Five PR Trend Predictions for 2009


Predictions are always dangerous. People way ahead of the curve throw jabs about how such and such changed a long time ago. People way behind the curve yell “hypocrisy!” Of course, you always stand to be wrong at the end of the year. But why should that stop us?

These predictions are for the industry as a whole. Since you are a marketing rock star, you may think one or two of them are old news. Trust me, they aren’t. For example, a friend in the industry was asked the following question by an executive vice president who oversees the internal and external communications of his Fortune 500 company.

“What exactly is a blog?”

That wasn’t in 2004. It was eight months ago.

On with the show. Here are five trends to watch in 2009. They aren’t the only changes that will happen this year. But I believe each will change how we look at and practice PR, both strategically and in the day-to-day execution.

People RelationsI’ve said it before. I think the P in PR is changing from “Public” to “People.” We’ve always targeted publics by pitching media outlets based on the demographics and interests of their readers/viewers/listeners. Thanks to social media tools, we can target people based on their interests. The difference – and it’s a big one – is that now we can have actual conversations with consumers more easily than ever before. That puts the focus on people as individuals instead of simply the larger group they may belong to based on their household income or gender or hobbies.

This year, we’ll see more PR folks wrap their arms around that reality and understand the power of helping brands connect and build relationships with people in ways that are even more compelling and meaningful than a USA Today story on page D13.

Measuring People – This won’t be new for some. Katie Payne and others have been preaching this stuff for years. But I think the way we look at measurement will continue to shift at a much greater pace in 2009. More agencies will challenge their clients to see the value of measuring more than just impressions and advertising value equivalency. More clients will push their agencies to do the same. Both will begin to understand that having 65,000 people read their online news release is as or more valuable than 15 million impressions that may be buried deep in an online news site or at the back of section F.

I think that more clients will get comfortable with these types of results even though they are seemingly smaller because of the great work being done on the digital advertising side. Marketing clients know the value of a page view and a click-through. Communications departments will begin catching up with that mindset.

The Death of “Viral” – Every client wants its agency to produce a viral whatchamacallit these days. And, of course, agencies are happy to chase after it. The truth is, though, that you can’t predict – and therefore, create – “viral” campaigns. You can create online campaigns that you hope will go viral. But we know that most don’t. As more clients experience the letdown of that and better understand the difficulty of achieving success at it, I think we’ll see more of them get over the “let’s do something viral” knee-jerk reaction and concentrate instead on creating smart integrated campaigns that include compelling digital work.

More Story Opportunities – With the seismic changes going on daily – even hourly – in the traditional media realm, it may seem that news coverage opportunities for brands are dwindling. I think that’s the wrong way to look at it. Actually, we’ll have more opportunities for coverage than ever in 2009.

More media outlets are expanding their online presence, which means more opportunities for coverage. Web editors don’t have the same page space limitations as their newsprint counterparts. That doesn’t mean they take crappy pitches and turn them into stories. It means you have a better chance of not having a good story get left on the editing room floor.

Also, more journalists are using social media tools as part of their jobs, which provide more outlets for stories – especially by those who blog. Your story may interest a particular BusinessWeek reporter who also blogs on While the story may not make the cut for the print edition, said reporter can still write a blog post about it.

PR pros who look beyond traditional media outlets – even beyond general online coverage on a news Web site – will land more stories and help their clients look like superstars.

The People’s Choice – This is where you share what you think will change about PR and communications in 2009. What will be new and different this year? What will cease to exist?

*Image by Mark Norman Francis.

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19 responses to “Five PR Trend Predictions for 2009

  1. Great list David. My addition, gimmicks die and real content thrives.

  2. I really enjoyed this perspective. On a student’s end, I think we’ll be more and more pressured to successfully balance between traditional PR and new media outreach. Now more than ever, students are expected to understand social media and how to implement programs for clients, but we still need to learn the basics on PR before moving on. That will be a challenge for the younger generation in 2009.

  3. Great post David. I really like the “Death of viral” point as it’s been my main prediction for awhile. If I hear someone say “make my video viral” one more time….

