The public relations industry is poised to lead new media communication strategies for a digital, internet-dependent world led by a new generation as it undergoes a dramatic and far-reaching shift in the way it does business.

Two-way communication has always been at the heart of public relations and is the forum in which new media has thrived and prospered.

Whether it be investor relations, reputation management, community consultation or product placement, public relations is an industry that has developed an impressive number of IP communication models, matrixes and expertise on how to attract, engage and develop ongoing communication to stakeholders. New media simply presents PR consultants with more opportunities than ever before to embrace distribution channels splintered by the introduction of new technologies and incorporate them into existing plans and activity, tailored to the new audience approach.

The methods for communicating to target audiences and managing messages have become increasingly diverse. SMS, MMS, blogs, chat rooms, podcasting, streaming and peer sites such as MySpace and YouTube are all competing with traditional communications channels for share of voice and the ability to influence public opinion. And these new technologies are increasingly winning the race as they are led by individuals rather than corporations. Advertising is no longer the dominant message controller. You can post any message you want online for free, whereas even 15 years ago the only option available to audiences was writing a letter to the editor and hoping to get a mention.

If the last 15 years are anything to go by, the pace of communication, innovation and invention will continue to accelerate, forcing businesses of all sizes to rethink how and where they speak to their audiences.

“Email, mobiles and widespread access to the internet were early steps in what is a massive transformation of how businesses communicate with their customers and the world at large. As the clutter of media and messages swiftly grows, organisations cannot rely on traditional means of communication and must use innovative approaches to reach their audience,” says Ross Dawson, chairman, Future Exploration Network.

The demands and attitudes of Generation Y are also beginning to have an impact upon how businesses operate, both internally and externally. The opinions of this vocal and influential demographic will increasingly influence how companies attract, manage, motivate and retain staff members. They will also influence how companies market their reputations, goods and services to reach an audience that is increasingly cynical about traditional communications techniques. These empowered individuals and groups are tech-savvy and motivated by an organisation’s record on corporate social responsibility.

As Steven Paddis, CFO at Gloria Jeans, said at a recent roundtable held by finance and accounting recruiter Robert Half International: “We will not just be marketing products within a traditional marketing model, such as what benefits does it give me as an individual? It will be, what do I actually feel about buying this product, not only intellectually, but emotionally and from a social conscience point of view? What benefits am I deriving socially from buying this product?”

PR campaigns of the future will be most successful when they are part of a strategy that integrates tactics and content with other disciplines such as promotions and advertising. Campaigns will utilise all available communication channels, including internet, TV, radio, blogs, podcasting and print to internal and external stakeholders, both globally and locally using one message platform disseminated across all channels.

Organisations will need to realise that an agency’s media contacts or political connections are not necessarily their most important attribute. The agency’s ability to tap into the new communication revolution to reach new and existing audiences via clever, impactful, immediate and emotionally engaging campaigns may prove more beneficial.

Successful organisations are already adopting grassroots approaches utilising the most modern, innovative tactics. Just look at Unilever’s approach to its grassroots initiatives as evidence of good integration and strategy. The Dove Campaign For Real Beauty ( integrated grassroots events, SMS, online forums, chat rooms and information, traditional advertising, public relations and CSR to drive its message to target audiences.

Challenger brands will have an advantage as they will be more readily able to utilise PR to take risk and fly with innovation than slow-to-react traditional companies who prioritise leadership, the maintenance of existing approaches and agency relationships over challenging competitors with new approaches.
The term ‘two-way communication’ will need to be taken to the next level, where corporations can access and indeed be an active part of blogging or contributing to wikis in real time.

Word of mouth, arguably the most credible and genuine of communication channels, will have more importance in strategy as it is now more achievable online.

Companies will also need to monitor messages and discussions arising in these non-traditional communication channels and realise that these stories can be as damaging – or helpful – as any story published in a magazine or newspaper. PR strategies will need to incorporate risk, crisis and issues plans for mitigating damage arising from negative discussions in cyberspace, just as traditional PR strategies incorporate crisis and issues plans for real world activities that would negatively impact a business and the public perception of it.

Many retailers will struggle to sell product that can be purchased online at a much cheaper rate. Price wars on established brands will develop, creating new opportunities for PR consultants that are geared to respond to market demands in real time. PR will need to incorporate strategies that provide a constant stream of communication to and from their client’s website to ensure search engine optimisation is high and Google ratings remain. Losing a Google rating will be like an FMCG operation losing shelf space and could be catastrophic for businesses that build their model on this online dependency.

Clients need to be aware that reporting on the success of a campaign will no longer just be about WIPS, ROI and KPIs. Instead, site, viewer broadcast and podcast stats, bloggers’ key messaging and SMS reactions will become important benchmarks and PR will need to utilise these, alongside traditional methods, to measure campaign outcomes.

The PR industry is a corporation’s best ally to shape the future and develop sophisticated communication models to lead future approaches to messaging and uptake of new communication channels. Knowledge will no longer rest with one person, as it is virtually impossible to have the definitive finger on the online pulse; rather, information will be gathered and harnessed by students, graduates and enthusiasts who will bring new thinking into agencies.

The value of a PR agency is brokering the best optimisation and content while building brand fame and increased sales through adding new media into the mix. This will also challenge the breakdown of marketing budgets and place pressure on marketing managers to shift emphasis away from mass advertising campaigns towards more impactful and accountable techniques to reach and engage consumers.

Despite a generational divide on the uptake of new technologies, older generations can be marketed to online. Many new ideas will sprout online that will encourage older generations to embrace and engage with new communications channels. Just as MySpace is for Generation Y, special interest groups such as eBay create an online forum for all generations.

Innovation and integration should always lead to improved outcomes. To be really innovative, campaigns need to capture data and continually communicate and engage with their members. One-on-one communications can be activated in real time, en masse, to emotionally engage and touch the hearts and minds of audiences. Service-based industries especially will need to have the ability, knowledge and know-how to establish data lists that are sophisticated enough to tag members with useful and often personal or individual information for ongoing communications and calls to action.

It is a global marketplace and public relations agencies in Australia will be increasingly writing strategy for markets outside the country. Companies will need to ensure their public relations activities are both relevant to a local audience and fully integrated into a global strategy. Uploading content to the web instantly reaches the world’s population of online users totalling 690 million people. For big brands, it doesn’t matter anymore where the ideas and strategies come from, as long as it works across a global platform.

In 2020, there will be no middle man and PR will be at the coalface of decisions, as PR can steer strategy and messaging across all channels. When it comes to communication knowledge, PR is leaps and bounds ahead of other industries’ needs to make more noise – both on and offline – to engage and be embraced.