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6 A.M.

Empty road with numbers 2016

The Way Ahead: 2017

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It has been a shocking year for communicators. We have witnessed a stunning reversal of power between mainstream and social media: The ability to go direct to end users of information through social channels radically disrupted the mainstream news agenda. The inability or unwillingness of citizens to differentiate between fake and authentic news is undermining a fundamental assumption of democracy: the informed voter. The business model of mainstream media is under severe pressure, necessitating substantial cuts in the ranks of journalists and a repurposing of reporters into multi-media news creators. The separation of audience into tribes preferring to reinforce their own views with media of similar ideological stripe makes true debate impossible. There is an epidemic of corruption that claimed government leaders in Brazil and Korea, as CEOs were sentenced to jail for bribery.

Here are 10 predictions for the year ahead that could impact those of us in the PR business:

  1. The technology industry will be in the crosshairs. The traditional libertarian attitude of tech moguls will not suffice. There will need to be a spirited defense of global supply chain models, privacy and security protocols, and benefits to society from rapid innovation relative to the risks of job loss from automation. Tech CEOs will need to make their case, using their public personas, and contribute to the discussion on the future of work.
  2. Companies will be tempted to imitate Trump. Why be subjected to the scrutiny of media when you can go direct to the public? That is a seductive but ultimately flawed concept. The bully pulpit of the Presidency (or candidates for that job) is a unique one. No CEO that I know is able to match the spontaneity, pop culture status and willingness to engage in controversy. Companies should take advantage of social media’s power to connect, but honor the continued role of media in shaping opinion.
  3. The populist genie Is out of the bottle. There will be a move toward nationalism, slipping into intolerance. The primary cause is a shift in mentality from a consumption society to one focused on job preservation.
  4. Local will prevail over global. Brands should underline their local roots, including the farmers who grow the raw materials. Small business and family enterprise will be at an advantage. Global brands must find local connection through social purpose.
  5. Native advertising will have to change to survive. Clients are not happy with former journalists churning out moderately interesting written content for in-house advertising divisions of publications. This will be supplanted by video and graphic experiences that tell rich but immediate stories through pictures—full-fledged creative campaigns that once were the exclusive domain of ad agencies.
  6. The fake news epidemic will continue, for now. The present response by Facebook and Google, to cut off ad sales for purveyors of fake news, is insufficient. There will need to be some form of editorial control, to remove the blatantly false and inflammatory. The push will likely come from mainstream advertisers, petrified by the adjacency to misleading information.
  7. New voices will fill the void in governance. Just as video influencers on YouTube have become the new “go-to” in product categories such as video games or haircare, the “person like you” or employee with passion or expertise will be more influential than celebrities or government regulators.
  8. Every company must be a media company. I have been saying this for years; now the economics of journalism are such that there is no choice. The best stories, those that cut through the thickening fog of new content, will come from consumers who use the brands or employees who are on the line or in the labs. Identify the influencers and give them the content to move within their own communities; It’s a new means of narrow-casting.
  9. Companies will reach a new level of transparency. Tell the truth on your company channels, including side effects and negative comments on service, with a path to improvement. This is the best feature of the sharing economy leaders Uber and AirBnB. In countries such as Brazil and South Korea, where trust in government has been eviscerated through scandal, there will need to be proof of separation of business from government and a new code of ethics for employees.
  10. Sustainability will be led by business. Global environmental policy will move to the household. This is the year for behavior change by consumers, who will take shorter showers and use cold water wash.

So here you have it, my list of predictions. To all the Edelman and Zeno employees around the world, thank you for your unstinting efforts on behalf of your clients in the past year. We are in the midst of a revolution, moving toward communications marketing, serving both the CCO and CMO, speaking directly to end user of information, advising on what to do to transform business, not just what to say. Our role has never been more important. Have a great holiday season with your loved ones.

Richard Edelman is president and CEO.

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