15 areas of work in progress for 2015

Here are 15 areas that I’m thinking about in my day job at Ketchum as we head towards 2015. They’re not so much predictions for the coming 12-months, as work in progress.

All 15 areas point to a combination of opportunity and hard work in 2015. There’s never been a more exciting time to work in our business. Happy New Year.

#1 Demise of demographics

Traditional marketing models based on age, gender, location and income no longer work. Marketing segmentation was never that simple but in 2015 social media subvert all norms and hierarchies. Listen, and I mean really listen, and then let’s have a conversation based on what I say, and more importantly, what I do.

#2 Multimedia, multi-channel

This isn’t a throwback to CD ROMs and the 90s but is instead a nod to channel integration. I met a radio presenter last month who said social media had given his career a shot in the arm and had become almost as important as his daily broadcasts. The feedback loop and direct relationship with an audience created by a combination of media is incredibly potent. Choose your media wisely.

#3 Facebook knows

Stories in 2014 of the death of the social network giant were wholly unfounded. Facebook is truly becoming a utility. Now a decade old it has 850 million daily users (September 2014). It’s like the phone network but much more powerful. Facebook’s understanding of human relationships is incredible fodder for marketing and public relations, psychology, and in time, history itself.

#4 Difficult conversations

There’s a game that I play whenever I have an idle five minutes. I tweet brands that sponsor content on Twitter and ask them a question. Do it and see how often you get a response. The use of industrialised marketing tactics in social media has got to stop. Consumers are starting to fight back and this approach certainly won’t work in messaging networks.

#5 No comment

Publishers and brands are turning off comments across the web. That’s because conversations take place across the social sites that readers choose and are rarely on the original publisher’s site. I use a WordPress plug-in on my blog to hoover up comments from across the web. You could always make my day and leave a comment below with your thoughts about this blog post.

#6 Stop posting shit on the Internet

Brands are increasingly becoming over enthusiastic on social networks in a bid to seize the moment. This issue particularly relates to the rise of so-called content marketing. The results are polarised between the minority of campaigns that are rooted in listening and engagement, and the majority that make a lame effort to tame the zeitgeist and churn out bland content.

#7 Third party tools

A burgeoning tool market has emerged to support campaign planning across fragmented forms of media and devices. Be careful as there’s barrel loads of snake oil and solutions looking for a problem. Think hard about your workflow and how you can best integrate tools to deliver against your campaign objectives. Challenge vendors to demonstrate how their tools can help you deliver the outcomes that you need.

#8 Internal influencers

The best advocates for an organisation are almost certainly the people on the payroll. Yet most organisations gag their employees with policies and rules. Equal effort should be applied to external and internal publics. My tip would be to always start with your internal stakeholders and work out.

#9 Pigs, lipstick and authenticity

In 2015 any gap between what an organisation does and what it says will be called out. You can see the result day in day out played out across social forms of media. Traditional media frequently harvests lousy examples from Facebook or Twitter. You can put lipstick on a pig but it will still be a pig.

#10 Continuous learning

Upgrading skills to work across all forms of media is an ongoing work in progress, much like our business itself. We’re moving from being generalists to having broad knowledge of our discipline and specialist knowledge in an area such as research, planning, strategy or content. Never stop reading or learning.

#11 End of the line

The future of the media remains a work in progress. Publishers and networks are all trying to figure out how to develop sustainable business models. In order to optimise campaign investment, paid media may need to be integrated into earned campaigns and earned media into paid campaigns. Public relations practitioners need to get over the fact that sometimes you simply have to pay for it.

#12 Show me the money

If you can’t show the return on investment for your work you can’t expect to receive appropriate remuneration for your effort. It’s not rocket science; it’s basic economics. AMEC’s Valid Metric Frameworks and Google’s channel attribution model are good starting points.

#13 Vision and values

Organisations without a clear vision and values will really struggle in an era of fragmented media. There’s simply too much noise. The purpose of an organisation should be rooted in its values and core to every aspect of its communication. Values should define what an organisation says and does as much as what it doesn’t.

#14 Once upon a time

The Cannes International Festival of Creativity teaches us that memorable brands tell stories that respond to the motivation of their public or audience across all forms of media. Award winning work is based on smart creative. The content frequently engages the audience directly as part of the campaign. Tell me a story.