  4. David, I think we’ll see virals continue, but that will be as a case of ‘let’s try something, if it takes off, brilliant, if not, at least we tried’ but you’ll see them carried out on a lot cheaper budgets.

    I think some companies will fail to embrace what online PR can offer – due to shrinking budgets – and many PR companies will still try to charge standalone fees for print and digital instead of one fee for both.

    The one danger is that, yes there is no space limit because there is no paper limitations, but if everything is put online, it will be harder for people to see it and find it.

  5. @Katie – death to gimmicks! though they do work sometimes…

    @Nick – quite an insight for current students and very young PR folks. It could actually put you guys in a bad spot if superiors expect you to know social media strategies just because you’ve had a facebook page for 5 years. That’s not setting good expectations for you guys.

    @Craig – that’s what I’m saying about viral. what i think (hope) will go away is the “let’s make a viral video and put it on YouTube and get 1 million views” syndrome.

    I actually think it will be easier to find stories online than in print. I don’t keep print versions of anything laying around that long. But online lives forever. In fact, I still get Google alerts for news announcements from six months ago because search spiders keep running across the same stories.

    The percentage of people who go online as their first choice when searching for information and products is increasing at a blistering rate. If the keywords they use for their search happen to be in the news story on your product and the story is on a credible news site, chances are good that the story on your product that can meet their needs will be ranked higher in their search.

    That’s a very good thing and one reason why I think that some times online placements are better than their print counterparts. Here are the other reasons why I think you could at least make that argument –

  6. Fanstastic list. I saw much of this in 2009. The one trend I hope to see die is pay-for-placement. That is advertising, not PR. It’s amazing how often I saw this come up in 2008. I also think clients will start to better understand the power of a strong story with a smaller, targeted audience than to be on the front page of the biz section. Believe it or not, sometimes an organization sees more value from a feature on than a profile in the NYT.

  7. Lovely.

    Talked to a former colleague in Sept. He works with a Fortune 500 CEO, as well.

    The CEO asked him,

    “What’s this Google thing that everyone’s talking about?”

    It may be 2009, but clearly — we have a long way to go to educate!

    Thanks for this list, which pushes the conversation forward in a positive direction!

    Happy New Year!

  8. Thanks for the shout out! I agree, of course, that as people realize that measuring eyeballs doesn’t tell you much in this environment, and sales, click thrus or hits isn’t relevant for everyone, increasingly it will come down to : are you increasing trust in your brand, commitment to your prinicples, or satisfaction with the relationships.
    I also love the notion of changing the P in PR to people, since I’ve been trying to change the R to relationsihps for years

  9. No so much death to gimmicks but death to the idea that social media is this years gimmick.

  10. Good thinking, Dave. What about the internal side of things? I see social media tools transforming the way we communicate with our employee audiences at a faster rate in 2009. Take Yammer for example. I think that tool has a chance to help organizations increase productivity (fewer emails) and facilitate collaboration among what can be geographically dispersed employee audiences (think companies like Dell and IBM). Even Twitter–look at what Zappos is doing. Also, I think corporate intranets will continue to trend more “social.” More opportunities to share, create and collaborate.

  11. In 2009, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a cutback on hiring PR agencies and a shift towards using SMOs & SEOs instead. PR agencies that know what Twitter is will be in good shape.

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  14. Hi David,

    Great post, and thank you for reiterating that many people don’t understand social media. I saw someone on LinkedIn recently seeking help in finding an inexpensive IT platform for implementing social media. No mention of corporate goals, nor any recognition that social media can’t be neatly packaged like a CRM program.

    I also love your your idea to shift the P to People.

    Happy 2009,

  15. Karen Heenan-Davies

    In the same vein as ‘The Death of “Viral” maybe we’ll also see a similar fate around viewing Blogs as the answer to everything. Gets tiring to see pitch and proposal after proposal tread the same route without much thought as to How this fits the strategy or the ethos and culture of the organisation.

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