…

  17. @Heather Yaxley, PRs rarely talk about convergence, which is the coming together of computing and communication; that is the mobile internet and it is the future (end-to-end IP with broadband connectivity – almost – anywhere, anytime).

    But it changes much less than many commentators suppose. Hence, most of the talk of the importance of conversations – as if it were something new – by our colleagues is nonsense. Conversations are the stuff of all communication and there’s no great shift with 4G and beyond. (@Joseph the technological or formating issues are just cosmetic, no more, and no big deal and already solved).

    Meanwhile, if we want to see our future – and the future implications for PR – we need to look East. Social media and mobile communciation are at their most advanced in the East. There, in South Korea, parts of China, Japan and Hong Kong, the technology – and more importantly social experimentation and business model innovation – is perhaps ten years ahead of the US, UK, and most of the rest of Europe.

    Let’s not forget that social media started in the East and spread to the West – not vice versa. Moreover, unlike in the the West, social media is profitable in the East.

  18. @ Heather – I agree on your points about these two trends.

    Mobile’s biggest challenge still comes down to constraints with downsizing on features and format that users have enjoyed on full-scale computing.

    On the monetized aspects, IMHO companies eager to make a move towards charging online communities must be prepared for the heightening expectations of online audiences to deliver on service. Here is a link share to a comment I made which expands on my opinion regarding this topic.


  19. I think there are two interesting developments that will impact PR increasingly over the next year or so. These are mobile and moneterise. Communications are increasingly happening 24:7 on the move – are PR practitioners geared up for this challenge? Even those who are engaged in new media haven’t yet woken up to the implications of this. I also continue to hear stories of in-house practitioners who cannot even access social media via their work computers – and many more who don’t have company mobile devices to access online conversations. The “enlightened” practitioner is generally using their own time and technology to engage – will we see their companies recognise this expanded requirement on PR in 2010?

    Another aspect of “mobile” is taking the story to the people. We’re seeing “pop up” shops, exhibitions etc as an immediate marketing tactic – which raises interesting opportunities for PR practitioners. Why spend forever and a fortune planning major launch events – just go mobile and pop up where the influencers are.

    Then we have moneterisation – undoubtedly returns on investment will be sought, particularly from online in 2010. Whether that is revenue streams for access to news as per Murdoch’s vision – or charging for access to online communities on Twitter or Facebook, it is clear that organisations and the public are going to be faced with putting their money where their mouths are next year.

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