It’s been another eventful year, and that’s putting it mildly.

As 2019 draws to a close, the world has never seemed more turbulent. The past 12 months have seen record heat and ‘high-impact’ weather including unprecedented storms, hurricanes, flooding, drought, wildfires… Our planet is crying out for help and 2020 must be the year when world leaders take decisive action.

The turmoil is not confined to our weather. 2019 has also seen political and social unrest on a global scale, with (often violent) street protests in Spain, France, the UK, USA, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Hong Kong, Indonesia and many other countries around the world (including Ireland). The whole world, it seems, is up in arms.

In spite of their differences, these demonstrations have a common theme: anger about the present (inequality); fear for the future (hardship). We’re living through one of the fastest-moving periods in history, and it’s clear that many people feel they are being left behind.

Big tech fighting a PR battle

Technology is at the heart of our changing world and has become so fundamental to our lives and jobs that it’s hard to imagine how we ever got anything done without it. (We did though!) There was a time when it seemed that big tech could do no wrong but that has changed, with whopping fines for the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon for misuse of data, anti-competitive behaviour and other alleged sharp practices.

Not that the giants are suffering too much! It was announced recently that Google Ireland posted record pre-tax profits of €1.68 billion this year, with turnover leaping to €38.1 billion (that’s an increase of a staggering €5.9 billion), thanks largely to a rise in ad revenues.

The state of the industry

Our industry continues to grow, thrive and change. The ongoing shift to digital has had inevitable consequences for PR agencies and practitioners, and their clients, as the demand for more and better data continues to grow. PR metrics have always been a contentious issue, but digital technology is definitely making it easier for all stakeholders to accurately measure their return on PR investment.

Projects, events, sponsorships, campaigns and other PR outputs large and small can now be assessed in terms of clicks and other digital metrics, giving agency and client alike a clear understanding of what is working, what needs to be adjusted and what should be dropped. This is a massive breakthrough in PR measurement, whose waters have long been muddied by the spectre of the now-devalued AVE, with a clear link to commercial objectives including lead generation and even sales.

SEO and PR a great fit

SEO is another discipline that has changed the face of contemporary PR, helping public relations specialists to connect even more effectively with targeted audiences. While SEO may seem like a purely digital speciality, the importance of targeted content across our industry means it is now an essential and growing weapon in the armoury of PR agencies and professionals.

Artificial intelligence is also shaping the present and future of PR, making our jobs easier and allowing PR practitioners to front-load tasks like content creating, posting and scheduling. AI and PR are a good fit in many ways, feeding into the all-important metrics around campaign activity and analysis of user behaviour. The adaptation of AI by the PR industry has a long way to go, however, and it will be interesting to re-visit this article in 12 months’ time!

PR stories of the year

In PR terms, 2019 was the year of ‘Swing-gate’ and Ireland’s Rugby World Cup disaster, with the ongoing Brexit shambles never far from the headlines. Prince Andrew gave a masterclass in how not to conduct a live interview, while our own Shane Lowry and WAG supreme Rebekah Vardy also made big news, albeit for very different reasons! Game of Thrones, Storm Lorenzo and the EU elections also featured in the PR honours list, while the late great Gay Byrne, who died in November, was one of the most searched people in Ireland. The number one most Googled question meanwhile was ‘What is the backstop?’… don’t ask!

One to watch: TikTok

Our one to watch for 2020 is TikTok, one of the fastest-growing social media platforms that allows users to create bouncy, short-form videos (the average length is 30 seconds) of whatever takes their fancy. As PR pros invest more in reaching a Gen Z audience, the meme-friendly TikTok might just be the way to do it – the platform has only been around for three years but already has more than 500 million users and is currently the most downloaded app on the Apple Store. With 41% of TikTok users aged 16-24, this is where those elusive Gen Z-ers are hanging out. Watch this one grow and grow.

Lots more look forward to

We’re looking forward to a well-earned break this Christmas, and our office will be closed from 23 December to 2 January (although of course you can get us any time during the holidays – PR never sleeps!). A massive thank-you to all our loyal and valued clients, who gave us so much food for thought this year and who give us a reason to come to work each day.

To our friends, colleagues, suppliers, PRGN partners and everyone else reading this, have a wonderful Christmas and here’s to a happy, healthy 2020!

Have a wonderful Christmas and here’s to a happy, healthy 2020!