#15 Higher purpose

Public relations increasingly has a role in every area of an organisation. It’s shifting from the communication department to human resources, customer service, sales and product development. It is the ears, eyes and mouth of an organisation, and increasingly the conscience.

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.


  1. Wadds, as ever profound insight and overview of the market.
    Just wonder if there is a need for more emphasis on recognition of the concept of ‘Brand’ or ‘Big Brand Theory’ as I call it, and how PR needs to take ownership of Brand development, as well as Brand Story-telling which you highlight.
    Also, is there a need for greater recognition of ‘Content Marketing’ as a discipline to be strategically managed under the aegis of ‘PR’?

    • Thanks for your comment Andy and for picking this issue up in the #PRredefined community. I’ll repeat what I posted there as a response.

      Brand as a framework for discussing the value of public relations doesn’t work for me because of the simple fact that it is an intangible and doesn’t appear in the P&L.

      Management doesn’t get it (you’re too clever, frankly) , and we’ve done a shit job of trying to explain ourselves. Bluntly it’s too easily interchanged with logos and design.

      We’ve got to move on to the relationship business. Customers and prospects appear in the P&L and I are assigned an absolute value.

      The progression from publicity to influencer relations, branded media, community and then social business gives us the opportunity to do this. That’s your brand story opportunity.

      PR missed the SEO opportunity for sure but it hasn’t missed the content marketing opportunity. Not at Ketchum anyway.?

  2. #5 Here’s a comment!

    Re: #6 Stop posting shit on the Internet–I concur (and love the title), but really, organizations shouldn’t be “communicating” shit anywhere, not just the Internet. Give us truth and give us value for our reading time.

    I’m curious as to your thoughts about the recent trend of people “syndicating” their (same) content across several platforms. IMO, the most frequent syndication route is the person’s own (or agency) blog, Medium and LinkedIn. Then there are sites like B2B Community, Social Media Today, etc. that post just as much reprinted information as original. And then there is the for-profit publishing/conference company (possibly there’s a few of them), that like to do the (as I like to call it) “authorized scraping” trick, where the link to the original source appears at the very bottom of the article, with the words: A version of this article originally appeared on X X’s blog. (With the only revision seeming to be the title.) Personally, I think it’s a way for the for-profit company to bump up its “content” offerings, without paying the original thinker/writer anything….

    Thoughts on this practice? (I know CIPR does it with The Conversation, but it is upfront that almost all posts come from the blogs of members or non-members who work in and around public relations. CIPR staff writing original articles for it seems to be a newer practice.)

    Happy New Year!

    • Thanks Judy. Its an interesting point. I’m going to give some thought about the unbundling of content and comments and the impact on the social web, and reply via a blog post if that’s ok?

      • Certainly, if it sparks a new blog post (rather than simply a response comment), go for it with my online blessings, Stephen.

        But please note that I don’t see it as “unbundling” of content, which sounds like something being broken down to be repacked in other places. (Similar to the phrase, “unpacking the suitcase” to find root thoughts/causes, etc.)

        Rather, this is a DELIBERATE decision by writers to “syndicate” the exact same content in several disparate places. Presumably with the idea that the more places it is published, the more potential eyeballs will see and consume it. (With little thought to being site-content specific. For example, Medium became popular in the past year or so as a site that featured “long-form” content, rather than the short-and-pithy “list” posts of yesteryear….)

    • Kate you will be surprised at what can be achieved. The data sets are huge provide models of norms and variance; the semantic analysis is very germain and the interactions are telling.
      This is very powerful stuff and the CIPR will have to spread the word this year to help us all understand.

    • I agree with David. Context is coming to the social web via semantics and machine learning. The Facebook example is the application of a generic (and clearly not very smart) algorithm. Human intervention is always required as a safety net.

  3. This is a fantastic round up of the issues that PR and the wider digital industry are facing! It’s all going to be a lot harder when brands are trying to percolate through messaging apps instead of the much more publicly accessible social media.

    Game on.

  4. Very interesting blog, as always. Some very useful points. Thank you for this :)

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