Melissa DiGianfilippo
Melissa DiGianfilippo

Public Relations’ essence has always been building brand awareness and trust in the minds of consumers, sparking conversations, sharing and, hopefully, sales. Compelling stories, especially those with an unexpected twist such as McDonald’s flipping its iconic “M” to a “W” in support of International Women’s Day, have always been a hallmark of good PR. However, with audiences becoming more jaded and resistant to marketing messages, and authenticity becoming more critical to brands, PR is shifting and broadening in definition.

The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer showed a dramatic 10 percent drop in consumer trust in businesses in just one year, down from 58 percent in 2017. This downward spiral in trust is an acceleration of a trend we’ve seen happening for years. As the digital world grows faster in pace, and attention spans continue to erode, it’s going to be tough to regain lost ground.

With these shifts in mind, what lies ahead for PR pros in 2019? The strongest trends in PR for this year will be centered around rebuilding, repositioning and reevaluation.

Rebuilding lost trust

Media professionals from all disciplines are reeling from an unprecedented erosion of public trust in national media. Driven by an extreme political climate, exacerbated by the continuing fragmentation of media channels and shifting demographics, the loss of trust in media has extended to consumers, creating an even bigger challenge for public relations pros looking to break through the mistrust and general noise. For PR professionals, 2019 is going to be a battle to slow or halt continued erosion of general trust in the media and big brands, and turning every possible action into a rebuilding effort. This can be accomplished by PR professionals continuing to provide reliable, credible and accurate information for consumers.

Repositioning with purpose

Gone are the days of corporate style mission statements that pay lip service to core values but do little to provide value to consumers. In the face of demographic shifts, global unrest and general mistrust, PR has the opportunity to reposition and reshape core brand values into authentic moments. As an extension of the long-building trend towards “kind companies,” we’ll see successful PR for brands centered around efforts to demonstrate a brand’s individual version of Social Responsibility with consumers.

According to Kantar Consulting’s Purpose 2020 report “Igniting Purpose-Led Growth,” brands with a high sense of purpose have shown a remarkable 175 percent increase in brand valuation over the past 12 years. In contrast, over the same timeframe, brands with a low sense of purpose experienced a median growth rate of 70 percent. With nearly two-thirds of millennials and Gen Z expressing their preference for brands that stand for something, this trend is clearly no longer a trend, but the new normal. Integrating PR into every aspect of marketing plans will be integral to repositioning to purpose driven brands that will resonate with consumers.

Reevaluation of ROI

In 2019, the role of PR will continue shifting and changing to help meet the demands for original, informative and engaging content. Gone is the way a traditional press release is used. Most brand content is now created with the intention of being chopped, sliced, diced, optimized and then served up to the consumer in a multitude of ways.

Historically, one of the largest struggles for public relations has been providing real, measurable and actionable ROI. Tracking media placements, impressions, and message pull-throughs are no longer enough to justify significant investments in PR. Happily, as silos crumble and fall to the wayside, new platforms and rich data analytics are changing everything. PR measurement of paid, earned, social/shared, and owned media will be integrated into a single dashboard. When PR is tightly focused and integrated with other marketing disciplines, it’s more likely to result in cohesive, measurable campaigns that effectively reflect context and the importance of PR in marketing efforts.


Melissa DiGianfilippo is president of PR at Serendipit Consulting in Phoenix.