2020 Public Relations Trends For Your Association

DJG Stir and Tell Podcast
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Is your public relations team ready for new trends, issues and developments that might develop in 2020? Tune in to hear Anna Souhrada discuss with Chris Martin what to expect in the coming year.

Anna Souhrada: Hello and welcome to David James Group podcast, Stir and Tell. I’m your host, Anna Souhrada. I’m joined here today with Chris Martin, VP of Public Relations and Social Media. Hi Chris. How are you today?

Chris Martin: I’m well. Thank you for having me, Anna.

Anna Souhrada: You’re welcome. So today we will be discussing 2020 public relations trends. As we are ending 2019 and starting a new year, we like to discuss all things public relations. So I guess the first question: Where do you see 2020 going overall for public relations?

Chris Martin: Well, if I had to make a list, it would be, say, a list of 10 or 15 things, but there would be one big one, and the rest of the 10 or 14 or whatever would be relatively small comparatively. The big one is, of course, the 2020 presidential election, and President Trump’s continued method of communicating. No matter how you feel about the president, whether you’re on his side, on the other side, or somewhere in the middle, like most people, you may be affected. Your business, your organization, your association may come under the crosshairs of what he’s saying, and you need to be prepared for that in a way that makes sense for your organization.

Chris Martin: And I’m not really talking about a crisis communication plan, so much as you need to be open to being surprised, because the campaign trail could come through your neighborhood, whether it’s a geographic location, like a plant, or an organization, or the campaign may be discussing an issue that intersects with your business or your association, whether it’s metals, oncology, healthcare. Whatever it is, it’s likely to come up in a presidential campaign in 2020, and so you need to think about it now because the Iowa Caucuses are a month away and things are going to get hot and heavy, and so you just never know what’s going to come up.

public relations trendsChris Martin: So being prepared, having your communication channels worked out with your staff, with your stakeholders, it’s important to get together and talk about this. I wouldn’t say that you have to come up with a plan to address this, but you need to have an awareness. You need to be on the lookout for issues that are coming down the pike that could affect you, and when they hit in a presidential campaign, they don’t usually hit in a little way. They usually hit in a big way on a national front, on the national stage, and you’re really going to need to be prepared about that.

Anna Souhrada: So without having a plan in place necessarily, because you really can’t plan for the unpredictable, how would you say an association should at least maybe … Should they be monitoring social media? How will they move forward in 2020 to make sure that if something does come up, they’re ready to make a statement or move forward?

Chris Martin: I would hope that any association or organization that is on social media is monitoring their notifications, their mentions, their traffic, their new followers, any kind of traffic that occurs on their page or their channels. They have to be monitoring that, and they need to be responsive. Now, what they say in response to something will vary and can vary, and it could be a series of responses too. So a lot of times it’s safe to just acknowledge what’s happened without making a statement or taking a position, but you acknowledge it because a lot of other people are watching and paying attention once you come into the crosshairs, and then you can work with your staff or your members or your stakeholders to develop something more thoughtful and more mature in terms of response. That may be multichannel. You may want to respond on Twitter, for instance, if that’s the medium where the incident occurred, but you may also want to do an email blast, update your website, do a news release, maybe a Facebook Live. Just because you get in the crosshairs from Twitter, that doesn’t mean that you have to just use Twitter to respond, for instance.

Anna Souhrada: Right. Do you also think that in 2020, with the election coming around, right, that’s what we’re talking about, do you think that associations should kind of try and avoid it as much as possible, discussing their sides, opinions, unless something comes up? Or what do you think in 2020 people should be aware of? Because some people in an association can feel strongly about an opinion. They may feel entitled to say something, whether that’s on their personal Facebook page, so I guess what I’m asking is, as a professional, as a representative of an association, how should you move forward on social media to represent your association best?

Chris Martin: Association should always, no matter what year it is, whether it’s election year or off-year, it doesn’t matter, associations should always be looking for ways to communicate in an affirmative way what they stand for, what they believe in, what their mission is, and represent their members and stakeholders.

Anna Souhrada: Right.

Chris Martin: Period. Sometimes that means taking out a position that could be newsworthy or controversial, and as a PR person, we would advise them on that and prepare them for it. But generally speaking, even if you communicate in an affirmative way, and when I say that, I mean by affirming something, you’re not drawing negative comparisons to other groups, for instance. You’re just saying, “My association stands for this,” rather than comparing it to other folks, and then inviting that kind of scrutiny and criticism. But doing that in an election year now is a different context and a different lens. So people may search out you because you are someone, an organization that takes a position, and you are a likely ally or foe depending on what the candidate’s position is that you’re dealing with.

Anna Souhrada: That’s a good point.

Chris Martin: The other thing I would say about just Trump, in general, is that he has put to rest the notion that some people might not have believed for some point, which is there’s no connection between social media and public relations. He has shown, again whether you believe him or not, or like his method, or agree with what he’s saying, that he has definitely connected the use of social media with public relations. End of story. What you do with that lesson from your own organization’s point of view is up to you, but clearly, he has made that case and he’s done it effectively from his point of view.

Anna Souhrada: So moving forward, besides the election, as that is something that associations should look out for, probably should be monitoring the news in the morning, online in the evening, just being in the know is probably a good idea moving forward in the next year, just to make sure that things are okay and whatnot.

