A strained economy resulted in notoriously tight PR and marketing budgets in 2023, but according to a new survey published by PR software platform Prowly, communication professionals appear ready for a fresh start and a shift in strategy in 2024.

The survey, which asked hundreds of PR pros what strategies they’re focusing on and what their budget priorities will look like for the coming year, revealed that artificial intelligence, which took the communications world by storm last year, featured prominently as a topic of enthusiasm.

More than a third (36 percent) of PR pros surveyed think AI-content generation will be the biggest PR trend of 2024. Data-driven PR took a distant second place (17.5 percent), followed by the use of AI for conducting research (12.9 percent), social responsibility (9.8 percent) and digital PR and link building (5.9 percent).

Prowly: PR pros predicted that AI-generated content will be the biggest trend of 2024
PR pros predicted that AI-generated content will be the biggest trend of 2024.

AI was also listed among the top three areas where PR pros think their budgets should be allocated to achieve the best ROI results in 2024. Among those surveyed, 19 percent said they believed investing in AI-powered tools to improve daily workflow and efficiencies should be a top priority in 2024. That percentage was even higher among solo PR practitioners surveyed (25 percent) as well as agencies (20 percent), though it was somewhat lower among in-house teams (16 percent).

Nurturing strategic partnerships topped the list as PR pros’ preferred area of investment this year, as more than a third (37 percent) of respondents cited allocating funds to build these collaborative relationships as their number-one priority for 2024. Coming in at number three—behind investing in AI-powered tools—was conducting market research. Among PR pros surveyed, 14 percent of respondents cited using data to unlock new possibilities as a top priority. According to the survey, this percentage rises to 20 percent among in-house PR teams. Paid ads (12 percent), talent acquisition (8 percent) and sponsoring events (5.6 percent) bottomed out the list of top investments.

However, even though AI was predicted to be the biggest PR trend for 2024 and AI tools were routinely cited as a top preferred source for PR dollars, respondents also listed AI-generated content as a trend that needs to go. The survey discovered that 13 percent of PR pros put AI-generated content on their “out” list for 2024. Brands were especially critical of the practice, with 17 percent of in-house PR teams citing dissatisfaction with AI-generated content, while agencies seemed more accepting (with only 11 percent citing disapproval).

The biggest trend on the “out” list this year was the use of X (Twitter) as a must-have platform. Nearly a third (31 percent) of respondents said the social media site, which has been in a consistent state of disarray since Elon Musk assumed ownership of the platform in 2022, was no longer essential. Other trends that were deemed as being “out” this year included sending mass emails to journalists (disapproved by 14 percent), paid media coverage (disapproved by 11 percent), and favoring global reach over local (disapproved by 10 percent).

Prowly: Despite its popularity, PR pros listed AI-generated content as one of the top PR trends that the industry should leave behind in 2024
Despite its popularity, PR pros listed AI-generated content as one of the top PR trends that the industry should leave behind in 2024.

Finally, the report noted that while “social responsibility” had been listed as the top PR trend last year, its inclusion was mysteriously diminutive in the latest list of responses, dipping from 31 percent in 2023 to only 9.8 percent this year. However, the survey’s authors noted that this decrease shouldn’t suggest that DEI, CSR and ESG are on their way out, but instead “suggests that social responsibility has shifted from a trend to a strategic imperative,” and therefore is “no longer just a trending topic but has become a mainstream and standard part of brand strategies.”

Prowly’s "PR Trends and Predictions for 2024" report surveyed 300 communications professionals worldwide stationed at PR agencies, non-profits and in-house teams. The survey was conducted in November and December.