2020 PR outlook: there’s never been a better time to take a few risks

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to assess 2020 PR prospects: the combination of a high-stakes election year and accelerating changes in the media landscape is making it harder than ever for sub-billion-dollar enterprises to get sustained attention. Magic spells would be helpful, but assuming those aren’t an option, the best path forward is to take advantage of three factors that define the field.

Politics trumps everything.

Well, maybe not everything, but even objectively compelling stories get buried by the avalanche of political news dominating headlines and social media. Even in seemingly unrelated areas, the general sense of a world on fire (sometimes literally) is pushing story angles involving politics, policy or cultural ferment to the forefront.

That makes it much harder to get coverage for the kind of innovation story that used to be a relatively easy sell. But it’s also an opportunity for organizations with systems-challenging missions—if leaders are willing to speak out on contentious debates. There’s never been a better time for businesses to take a stand. (That’s not as risky as many think: Edelman’s new Trust Barometer study found that ethical drivers are three times more important than competence in determining trust in a company.)

Trade and other niche outlets provide more of a haven for the risk averse, but even there, stories that connect industry news to broader social and political conversations have the greatest promise.

Journalists are bombarded.

The ratio of PR pros to journalists is now at 6 to 1, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 10% decline in jobs for “reporters, correspondents and broadcast news analysts” by 2028. With fewer reporters receiving more pitches (many get dozens daily), sharp, timely, well-targeted story ideas are essential.

They’re also not enough.

The best way to build a brand presence, especially for smaller enterprises and complex topics, is to develop strong themes that link to big-picture concerns and elaborate them across communications channels, rather than relying solely on reported coverage. Contributed articles remain a strong opportunity, and they can be repackaged for owned platforms, speaking gigs and social media to amplify a brand.

Clicks and shares rule.

Many writers and editors are judged by the clicks and shares their stories and headlines generate, and 71% of journalists surveyed by Muck Rack said they regularly track how many times their stories are shared.

The lesson for PR and thought leadership is that the principles of good storytelling matter more than ever: simplify (but don’t stupidify) complex topics, find emotional hooks, put people in the center, and pinpoint the immediate relevance for the audience. If you’re solving a problem, name it. If there’s something surprising or counterintuitive about your subject, lead with it.

There’s a certain amount of luck in all this—there’s no way to predict exactly which tactic will put you in the spotlight when. But if you position your enterprise to capitalize on trends and opportunities, you won’t need magic to succeed.