With 2023 in the rearview, it’s a great time to take stock and see what we’ve learned from wading through the past twelve months of chaos. Between technological advancements, economic uncertainties and massive disruption in consumer behavior, 2023 has been difficult to navigate for many industries. PR professionals are tasked with the herculean task of adapting to this constant change, and guide clients in a way that can proactively shape their status as leaders in their industries.
Understanding current marketing trends and setting a strong foundation in the New Year can be critical to building success in 2024 and beyond. To that end, here are three of the biggest trends that PR professionals should be aware of going into January:
AI – A Misunderstood Tool in the PR Toolbox
The late 2022 debut of ChatGPT cannonballed into public discourse, confronting the masses who – for the most part – were coming face to face with machine learning for the first time. Reactions were swift and overblown; people were sure this was going to completely redefine almost every industry and that the day machines would replace swathes of human-occupied jobs wasn’t far off – particularly for jobs that were heavily writing-focused.
Well, most of that turned out to be empty hype, but the entry of this kind of tool into the public’s toolbox is not to be understated. In the PR space, it quickly became evident that AI could be a bold ally in all manner of daily tasks, including writing pitches for the media, preparing press releases, composing emails and penning articles. Some saw this for what it really was – a helpful tool – and were quick to incorporate it into their workflows in a productive, responsible way. Others – at all levels of business – saw this as a shortcut and, without fulling understanding it, began to treat this fledgling technology as a replacement for actually doing the work.
Just as 2023 saw a wave of high school students using ChatGPT to attempt to cheat through their essays, it also saw a rash of employees copying and pasting from the tool, believing it would do their job for them. Worse yet, the excitement surrounding AI that permeated 2023 led some in high level decision-making positions to cut employees in favor of AI-generated content – MSN and Gawker being two high profile examples.
Once the honeymoon phase ended, it became clear to anyone remotely familiar with the technology that AI was – and is – still far from being up to the task of replacing human writers. The language model has its own slew of crutches, shortcomings and tell-tale signs that send up warning flags to any keen-eyed reader that what they’re looking at was probably written by a bot.
What does this mean for PR in 2024? Put simply, it means that there’s no replacement for doing the job right. As AI continues to be adopted by more people, the tell-tale signs of AI involvement will become increasingly obvious to the layperson. It goes without saying, if an important client were to discover that the agency, they’re paying a retainer to isn’t doing anything ChatGPT couldn’t have done for free, the results would be dire. AI will doubtless continue to grow and develop, but for the foreseeable future, nuanced work produced by a human professional will remain head and shoulders above anything that AI can produce.
Still, this isn’t to say that a consummate professional should avoid AI completely. There’s no room for argument that it can be an enormous time saver, even when used responsibly – say, for helping to generate story ideas, quickly gathering information that is later fact-checked or laying down the bones of a strategy for a new campaign. AI can – and should – be used in a responsible and productive way by PR managers looking to sharpen their work in 2024. AI won’t replace PR professionals any time soon, but PR professionals who use AI may well replace those who don’t.
The Soaring Power of Data-Driven PR
Public Relations professionals play a crucial role in bridging the gap between organizations and the media. As a liaison, we should aim to provide the utmost value in all of our interactions, especially with the media.
While journalists are looking to tell powerful stories of impact, they also seek compelling statistics to support that story now more than ever before. Media pitches should assist journalists in navigating complex subjects by offering access to qualified industry experts, data, studies and market research that support those compelling story angles.
According to Cision’s 2023 State of the Media report, journalists report receiving between 51-100 pitches per week. Of the journalists surveyed, “only seven percent said the majority of pitches they get are relevant to their audience.”
The report also shares that when asked what communicators can do to make their job easier, journalists ranked the following according to their level of importance:
- Understand my target audience (74 percent)
- Provide data and expert sources (66 percent)
- Stop spamming me (46 percent)
- Understand and respect my deadlines (42 percent)
- Provide short pitches with facts (38 percent)
- Include multimedia assets (27 percent)
Now more than ever, journalists are looking for pitches that are backed by data and statistics. Compelling stories can give life to an insight or statistic, and in the same way, a story can be brought to life by supporting data. In today’s digital age, data can help identify trends and measure the success of a campaign, but it can also communicate urgency and craft narratives that resonate with a brand or company’s target audience.
By taking the extra step to analyze that data, PR pros can communicate key points to journalists more concisely, showing the journalist an understanding and respect for their coverage area and tight deadlines, and offer a credible voice for their stories.
An impactful data-driven story angle goes far beyond self-advertisement. Narratives that incorporate unexpected insights or present exclusive data are particularly compelling to journalists. Connecting these narratives back to the client requires highlighting how their products or services directly confront the identified issues, which benefits the journalist, the client, and the audience, fostering positive and enduring relationships.
Embracing the Social Side of Pitching
In the dynamic realm of media relations, the strategies for connecting with journalists and building relationships are continuously evolving. Traditional platforms like Twitter have long served as the primary means of sharing quick updates and pitching stories. However, recent trends suggest a shift in the platforms preferred by journalists, with LinkedIn and Substack emerging as valuable channels for pitching stories, fostering connections, and finding credible sources.
LinkedIn, widely known for professional networking and job-seeking, is experiencing a transformation. It’s becoming a crucial hub for journalists, public relations experts, and communication professionals to forge connections and collaborate effectively. One of the defining features of LinkedIn is that journalists are increasingly using it to share their published articles, stories, and industry insights. By following journalists on LinkedIn, PR professionals can keep abreast of their work and identify opportune moments to pitch relevant stories.
LinkedIn offers an ideal environment for establishing meaningful professional relationships with journalists. PR experts can connect with journalists, engage with their articles, and send personalized messages to express interest in potential collaboration. LinkedIn’s news feed is teeming with posts and discussions on industry-related topics. Staying informed about the latest trends and issues in journalism and PR equips PR professionals to craft more targeted and impactful pitches.
Substack, a platform that allows writers to create and distribute subscription-based newsletters, has seen a surge in popularity. It is rapidly becoming a preferred source for journalists looking for original stories, expert insights, and sources. Substack has successfully attracted independent journalists, columnists, and experts who publish in-depth, specialized content. PR professionals can subscribe to these newsletters to gain access to unique insights and identify opportunities for collaboration.
Substack newsletters enable readers to engage directly with writers through comments and replies. PR professionals can harness these features to initiate conversations with journalists and establish productive relationships.
While LinkedIn and Substack offer unique advantages for media pitching, adopting a nuanced approach is essential for success. It’s imperative to respect journalists’ time and priorities. Engagement should be thoughtful and sincere, avoiding generic or spammy messages.
Instead of pursuing transactional interactions, the focus should be on nurturing genuine relationships with journalists. The goal is to create mutually beneficial connections that foster collaboration. Continuous monitoring of these platforms is necessary to stay updated on emerging trends, articles, and discussions that are pertinent to your field.
In today’s digital age, the landscape of media relations is evolving. Public relations experts need to adapt to the new platforms favored by journalists. As LinkedIn and Substack gain recognition as valuable spaces for pitching stories and establishing connections, PR professionals should leverage these platforms thoughtfully and authentically. By utilizing these platforms, professionals can differentiate themselves in the digital sphere and make a lasting impact on the ever-evolving media landscape.
The author, Chris Bretschger, is CEO of Bastion Amplify.