15 Trends That Will Shape How Your Organization Communicates in 2014

January 2, 2014

A funny thing happened on the way to the next digital innovation.

PR professionals were reminded that the basics of communications — a clear message carefully delivered to the right person at the right time — matter more than ever.

The more complex our world becomes, the more challenging it is to remember that the fundamentals are still in play. Do your homework to craft relevant messages that ignite momentum and reflect your brand’s core.

There will always be a new technology or a new approach to communications, but keep this truth in mind, courtesy of sales expert Bob Burg, author of “Endless Referrals”: People do business with people they know, like and trust.

Here are 15 trends that PR professionals should consider as they continue implementing their communications and marketing plans for 2014 and beyond:

Foot-in-mouth disease

What’s a PR professional’s worst nightmare? It’s when he or she has to defend a senior-level executive who spouts off personal beliefs in public, which leads to a firestorm of consumer blowback.

The anti-gay remarks of the chairman of Barilla Pasta ignited a boycott promoted via Facebook and Twitter in Europe and North America in September.

The headaches aren’t limited to CEOs. And the deputy finance director for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s re-election campaign lost his job after he posted two tweets with language demeaning to Latinos. In today’s polarized, liberal/conservative world, the best counsel that PR professionals can give to their CEOs and employees is to be welcoming to everyone and to keep your personal beliefs at home.

Native advertising — Content marketing, or native advertising, is becoming a widely accepted form of marketing communication. Marketers are rushing to incorporate original, branded content into their marketing plans. However, like all new marketing approaches, people can abuse it. Watch for state and federal scrutiny of the practice as consumer advocate groups ring alarm bells about corporate transparency — or lack thereof — in the content that you read and view online.

Media buying

With the rise of sponsored content and value-added advertising opportunities, PR professionals need to be smart about media-buying strategy to complement their earned media campaigns.

The net result of more paid media will further blur the lines between editorial and advertising, and increase the pressure for PR professionals to demonstrate clear, real ROI on earned media campaigns.

The new 1 percent

As more consumers worldwide seek video- and photo-based content, the gap is growing between those who seek out more complex, long-form substance versus those who just want the headlines.

Corporate communications departments and PR agencies will need two types of communicators in the years to come: those who can package quick, nuggetized short-form content for the masses, and those who can write and articulate long-form content for the new influencers.

Test mode

Test campaigns — where brands are testing various approaches and media mixes to identify the most cost-effective and efficient means to reach specific demographic groups or a specific geographic market — are replacing the sustained, long-term campaigns of the past.

Yahoo can do it

In early December, Yahoo announced that Katie Couric would join Yahoo to deliver exclusive interviews and content. The hiring of Couric may signal a significant shift in broadcast media and the new role of watching broadcast content from computing devices rather than traditional TVs.

It may be some time before we understand the implications of Couric’s hire, but it’s clear that brands, even tech brands, are willing to invest in news/lifestyle content and hire the skilled talent to deliver it as a new means of engaging current and prospective customers.

As bandwidth expands, expect more seismic shifts, such as: traditional print newspapers offering broadcast-quality segments from their websites, consumer goods and lifestyle companies turning over their consumer websites to media companies to manage and create content and more traditional media referencing Web sources such as Reddit and social media.

All-time low

Americans have always mistrusted big institutions to some degree and generally have trusted each other, but not any more. According to a recent AP-GfK poll, less than a third of Americans trust the people who they encounter in their everyday lives.

There may be many reasons why, like growing gaps in income equality or people spending more time sitting at home watching YouTube videos instead of being involved in their community.

Regardless, if people trust each other less, then they likely trust your organization and its brands even less.

Smart replaces green

For the past 10 years, companies have walked to the beat of the green movement. Based on a recent Frost & Sullivan study on global megatrends, “going green” will move toward “going smart.”

Smart concepts — smart growth, smart transportation, smart energies, smart buildings, smart living — embrace the convergence of people, sustainability and technology.

Here comes digital currency

In the coming year, your company may need to have a discussion about whether it will accept Bitcoin and other digital currencies for the purchase of goods and services.

Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer currency that can be exchanged anonymously, and completely digitally. It isn’t connected to a specific country and during the last few years, it has been the currency of choice for organized crime groups, currency speculators and in-the-know tech geeks.

Not more than a year ago, people scoffed at Bitcoin, but in November, officials of the Treasury Department, Internal Revenue Service and other agencies signaled their willingness to accept it as a legitimate payment alternative. Within the next one or two years, watch for major governments to bring digital currency under their regulatory frameworks.

It’s still about conversations

While the world flocks to social media, according to Ed Keller and Brad Fay, co-authors of “The Face-to-Face Book: Why Real Relationships Rule in a Digital Marketplace,” 75 percent of conversations in the U.S. still occur face-to-face and about 10 percent occur over the Internet as chats, emails, texts, etc. People perceive face-to-face conversations as more optimistic and credible.

So, while your organization pours thousands or millions of dollars into social media, maybe it should also focus on enhancing the in-person communications of your employees.

Email still rules

While Facebook, Twitter and text messaging get all the attention, email still rules. In a study by Exact Target, 77 percent of American consumers prefer to receive permission-based emails from brands, and 72 percent of B2B customers share information via email, says the Earnest Agency.

Online video

According to Sandvine, a manufacturer of broadband technology, YouTube and Netflix now account for about 50 percent of the Internet bandwidth in North America.

When I see my sixth-grade niece regularly creating videos for school, to me, it means that today’s companies need to invest more to tell their stories with rich, high-quality, video-based content.

Data integrity

While much of the marketing world has been focused on collecting massive amounts of customer data, the next wave will be data integrity.

Bad data costs companies thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Furthermore, predicting customer behavior on which to offer more personalized, authentic marketing messages will only go so far on bad data.

Data integrity is critical to a company’s communications, and it all rests on trust — customers give good, real data to brands that they trust. Build a plan to ensure data integrity among all stakeholder groups and to deliver more relevant communications.

Content creation up for grabs — As more consumer and B2B brands realize that customers want more content they can trust to make buying decisions, the land grab for who will create that content will escalate. Creating content is easy. Creating high-quality, relevant content requires people who have a deeper understanding of your organization or brand. Google launched its “in-depth articles” feature last summer to help users find high-quality content more easily.

Massive online experiences

Is there an opportunity for your brand to create a massive online experience that brings together your most loyal fans, and those who want to listen?

The success of massive, multi-player video games, such as World of Warcraft, to MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) classes, which offer free online university-level instruction, demonstrates that people not only want to connect on a massive scale, but they also want to be engaged, too.

Finally, maybe it’s time for your organization to have a conversation about what it does, who it serves, and how that’s connected to happiness, sustainability and relieving the suffering of others.

Technology can make communicating extremely efficient, allowing marketers and PR professionals to connect with millions instantly, or with a specific individual nearly anywhere on the planet in real-time. But it comes with a price, such as taking away the joy of meeting someone and getting to know them through a real, authentic conversation.


Stephen Dupont, APR

Stephen Dupont, APR, is vice president of public relations and branded content for Pocket Hercules (www.pockethercules.com), a brand-marketing firm based in Minneapolis. He blogs at www.stephendupont.co. Contact him at stephen.dupont@pockethercules.com.


Lauri-Ellen Smith, APR says:

Excellent article. Good points. Well written. Thank you for writing and posting.

Jan. 6, 2014

Steve Unglesbee says:

Very helpful thoughtful and helpful -- a good blend of the new ("1 Percenters") and the fundamental ("It's Still About Conversations"). I'm sharing these insights with my company's communicators. Thanks for sharing

Jan. 30, 2014

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