Chris Martin: Absolutely. I mean, you should use basic monitoring tools that are available to everyone. Google News Alert, for instance, is a solid monitoring tool. We do that and we also partner that with our decision monitoring that we look at every day for all of our clients. If you’re not doing something like that, you should look into that.

Anna Souhrada: What do you do about outside factors? So say you post something that’s not necessarily related to the election, but a member comments on your social media and has more of a political twist to it. How, as an association, would you respond to a post or a comment without trying to not get really involved?

Chris Martin: Well, I would say if the comment came from a member of the association, that I would respond in a respectful manner. If they have an opinion, that opinion should be heard and responded to. Now, what that response is would be subject to the association’s mission and objectives, and the context of that situation, but we do believe in freedom of speech. We want to use social media, for instance, to encourage debate and comment. That’s one of the points of it, and to draw that out, and to have a dialogue. If your association is fearful of that dialogue, you should probably rethink your social media strategy.

Anna Souhrada: So just not be afraid to make a statement or say something. Don’t hide behind the curtains, because it probably makes you look worse if you don’t respond or say something.

Chris Martin: Absolutely.

Anna Souhrada: All right. Besides the election, what are some other 2020 public relations trends that you see foreseeing this upcoming year?

Chris Martin: There are a number of significant public relations trends that have started many years ago and continue now. One of them is the consolidation of media, so you have a corporate parent buying up several media outlets. When the media shrinks, that means that reporters get laid off, and what that means is that there are fewer journalists for us to work with, then the PR person’s job is harder, the journalist’s job is definitely harder because they’re often being asked to do the jobs of several people that were just let go, so this is an ongoing problem. This did not start in 2019, and it will not end in 2020 it looks like it will continue.

public relations trends

Anna Souhrada: Do you have any other public relations trends that you see happening?

Chris Martin: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. Content. We’ve talked on other podcasts about the importance of content and how to manage that. We have yet to talk about how to balance marketing content with PR and how that’s different. We just had a conversation with a client about staging their content, so you develop your content in the same way you always do, from an internal focus to market, and promote your company in the best light. But when that content comes under the lens or the scrutiny of the PR professional, what we’re asking them to do now is before you press push and publish, we look at the information and apply our discipline to it, and try and give the client advice about how the media will interpret that information. It’s fine to post a blog or do an email to your stakeholders in a certain kind of language or approach, but that approach may not be appropriate for the media, and the public relations professionals there to provide them with that guidance. That’s one of the things that we do.

Chris Martin: Another thing that is going to continue to happen, and we just had an example today where the American Society for Clinical Oncology just passed some guidelines that provide guidance for how … And this became a public issue on social media in the last year, they provided guidance on how women should be introduced at scientific conferences. A lot of our associations put on medical conferences where research is presented, so this is an important issue for us. It turns out that there’s been a lot of analysis on this, and it’s common for women to be introduced by their first name, on a more informal basis, where male speakers are introduced more formally with their full physician titles. And this is becoming a real issue on social media. A lot of women have pointed this out. They view it as disrespectful. It does not often support the tone or mission of a lot of associations, and is not in the best interests of organizations that support research and are progressive.

Anna Souhrada: Right.

Chris Martin: So many clients have started to upgrade their policies and procedures and make it more formal, and to introduce this as a way to be more fair, to be more progressive, and to be more real, because more and more women are doing research, and we have clients that present research, and when we organize a press briefing, we’re going to make sure that these new policies are adhered to when the moderator introduces a researcher, for instance, or a series of researchers. Sometimes our press briefings have four, to four, five or six presenters. So we need to be very cognizant of that.

Chris Martin: The other part of that, sort of a subset of that is a lot of associations will … It’s very common to see you post pictures of a group of like committee members or research group, and it’s really important for associations in our groups to look at those pictures more carefully to make sure they fully represent the association. Oftentimes you have a diverse association, and you’re posting a picture of all white men, and this is drawing more and more criticism. In fact, they even came up with a word for it. It’s called “manel,” which is a panel of all men. So these kinds of practices are becoming less and less tolerated, and progressive, smart organizations are reacting and updating their policies too. So if you’re not aware of this, it could be an issue for you in 2020.

Anna Souhrada: Right. I also think it’s important that as a PR professional, you should keep up with your AP Style Book, as we know that percentage changed from percentage as a word to the symbol.

Chris Martin: Right. Yes.

Anna Souhrada: So I think you should always keep up on your new AP Style Book. Not a promo, but-

Chris Martin: Nothing makes me happier to hear you talk about the importance of the AP Style Book, Anna.

Anna Souhrada: Well, it does revolve around PR, so-

Chris Martin: The perfect gift for the holidays, too.

Anna Souhrada: Exactly. Yeah. You know, birthdays, holidays. Not an ad, not sponsored, but it is something to also look forward to.

Chris Martin: You’re not a celebrity endorser, are you?

Anna Souhrada: No, I’m not. I wish. That would be cool. Well, thanks for hopping on today and talking to us about all the 2020 public relations trends.

Chris Martin: Sure.

Anna Souhrada: I’m sure there will be more that will be coming up within the year. As we know, social media is always changing. How we communicate with journalists is always changing as well. We can’t predict the future, per se, because we are not future tellers, but we have a pretty, pretty good idea what to look forward to.

Chris Martin: Exactly. Thanks for having me.

Anna Souhrada: Thanks, Chris.

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