In some ways, 2010 may turn out to be similar to 2009.
Before starting my look ahead, I took a look back to what I predicted for this year that's almost behind us. I said 2009 would be both good and bad for the public relations agency business, with smaller shops in a better position to do well during tough economic times.
I also said we'd see more journalists move into the p.r. field, as a result of media layoffs and the search for greener financial pastures.
And I expected to see more p.r. people getting into social media.
I think I was fairly on target with those predictions. And I think we will see more of the same in this new year, while we're (hopefully) emerging from a recession. But it won't be business as usual as the economy gathers back its strength.
2010 will be another challenging year. Marketers will still be under pressure to get the most out of their budgets. That could be good news for the p.r. agency business, since p.r. can be more cost-efficient than advertising. But agencies will need to show measurable ROI, which is always a challenge and will become even tougher as more agencies add Social Media Management to their list of services.
Again in 2010, I think smaller agencies with lower overhead will be in a position to do well, while the large agencies may still be in a cost-cutting mode in order to make their bottom line look acceptable.
We will see more "virtual agencies," where there is not a large fixed staff, but instead a loose affiliation of p.r. pros who work together on business as the need arises. My agency is, in fact, built on that premise with minimal payroll and experienced p.r. pros who are brought in on an as-needed basis, depending on a particular client's needs. It's worked pretty well, since we don't have to try to fudge to make staff experience fit a client's needs and hope for the best. Instead, we bring in the best people who have experience and skills that best respond to what the client's program calls for. I'm seeing a few other small agencies working this way, and there will be more in the coming year.
Social media will be part of the agency menu. Some p.r. people have been dabbling in social media -- blogging or active on Facebook and Twitter. As more clients recognize the potential of direct contact with customers and prospects through social media, they are turning to the agencies -- advertising, public relations, SEO or the new crop of social media specialist shops. Since, in the end, it's more about content than the technology, p.r. agencies should be in the best position to add social media management to their menu of services offered. 2010 and beyond will see more p.r. shops move in that direction.
Traditional media relations is not going away. Despite constant talk of shrinking traditional media on one hand and chatter about the death of the news release on the other, media relations -- publicity -- will continue to be a large part of what p.r. agencies do for clients. And traditional media will still play a major role, even as we pay more attention to online and social media. It's still publicity, but with a larger and more complex playing field. Targeting, rather than mass mailings and email blasts, will still win out in terms of bringing best results.
Writing will remain a key skill for young people entering the p.r. field. A working familiarity with social media will be a skill that is assumed. But above all, the better p.r agencies and p.r. departments will still want young people who can write well and who can learn to think like editors, so they will understand what the media want and how best to present it to them.
I'd love to hear any thoughts readers might have, as well as any other predictions that we should add to this list. And in a year, we'll take a look back to see how we did.
And as always at this time of year, we send our best wishes for a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.
HAPPY NEW YEAR from NEW YORK CITY!