10 actionable PR tips for communication success in 2020

These are 10 actionable PR tips to help you achieve your public relations and communication objectives in 2020.

1. Review your PR and communication strategy

The start of a new decade is a good time for a fresh start. If you do just one of these 10 actionable PR tips that make it reviewing your public relations strategy. My business website says that one of the things I do is helping companies and organisations to review and improve their communication strategy or PR strategy. Sadly that’s a lie. It’s a lie because too often clients don’t have a genuine PR strategy to review. All they have is plans, budgets and calendars. A motley collection of tactics (sometimes very good tactics) without a coherent strategy.

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

Sun Tzu, The Art of War
  • Review your public relations strategy – Ensure you actually have a PR strategy and not just a series of tactics.
  • Audit your online reputation – Part of reviewing your communication strategy should be conducting a thorough audit to ensure every aspect of your online reputation management (ORM) is functioning effectively.

2. Review your crisis communication plan

A good crisis communication plan should be reviewed and revised regularly. A good crisis communication plan should be tested and rehearsed. If your crisis communication plan hasn’t been reviewed, revised or rehearsed within the last year then it is time to do so.

  • Review your crisis communication plan – Pay particular attention to digital and social media, fake news, messaging, content, spokespeople, team stress and resilience, use of facts and fake news as these are all areas where change is often necessary.

3. Review your content plan

One of the big growth areas of the last decade was content marketing. In reality for most PR practitioners content marketing was nothing new. In fact it was exactly what we’ve been doing for ever, the only real difference being it was digital. News, case studies, white papers, how to, Q&As, user stories etc are all just traditional types of public relations content.

For 2020 you need to think about the type of content and the channels and platforms you use:

  • Review your content channels – For most of the last decade Twitter, Facebook and YouTube were the content kings. That’s no longer the case as there are more platforms and audiences have fragmented which means you need to be in more places. Massive numbers shouldn’t dictate your channels. What matters is how effective those channels are at helping you to achieve your objectives. TikTok is the platform experiencing the most buzz and user growth, but can it be of use to you?
  • Create more short form content – Short form content works best. According to Google, the average attention span is about 12 seconds. This requires short, snackable content.
  • Create more long form content – Good quality long form content is good for SEO. It’s also good for people that are genuinely engaged and want to learn more. Long form content is unlikely to work with the majority of people, but it will work with many of the people who matter most.
  • Repurpose your content – You’re good at your job. Right? If you’re that good then you come up with some stunning, creative ideas. So why silo that brilliant piece of creative work in just one or two formats? Repurpose it so you have a news story, a blog post, several tweets, a video, a podcast, a speech, a presentation, an infographic etc.
  • Think about influencers – I don’t mean the mega-influencers so beloved of consumer brands, but the people who have real influence online with your stakeholders. They don’t need to have millions of followers, or even hundreds of followers, if the followers they do have are influenced by what they say and do and those followers are stakeholders that matter to you.
  • Make more video and audio – I don’t see the growth of either video or audio slowing down anytime soon. If you’re not already using video and audio effectively then you need to make sure you start doing so this year. The roll-out of 5G networks will make it even easier for people to consume video as even downloading a full feature length film on 5G will take less than a minute.

4. Stay on top of trends

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

Historically PR practitioners have often been slow to adapt to changes. When the worldwide web first appeared PR should have been at the forefront of creating web content. They weren’t. When search engine optimisation (SE) started to flourish PR practitioners should have been the natural owners. They weren’t.

However, the world is changing to quickly it’s easy to get distracted and be attracted to the latest shiny new toy, while missing the less shiny, but more important vital tool. Gartner is one analyst that tracks emerging technologies and trends across multiple sectors.

  • Create a process to stay on top of trends – Ensure you have a process in place to track new ideas, processes and technologies that might impact on how you need to practice public relations and communications.
  • Subscribe to my Future of PR updates – Subscribing to this blog, my Flipboard newsletter or my ezine to help you stay on top of the future of public relations and communication.

5. Review your PRtech stack

In my PR 2020 vision post I lamented the fact that PR practitioners are notoriously slow to adapt how they work to incorporate new technologies, or even quite established technologies. There are more than 7,000 technologies that are classified as ‘MarTech’ and some of those could and should be used by public relations practitioners.

  • Conduct a workplace audit – Audit your existing technology, processes and workflow.
  • Identify new tools, technologies and processes – See how you can improve your team’s performance to more effectively use PR and communication to help achieve business objectives.

6. Check your PR ethics

Judge using gavel in court, close-up

The end of the last decade was a dark one for ethics in PR and communications. The most notorious example was the fall from grace of Bell Pottinger for its work in South Africa. The Brexit referendum, election of Donald Trump and the UK general election victory by Boris Johnson all saw ethics flouted and the use of lies becoming mainstream. Social media, advertising and broadcast interviews all saw lies become part of the discourse.

This puts immense pressure on communication and PR professionals who must resist requests by employers and clients to resort to lying. Some employers and clients will say if it’s acceptable for heads of government then it’s acceptable for us. You must resist this. Aside from the ethical and moral considerations there is the practical one that for most companies and organisations the negative consequences of being caught lying are far worse than any potential benefits that might arise.

  • Join the CIPR or PRCA – If you’re not already a member then consider joining a professional or industry body with a professional code of conduct such as the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) or Public Relations Communications Association (PRCA).
  • Read the codes of conduct – If you are already a member of the CIPR or PRCA then ensure you are familiar with the codes of conduct and make use of the learning resources that both organisations offer.

