Predictions Series 2021: Top 5 PR Trends & Predictions for the COVID-19 Era

As much as PR trends have morphed through the years, its primary reason for being – to secure coveted media exposure and reach new audiences – has stayed the same. How a brand secures that coverage is where things have changed. Where brands need to level up their current strategy when it comes to getting heard and seen in a crowded marketplace continues to evolve.

Looking to 2021 (something most of us have been doing since March!), we see a familiar game that needs to be played with new rules. In many cases, PR strategies that worked as recently as a year ago aren’t as effective today as the quarantined world moved, condensing five years of innovations into one.

With that in mind, here are our top five PR predictions for the new year:

#1 – Brand benefit messaging will be as important as ever in the PR world.

The power of brands will continue to wield a lot of weight as businesses, products and entities fall by the wayside when fighting their way out of any economic hurdles from the pandemic. If you have struggled with how to position yourself in the marketplace, now is the time to invest in an agency, or some social media targeting, to make sure you are offering what it is people need today and into the future. Don’t overcomplicate your value add, just make sure you emphasize the what and the why, and that you are talking to your right audience about why they should engage with you. A good example of this is how Extended Stay has weathered the pandemic better than rivals. Its name recognition and easy to understand offering underscores the importance of brand benefit messaging, and from the looks of it, the company will continue to grow even once the pandemic is over.

#2 – Sponsored content will become more relevant and useful for PR programs.

Publishers spend a great deal of time looking and understanding their vertical audience in order to develop annual editorial calendars. They do this as a way to attract advertisers and marketing contacts for upcoming publications that are focused on certain subjects. PR firms usually shy away from bringing paid opportunities to their clients, but this is increasingly becoming a great way to secure relevant and newsworthy story additions. It shouldn’t, and won’t, be the only way to secure coverage for PR effective programs, but sponsored content can be a great way to move the needle, secure mindshare, and control valuable brand messaging.

#3 – Regional targeting for national brands will become more important.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that people can have fun and explore without hopping on a plane. With this newly solidified sense of community, brands would be wise to connect with audiences that are confined to particular states or cities. This is not to suggest that local business journals will start covering McDonald’s just because they got a pitch from headquarters. Local angles will still be extremely important to journalists, so national brands need to lean into the local issues and (even better) local residents of the market being targeted.

#4 – Navigating the ‘Big Pivot.”

The pandemic did not disrupt all industries equally. Some, such as commercial real estate and restaurants, were impacted more than, say, telematics. However, this does not mean that PR should avoid these impacted industries in 2021. On the contrary, the most disrupted sectors will have some of the most drastic and creative adaptations underway, and those new business models (think steakhouses offering delivery and hotels implementing no-touch amenities) need to be publicized.

#5 – Podcasts are going to continue to be impactful.

The popularity of podcasts and their entry into a fan favorite and mainstream media cannot be dismissed as a fad. Like social media before it, this forum for long-form interviews and brand storytelling is more popular and effective for PR programs than ever. The quarantine inspired millions of talented creatives to try their hand on the easily-launchable medium. The trick to getting on these platforms is to research the host, the interview topics and past guests to make sure the podcast is a fit. And don’t forget as a way to demonstrate how charismatic your brand is, for example use soundbites as pitches instead of text.