In public relations, staying ahead of the curve isn’t just good business; it’s a necessity. As we look forward to 2024, Actual Agency surveyed some of the most distinguished corporate communications leaders from top B2B technology brands across various trends to see what insights and predictions they can offer for the upcoming year. In this post, we’ll share a few of their answers and forecasts, our thoughts on B2B communications trends and what kinds of changes the PR world will be in store for in 2024.
Embracing Storytelling and Consumer-Centric Approaches
Will Thompson, Director of Global Content and Communications of ComplyAdvantage, offers valuable perspectives on a consumer-centric approach to storytelling, "For B2B communications professionals, the challenge continues to be how to break through in a highly consumerized, click-driven media environment where snappy headlines and trend-driven content dominate the news agenda. As we head into 2024, this will increasingly require B2B organizations to adapt how they present information to journalists."
Thompson emphasizes the importance of storytelling, saying, "Communications leaders need to ask bigger questions of the companies they work for: How, for example, does your work touch the lives of everyday consumers?"
Ken Shuman, Founder of InterConnected Strategies, told us, “I've been advocating for years for companies and leaders to tell their own stories. Traditional media opportunities continue to shrink, forcing organizations to think about how they become their own storytellers. Be proactive and stay active on digital channels that make sense for your business. Amplify not only the company but weave in your partners and customers as key players in your narrative.”
At the same time, Actual Agency recognizes that PR leaders must avoid spreading themselves too thin to establish their firm as a thought leader across too many topics at the same time. Particularly if you're trying to break into new media markets, B2B communications professionals should focus on 2-3 topics with the strongest story to tell and cultivate relationships with related and aligned media partners to achieve success in 2024.
Data-Driven Decision-Making in PR Strategies
With the growing importance of data-driven decision-making, measuring the ROI of PR has become more critical. Will Thompson highlights this issue: "The ROI of PR continues to be an albatross around the neck of corporate communications professionals." Traditional metrics like share of voice and impressions no longer suffice. Thompson added, “I encourage public relations professionals to explore how tools and platforms already used by the wider marketing team could help them demonstrate the value of their work.”
Additionally, the PR industry knows that AI-enhanced tools, including Cision, Meltwater, and Agility PR Solutions, which continue to evolve AI features, will play a more significant role in performance measurement in the coming year and beyond. Interest, demand, and investments in AI are at an all-time high and show no signs of slowing down.
Authenticity in Sustainability Communications
Sustainability and social responsibility have become crucial PR topics. However, companies must move beyond mere claims and greenwashing. Will Thompson suggests that in 2024, the emphasis should be on “show, not tell.” Communications leaders should engage in candid conversations with stakeholders and demonstrate real tangible actions and results that lead to client success stories.
Jason Alderman, Chief Communications Officer of Integral Ad Science, underlines the challenges, “Criticism on hot (ESG) topics has now become guaranteed, and smart communicators know that companies can’t hide.” PR professionals can’t afford not to anticipate this criticism and must be proactive rather than reactive in their approach to dealing with it. Alderman continued, “The path through this minefield for communicators is to ensure your company has a clear viewpoint that aligns with its values and history.”
Alderman went on to say, “Once you’ve issued your statement and talked to employees about it at your next town hall meeting, you move on, no matter how loud the grousing becomes. Ultimately, you are in business to sell your product to your customers, not to devolve into debates on unrelated issues.”
The End of Greenwashing
Greenwashing or making broad sustainability claims without evidence is not a route that communicators should take. As Shuman told Actual, “The days of greenwashing are over. Making bold claims with no backup data or proof is over. This is the year that companies will need to show actual progress towards their big plans.”
Shuman's stance on greenwashing echoes our commitment to data-backed, authority-based insights and true authenticity. In an era where consumers demand transparency, companies must demonstrate real sustainability progress if that is a mantra they put into the public domain. There is little room to “fake it until you make it.” It's a shift that PR professionals must be ready to make if they haven’t already, or they risk falling far behind their competition.
Navigating Economic Challenges
One trend that Actual identified that communicators will face in 2024 is the continued economic challenges and uncertainty across all business sectors. Ken Shuman said, “We will see lots of M&A, fire sales, and companies winding down in '24. The funding market is tight, and I don't see that changing. That means internal communications will be a MAJOR focus in '24. Employees need to hear from their leadership on what's next for the business, how are we not only going to survive but win.”
Shuman's insights into the economic landscape align with Actuals’ in that during uncertain times, a clear internal communication strategy must become a priority for firms to quell the potential for FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) that could arise with employees if they are not kept regularly informed on business challenges. It's a reminder that effective business communication starts from within.
The Impact of Emerging Technologies
The role of emerging technologies in PR is also evolving rapidly. Shuman highlights the growing importance of AI tools in the industry, “AI will continue to change our industry rapidly. I'm using AI tools multiple times daily, and I can see that increasingly becoming a bigger part of our day-to-day.”
On AI's role in 2024, Will Thompson told us, “My advice would be to keep an eye on AI-based tools as they will evolve rapidly in the year ahead. But wherever possible, show your executives you understand the tough macroeconomic environment, and be creative about how you use your existing platforms to measure value before asking for new tools.”
Shuman and Thompson’s perspective echoes Actual Agency’s. AI isn’t a fad; it could potentially be a game-changer for PR professionals if used in the right context. We anticipate exciting developments in the AI space. We are eager to harness AI's potential for our clients as AI research, data-mapping and ideation tools evolve to solve more problems with greater efficiency. But we say this with one notable caveat. That is, AI is not the silver bullet that many have hoped for, and it’s not a replacement for human creativity or authentic thinking. While it provides many benefits from research or structuring thoughts, in the world of PR, it is far from being the holy grail of strategy or content creation.
Adapting to the Evolving Media Landscape
As the media landscape continues to change and the spheres of influence expand beyond “traditional media” to allow companies to be their own media channels, PR and B2B communications and marketing teams must adapt. Shuman said on the topic of the evolving media landscape, “I've been advocating for years for companies and leaders to tell their own stories. Traditional media opportunities continue to shrink, forcing organizations to think about how they become their own storytellers. Be proactive and stay active on digital channels that make sense for your business. Amplify not only the company but also weave in your partners and customers as key players in your narrative.”
We've long championed the idea of clients becoming their own media channels and putting on a publisher's mindset with their storytelling. Shuman and other leaders who share this belief know that proactive corporate content generation, distribution, and engagement on digital platforms are essential for effective PR.
The Future of Storytelling in PR
In an age of information overload, genuine authenticity is imperative for effective storytelling. Shuman agrees with that school of thought: "Be authentic and unique. Embrace the highs and lows of the journey. Share your struggles and discuss how you overcome your challenges.”
In 2024, genuine, relatable narratives will be more valuable than ever, especially in the face of ChatGPT-generated content, which quickly loses its authentic luster. At Actual Agency, we are excited to help our clients craft original stories that truly connect with their audiences' belief systems. We know that PR professionals face a rapidly evolving world around them. Storytelling, authenticity, data-driven approaches, and a commitment to these values and strategies will be the cornerstones of success. By embracing these marketing trends and insights from industry leaders, organizations can navigate the changing landscape with confidence and conviction.
At Actual, we pride ourselves on achieving success for our clients and reporting the latest industry trends to the PR world. This post is the first in a series of interview-based thought leadership insights from leading corporate communications executives. Please join us to stay up-to-date on the cutting edge of the PR industry.