I am a member of both organisations. I served on the CIPR Council from 2012 to 2017, the CIPR Board from 2017 to 2019 and have just joined the PRCA Council this year.

7. Commit to PR CPD

Student Studying in Library

Lifelong learning or continuous professional development (CPD) is vital if you are to stay at the top of your game in public relations or communication. Many people think that CPD has to be expensive and time consuming and consists of attending formal training courses. That’s not true.

You can get CIPR or PRCA CPD points for lots of activity including attending formal courses (I teach some for the CIPR), reading books, participating in Twitter chats, reading blogs, attending conferences, reading magazine articles, webinars, attending networking events and much more.

When I talk to PR practitioners who claim not to do CPD I often find they actually are doing the learning required for continuous professional development, but the part they aren’t doing is recording it so they get recognition for their learning.

This year for your CPD you should:

  • Register for the CIPR or PRCA CPD scheme – and start recording your learning.
  • Create a learning and development plan – identifying what you need to do this year.
  • Identify some free sources of learning – such as blog posts and magazines.
  • Identify a budget – to pay for some professional training (then get in touch!)
  • Reflection – make reflection part of how you plan your learning and record your CPD. The PR Academy has a useful Guide to Reflective Practice. [Disclaimer – I do some teaching for PR Academy for the CIPR Professional Diploma and the AMEC International Certificate in Measurement and Evaluation.]

8. Think about your people


There is lots to think about if you want to look after your people properly. Some that you should prioritise in 2020 are mental health, diversity and inclusion. PR and communication professionals need to understand the stakeholders that we are working with. Having a diverse and inclusive team makes this easier and means there is a greater variety of ideas and perspectives.

CIPR and PRCA research says that mental health is a major issue for a significant minority of PR practitioners. Despite the lack of data to tell us how PR compares to other jobs and professions, it’s still something we should be tackling.

  • Review work practices – to identify if there are practices or processes that can be changed to help reduce stress in your team.
  • Audit corporate mental health policies – the increased prominence of mental health issues means some employers are guilty of ‘mental health-washing’ and talking a good game on the issue, while doing little to tackle it and support staff in practice.
  • Review recruitment and employment practices – think about how you recruit and employ people. Try to ensure that the ways you operate don’t create barriers to your team becoming more diverse.
  • Look after your own mental health

9. Think voice

I’m usually an early adopter, but I was a voice sceptic. It took me awhile to buy my first Alexa device. My initial resistance was I simply couldn’t see the point. I could already do everything I needed to on my mobile, tablet or laptop. The second was concerns about privacy of an always listening device. I eventually bought one because I needed to be able to explain them to clients. Within a few months we had an Alexa device in every room of the house. The statistics speak for themselves:

  • 20% of Android searches are voice [Google]
  • 31% if smartphone users use voice at least once a week [Statista, Location World]
  • 82% of voice assistant users use them to seek information [Statista]

We also have two analyst predictions for 2020, which we should soon know how true they are:

  • Half of all online searches will be voice based by 2020 [Comscore]
  • 30% of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen [Gartner]

You can read lots more statistics at 99firms.com.

One important aspect of Alexa is how easy they are to use compared to other technology. For older people they are probably the easiest ways to use new technology. Particularly to ask questions.

Some actions you should consider are:

  • Review your SEO – to ensure it works for voice search.
  • Consider creating an Alexa skill or Google Home app – that provides value for your stakeholders. One that I particularly like is the Church of England which can do lots including saying grace before a meal, reading a prayer of the day or telling you where your local church is (75% of smart speaker users perform local voices searches at least weekly [BrightLocal]).
  • Review how voice technology might be used for internal communication and employee engagement – Microsoft is making a considerable investment in making Cortana work for enterprise search and productivity.

10. Prepare for Brexit

The UK general election is over so we can finally ‘Get Brexit Done’. Or maybe not. Just because Boris Johnson has a big majority and can fulfil his promise to get Brexit done by the 31st January doesn’t mean Brexit is going to stop dominating our lives anytime soon. All it means is that Brexit will dominate our lives and the news agenda even more as we start the torturous process of exiting and establishing a new place for the UK in the world.

The implications for PR and communications professionals are immense. Some actions you should consider taking include:

  • Support EU nationals – If you have EU nationals in your team you’ll need to take immediate steps to support them and their families and reassure them they are loved, or risk losing their skills and expertise.
  • Review your public affairs monitoring processes – to identify how Brexit related legislative changes will impact your business and sector.
  • Monitor nations and regions – Watch for and understand inevitable tensions between the nations and regions of the UK. The risks are that as Northern Ireland becomes more detached then Scotland struggles to pull away and the north continues to establish its separate identity. Identify what you need to do to ensure these tensions don’t negatively impact on your business.
  • Start thinking about operating with reduced budgets – as even the most optimistic forecasts for Brexit are about long-term benefits, but short-term hurt.
  • Create a communications plan to reassure EU-based stakeholders – particularly customers and suppliers, that you are still open to relationships and business. Stakeholders elsewhere in the world will also need reassurance.

11. Bonus tip – Get in touch!

If you need help with any of these actionable PR tips then please get in touch as we can support you with all of these either directly or through our trusted network of partners and associates. If you just want to have a free, initial chat about any of them then get in touch today.

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