by Weber Shandwick Australia

The past year has seen a period of unprecedented challenges, with consumers’ declining trust in news, continuing consolidation of media outlets, tightening client budgets and the looming threat of a shrinking talent pool. All factors that undoubtedly will influence the year ahead for PR.

With this in mind, Weber Shandwick Australia’s leadership team sat down to look ahead to 2018, sharing their predictions about what will influence our campaigns, client relationships and agency resourcing in the next 12 months. This included Ava Lawler, Managing Director, Megan Rosier, Head of Technology and Corporate, Gareth Finch, Head of Health and Lifestyle, Cameron Thorburn, Head of Digital and Creative and Brian Keenan, Head of Planning.

Here are some key trends they believe will influence the industry in 2018.

Artificial Intelligence, data and machine learning will become a reality for PR

AI and machine learning have been the buzzwords of 2017, but we’ve yet to fully realise the influence they will have on our industry. In 2018, new technologies will transform our ways of working – from more focus on upfront research to inform strategic and creative recommendations, to reducing manual tasks and focusing more time on strategic counsel and evolving our campaigns and engagements on behalf of clients.

With AI and machine learning, we can now assess the performance of content and channels on the fly. For example, as bots become more prevalent we will be able to move from traditional A/B testing to test and enhance things like titles of content, language and phrases before they are released widely.

New skills will be the new norm

The government’s abolishment of the 457 visa has been a major blow to our industry, but while many see it as a challenge, there is a major opportunity for us to think differently about how we train the existing talent in our business, and how we hire people who may not hold PR qualifications, but can bring other skills that allow us to deepen our expertise

Relationships will always be at the core of communications and engagement, but we are starting to see people entering our profession that bring with them very different skills. In 2018, we’ll move beyond the more familiar talent pool of video and content producers to expand capabilities with data scientists, people with more analytical abilities, social anthropologists, and more diverse content and creative backgrounds – allowing us to deliver more fully formed integrated campaigns that reach customers throughout the .

However with this, comes the challenge of ensuring specialists are properly integrated within the business and that existing staff are trained on how to work with these people to deliver effective campaigns. And with changes to the agency staffing model, a key required skill moving forward will be leaders who know how to negotiate. Agencies that adapt their model to properly integrate new skills into the business are those that will reap the benefits.

Shifting balance between earned and paid media

Journalists have truly battled the last year with a loss of reputation, resources and the ability to truly deliver independent and objective news. With this comes a necessary rethink of the relationship between paid and earned media and the role of influencers in contributing to campaigns.

As PR practitioners, many of us have fought hard to maintain the purity of our discipline with a focus on earned media. But in this new landscape, a working knowledge of the relationship between paid and earned media will be a requirement, not just a nice to have. And we need to show clients how paid media will provide clients with ROI, which also comes down to how we’re measuring.

Branded content has been on the agenda for number of years but the increasing decline of trust in the media will see a greater need for even more visual, snackable and dynamic owned content as everyone vies for attention through the noise.

PR will finally have a seat in the boardroom

With technology advancements, there is now no reason why our industry can’t demonstrate how campaigns impact business. With better data and analytical capabilities, PR practitioners can finally move beyond measuring how many ‘things’ they produce or how much coverage they generate, to what activity or message drove engagement, how that tied to a sales lead or a sale, and how a campaign improved reputation and therefore brand performance. We no longer need to be at the top of the funnel when it comes to the consumer journey, but can measure PR’s impact from awareness all the way through to purchase.

While 2017 has thrown many hurdles, they’ve also presented a multitude of opportunities. How we respond and adapt to the shifting landscape will shape the nature of our profession in 2018 – and if we approach it with optimism and enthusiasm, the changes will be for the better.

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