Author: Juris Pētersons

At the end of the year, JazzCom was approached by the business newspaper Dienas Bizness wanting to learn our predictions for 2018 in the public relations industry. This year will be an exciting one, but no fundamental changes are to be expected. More about what we hope to see in our industry in 2018 - in our responses to Dienas Bizness:

Questions from the business journalist Kristīne Stepiņa:

  • What are your predictions for 2018 in the PR industry?
  • What will be the major challenges? What could be the biggest issues?
  • Will the industry be affected by the fact that it is the parliamentary election year next year and, if so, in what way? Which are the strongest PR agencies in terms of organising political campaigns? What, if any, new PR tools/methods will be used in communications campaigns?
  • How will the industry be affected by the fact that it is the centenary year of Latvia next year? How important do you think it is to employ good communication campaigns during the centenary year?

PR industry forecasts for 2018

This year, I very much hope to see a strategic approach to communication both by the PR agencies and the clients. To put it in simple terms, I hope that the clients and agencies will ask each other - why are we doing what we are doing? Is it in our best interests? What are our interests and do we know how to implement them? And I hope they will make informed decisions.
My prediction, however, is that my hopes will not come true. They certainly haven’t come true in 2017 and there are no signs that something will change this year.
The second prediction for this year is that the agencies that will be able to understand their clients and provide them what they really need (instead of what the agency or the client would like) will be the real winners. Just as their clients.
Industry challenges and problems in 2018

Since this is the parliamentary election year, one of the biggest challenges for the industry will be the fact that there is still just 24 hours in a day. This aspect combined with the fact that many industry professionals will still need to take their children to school and to afterschool classes may have a significant impact on the industry performance and quality. Hopefully, the company managers will be understanding and, even if any of the politicians or parties will be granted only the contractually allotted number of hours, the working relationships and careers of the PR project managers will remain intact.

Another serious challenge to the industry is the Latvian, Russian and English language skills of the industry experts. Good language skills are rarely found in the media or agency environment. In addition, I have a feeling that Latvia has about as many proofreaders left as horse whisperers.
Limited time + limited language skills + lack of resources both on the side of the agencies, the clients and the media = poor content quality. It is difficult for a client to achieve their business and communications goals if the audience does not understand what they are talking about or are amused by basic spelling and style errors, without even getting to the evaluation and analysis of the content. This is and will be a major industry challenge.

Another separate aspect in industry ethics would be what is and what isn’t acceptable when working in the interests of the client or when working with the media. When the agency has to say “no” and stop. This will be a very topical issue during the election campaigns. There are frequent discussions and exchange of experience among the members of the international independent PR agency network, a part of which is JazzCom, regarding business ethics in our industry and those of our clients. We could use a similar discussion in Latvia.
Election year, the strongest agencies and new PR tools

In preparing communications strategies for clients at the end of 2017, I have sometimes overshot by making a serious face and finishing my sentences by saying “because next is the election year”. On the one hand, it is a good disclaimer but, on the other hand, experience shows that there are some grounds to this disclaimer, the politicians tend to become more responsible, harsh, decisive and more specific around election time. Each chooses their arsenal of tools to use for attack and defence. Part of this arsenal is sometimes related to specific sectors, intensified war on some real or imaginary enemy or actual opponents, which mostly ends with a peace treaty (this year, the peace talks will start after 6 October). This means extra work for the communications professionals.

I am currently reading the “Dictator’s Handbook” and the author defends the position that regardless of the political system, the politician(s) very much care about a specific part of the society without whose support they would no longer be in power. The specific political system determines the exact number of the required supporters. In democracy, you need a relatively large number, so communication agencies are useful to help the supporters in plural to believe that this is the right choice. This allows you to conclude that the most powerful communication agencies are those whose clients win the election. I haven’t been interested in which agencies have worked with which political forces during the previous election. Our company policy is not to work with political organisations as our clients.

During the election year, those communication platforms and tools that are most suited for propaganda will prevail because election campaigns do not require to prove that the promise matches the actual product or to provide service “after purchase”. Therefore, the communicated ideas will be very simple, with explosive visualisations aimed more at the hearts of the voters rather their minds, and they will be repeated until everyone will know them by heart.

I do not foresee any particular news in terms of communication platforms; online communication will grow and more attention will have to be devoted to fake news. The identification and rebuttal of fake news might prove to be one of the main tasks of communication agencies.
Latvia 100 communication campaign role

It must be recognised that communication campaigns will play a role in the celebration of Latvia 100. It’s a pity that we must create campaigns for things that are very close and important for us. However, to puncture the background noise, the communication must be prudent - so, the campaigns must be created. For example, the large Latvian flag on the AB Dam is already the hot topic of conversation among the public and I believe that for many it is a small source of personal pride.
I think that the little things work, if they are well thought out, shown and explained. Just like with the little happiness in the poem by Imants Ziedonis, if it is real. I wish success to those who will make these campaigns this year and that we all can feel more real, prouder and just plain better this year.
Originally published: Dienas Bizness newspaper and website: PR industry in 2018

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