The Public Relations Trends, They are a Changin’
As we kick off 2020, there’s no question that people have evolving media consumption habits and needs — including reading the news. Pew Research Center released information showing the number of Americans who view news online and on social media is growing, and employment in digital newsrooms increased 82 percent from 2008 to 2018. In the past few years alone, skepticism toward news has spiked. While some consumers scrutinize news outlets for accuracy in reporting and overall legitimacy, others are more prone to accept anything labeled “news” as the gospel truth. So, what can PR teams do, and what public relations trends will matter most in 2020?
This era of news consumption is uncharted territory. For public relations teams to be effective, we must adjust our strategies to reflect the changing public relations trends.
In 2020, PR will continue to be under scrutiny for its proximity to “fake news.” The Reuters 2019 Digital News Report found that 67 percent of Americans are concerned about misinformation on the internet, finding it hard to separate fact from fiction. Furthermore, half of Americans say they changed how they use social media in response to the proliferation of fake news.
This is a pivotal issue for audiences, as half of those who get their news from social media also unfollow news sources they think post inaccurate or false news. The best thing media professionals can do is to demand accuracy in news writing, reporting and sharing. As public relations trends go, this should top everyone’s list.
When in Doubt, Data It Out
Augment your main message with verified data and incontrovertible facts, turning to outside organizations and recognized experts to build credibility. Research and content produced by experienced education professionals and experts will resonate with skeptical audiences and inspire their trust.
Find a Shoulder to Lean On
If a citation doesn’t exist, find a third-party expert who will back you up. In education communication, this could be an investigative journalist experienced in writing about edtech products and services, a district- or school-level customer who uses your product every day in the classroom or a like-minded thought leader in your space. To decide who to interview, determine what your target audience looks for in an expert and where they turn for trusted news. These sources are perfect opportunities for collaboration.
Just because you put words to paper does not mean a message is correct, and once it hits the news, there’s no turning back. Before distributing anything with your company name on it, double-check all content for accuracy, paying special attention to the following areas:
- Company names (especially spelling)
- Leadership and C-suite names
- City names and state abbreviations
- Date, day of week and year
- Proper nouns
Ultimately, when communicating a message about your company, you will inevitably face public scrutiny, especially if you have grammatical or statistical errors. Be prepared for everything with an arsenal of truth and a fine-tipped red pen during the editing process.
Kim Brown, founder and CEO at Centrally Human, describes the growing need for human connection in marketing and PR efforts. Brown discusses the shifting tactics, such as social media adoption and word-of-mouth marketing, as a response to a decade defined by the birth of smart technology.
In today’s society, smart tech is the norm. Consumers obsessed over iPods, then iPhones and eventually the Cloud. These tech advances shifted how users receive their information, often opting for ease over accuracy. In other words, audiences in 2020 generally prefer simplicity, convenience and transparency over experimentation. The news should follow suit.
Michael Smart, renowned PR coach and former newspaper journalist, says to remember our audiences are comprised of people, not institutions. When crafting a news release or interviewing a story source, keep it casual and conversational, as if talking with a friend.
Journalists are still People
The journalists you work with are people, too, so be considerate of their time and get to the point. Yours isn’t the only pitch landing in a reporter’s inbox – so deliver the main news points quickly and effectively.
It’s also important to follow along and engage with reporters on social media, especially Twitter. With Twitter, you can see what articles journalists have recently written, which news topics are interesting them at the moment and even stories they’re looking for help or sources to flesh out. You can better serve their requests for ideas and sources when you know what’s on their mind and can help you connect your ideas to a topic that you know matters to them.
Social media also allows you to be more engaged and personable — simply comment positively on a recent article or respond with a GIF to their “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” predictions to keep your relationship personable. You don’t always have to be selling your story to the media; sometimes, it’s best to engage just for fun. Above all, be you. When you become relatable, delivering news fit for your audience and building meaningful relationships with the media comes more naturally.
As a public relations professional, it’s crucial to keep our message straightforward. Wandering audiences, like teachers and administrators, are easily distracted by a bombardment of content, from incoming emails and social notifications to proliferated ads on news websites. If you are going to share a message anywhere, online especially, it’s imperative you get to the point.
Keep It Simple, Silly
Smart advises communicators to eliminate marketing language altogether from news materials. Your message should be clear to your target audience, so jettison the corporate verbiage and adjective strings. When you’re direct with the news, audiences are more receptive to the main idea and less likely to tune out. When you apply this to pitching and news releases, focus on brevity and simplicity.
