1. Lead from the front

There has never been a bigger opportunity for public relations practitioners. The global economic environment is in a state of flux and businesses are looking for how best to secure competitive advantage. Public relations’ natural role is as strategic adviser to the management team, helping organisations to find their place in society, navigate uncertainty, and manage reputation.

In 2017, leaders will need even greater support from their communications advisors. Make sure you have the appropriate skills to advise at Board level, including business, management and financial capabilities, and report directly to the C-Suite.

You don’t have to look far if these are skills you need to develop. The CIPR has partnered with the ICAEW to introduce financial training after only 2% of practitioners ranked financial skills among their strongest competencies in its 2016 State of the Profession research.

The PRCA runs a one day training course called ‘KPIs – How to measure performance in PR and corporate communications’ providing a performance framework for reporting to the management team.

It’s also worth benchmarking yourself against the Global Alliance global capabilities framework, identifying gaps and feeding these into your continuous professional development for the year ahead.

2. Audience insight

The shockwaves resonating from the results of the EU Referendum and President-Elect Donald Trump’s election in America show the huge disconnect between political establishments and the general public.

The polling business is completely broken, having called it wrong on both sides of the Atlantic. While data analysis is stronger than ever, data collection has become more difficult with increasing numbers of people deciding not to respond to pollsters. Instability in the numbers and types of people turning out to vote means there is no clear voter model to rely on any more.

Ensure you know your stakeholders before rolling out campaigns. This means gaining behavioural insight and working from grass root communities upwards to understand what motivates the people you wish to engage with.

3. Social media bubbles

Social media can often make it look like one party or another is ahead in the stakes. In fact, data shows that there are often pockets of activity within one sphere of influence, which is not permeating a wider demographic.

Do your homework and measure properly. Look at how to achieve reach and scale and don’t be distracted by noise – this may well be just the same people talking to each other and reinforcing each other’s views.

Also remember that algorithms on social media serve you content based on your own behavior – you need to break out of that to have a more balanced view of the world.

4. Emotions beat facts

Oxford Dictionaries recently named ‘post-truth’ the word of the year based on the success of the Brexit and Trump campaigns in which appealing to the emotions was more effective than factual accuracy.

As Colin Byrne, CEO of Weber Shandwick UK and EMEA, said at the CIPR’s National Conference: ‘People are unwilling to accept facts if they don’t match up to their life experience. If people feel something, then the facts become irrelevant.’

It’s clear that visionary soundbites such as ‘Make America Great Again’ and ‘Take Back Control’ secured much greater cut through than the opposing slogans.

This is a big issue for those in communications, especially those working for national and local government at a time when trust is at an all-time low. Consideration needs to be given to how members of the public receive accurate and appropriate information to help them make important decisions and so they understand the consequences of what they’re voting for either way.

5. Personality trumps politician

Last but not least, it is perhaps not a surprise that in a reality show-obsessed society, a reality TV personality was voted in as President-Elect of America rather than an experienced politician.

With Trump appearing regularly on US TV screens, talking frequently about wealth creation, many of the US public no doubt felt they knew Trump better and had more in common with him than Clinton. This coupled with the fact he promised to help Americans transform their fortunes was likely a significant factor in his election.

Finding ways to show commonality between elected leaders and society at large will be crucial for campaigns of the future.

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