As a creator and sharer of news messages, go brief. Discussing 2020 public relations trends, Smart provided a five-point checklist for concise news writing:
- Choose active voice over passive voice. When phrases go on too long, see if you can add a verb without changing the sentence’s meaning. Direct language leads with the noun doing the action instead of the action being done by the noun.
- Don’t be a cliché. Tired phrases like ‘sweeten the deal’ and ‘proud to be present’ won’t add value to your message. Avoiding clichés will lead to better pitch results in the long-term.
- Avoid repeats. If it seems like you’re writing the same message over and over, you probably are. Communicate a point once and be done with it.
- Shorten sentences. Increase understanding and make your point quickly by reducing the words in a sentence. Smart advises limiting the average sentence length to 25 words.
- Select the right words. If you’re worried about your message being skewed by how you say it, pick up a thesaurus. Take time to find the word that does work instead of one that might work.
- Differentiate your edtech brand. Being innovative is no longer the only thing of value, according to a recent Education Week survey. Your brand must address key advantages, like the impact your product has on student performance. See the full chart of insights from Education Week‘s 2019 EdMarketer Survey of District Leaders.
News writing and content creation should be short and sweet, like this sentence. After you get your thoughts down, get out a red pen and challenge your writing to be concise.
Another audience-wrangling PR tactic to draw and keep the focus of your target readers is increasing the searchable assets of your content. By including SEO-friendly language and keywords, for example, you can improve your search engine result page (SERP) ranking to draw more eyes to your content. Merging SEO tactics with your PR efforts is one of the key public relations trends you need to jump on this year.
Another way to make your content easy to find is to craft timely, relevant content. When outlining your content calendar, pay close attention to education industry developments your audiences are talking about already.
This practice is called social listening, where you tune into social media channels to observe what users are saying about your key topics. Grab those trends from a customer survey, which we recently did, to better understand what marketers are doing in 2020. Once you know what is being talked about and how, you can better tailor your message to be newsworthy.
New Media Are Born
Half of Americans over the age of 12 listen to podcasts, whereas 10 years ago, podcast listenership was only 18 percent. Podcasts are increasing in popularity, as mentioned in this Dan Marzullo blog, and as people flock to the audio channels, so do advertisers. In fact, per Rolling Stone magazine, the public’s taste for podcasts is growing rapidly:
“In 2014, 80% of the US population’s listening hours were directed towards music, with 20% dedicated to spoken word; in 2019, with the mainstream presence of podcasts erupting all around (not least on Spotify), these stats have changed: music’s share is down to 76%, says the research, with spoken word growing to 24%. This represents a 5% market share decrease for music (from the 2014 percentage figure to the 2019 equivalent), and a 20% gain for the spoken word.”
Not only that, but advertising revenue for podcasts hit an all-time high in 2018 and continues to rise. Overall, a growing audience and more messaging spends indicate that, like podcasts, media and news consumption is evolving quickly and in unexpected ways.
One in five adults receives their news from social media, with four in 10 Americans citing Facebook as their main social media news source. While you can continue to share your message only in print and digital, you have an eager audience waiting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest and/or LinkedIn.
As channels develop, stay updated on where your audience is getting their information to best deliver your news. This might mean connecting with PR wire services like Cision, PRWeb and Newswire. When it comes to positioning and distributing messages, cast your line where the waters are populated and use the right bait.
That’s it. Four important public relations trends for 2020. Be authentic; be accurate; be specific; and be discoverable. Without all four, your team may struggle to make a mark.
And, one thing will remain the same: change is guaranteed. News consumption habits are changing at an unprecedented pace. As communication professionals, it is our job to know what target audiences want in their news, how they want to read it, where they want to receive it and how they want it written.
We’ve dispensed a lot of advice in this post, but we also see firsthand how fast things shift. If you’re feeling stuck on PR, get in touch with our media experts, or check out our public relations library.
If you have another 5-10 minutes for marketing reading, check out these articles from our blog:
- Public Relations for Education Brands – EdTech Crisis Management: Safeguarding Student Data
- Marketing for EdTech – Inbound 2019: Marketing Insights to Leverage
- Content Marketing in the Education Industry – Six Topics to Consider When Launching a Website
- Social Media Strategies for Reaching Educators, Administrators – How to Leverage Social Media for Sales in the Education Industry