5 Public Relations Insights from 2023

By Melanie Wilt, APR

As I reflect on another year, I find myself considering some new public relations insights I gained in 2023. I’m grateful that absolutely none of these have to do with COVID! Even though it persists, the epidemic is no longer the driving force behind our communication, relationships and business decisions. 

In 2024, we are settling into a world that looks mighty different from the one we lived in even five years ago. I see the practice of public relations through an entirely different lens. 

1. Crisis Preparedness Pays Off
Our local community was faced with some unfortunate major emergencies in 2023 that received national press coverage. Springfield was the site of the second big Norfolk-Southern train derailment, and one of our county schools experienced a first-day-of-school bus crash that took the life of a sixth-grade boy and injured numerous others.

The coordinated response I witnessed from the local Emergency Management Agency, State of Ohio and law enforcement was nothing short of spectacular. Being close to these organizations, I’m aware that they have spent countless hours working on plans and identifying vulnerabilities to deal with just such a crisis. They have also trained communicators and community leaders to serve as spokespersons during those inevitable situations.

I’ve always said that you can prepare about 80 percent for a crisis, but the other 20 percent you just have to feel out when it comes. Having that level of preparation provides responders the space and energy to make better decisions since the bulk of them have already been made.

What I witnessed in these two cases allowed space for those responders to process the situation with clear heads in the moment, and gave them time to grieve and care for their own mental health. Had they gone into a scene like the bus crash with no preparedness, distress and fear may well have overtaken their ability to process it and react. 

2. Recruitment PR is a Marathon, not a Sprint

It’s a buyer’s market when it comes to the job economy. Employers in all sectors continue to have challenges hiring employees and keeping employees. Employees are in a position to be picky about their jobs, salaries, benefits and work environments.

Employers now have to recognize that retention and recruitment programs are essential and permanent parts of their public relations strategies. It requires having a steady pipeline of qualified candidates to draw from when you have openings. It no longer works to pop a billboard up along a busy highway to announce you’re hiring at $20 an hour. Organizations must continuously innovate how they communicate their work styles and processes, their brand values, growth opportunities and flexible work schedules. Read more about the 4R Recruitment Marketing Strategy

3. PR Pitches Look Different

I’m not quite ready to read my eulogy for the news release, but it’s been drafted. Pitching the media is much different as we head into 2024 than it was a decade ago. Our team has probably written and pitched fewer than 10 news releases this past calendar year. Yet we’ve placed dozens of stories for our clients.

You don’t always have to send a news release or even pitch the media to get coverage. Publications pick up story ideas by following your social media streams, receiving a link from you on X (formerly Twitter) or reviewing an industry association’s LinkedIn page. I still think the best approach is to pick up the phone and call a person with whom you have a relationship. Oh, ok. Maybe text them instead of leaving a long voicemail message — we all appreciate that!

4. PR Perceptions Take Decades to Change 

Now that I’ve been a communicator in the agriculture industry and in Clark County for more than two decades, I can look back and see some of the long-term dreams come to fruition. When we located Shift•ology to downtown Springfield in 2008, there was literally no activity on Fountain Avenue. Despite what was in front of our eyes, we invested in the vision for a vibrant downtown. Today, thanks to that persistence, we have seen a brewery, several restaurants and a boutique locate there. This is just one of the things that has led to social and cultural activity and a steadily-improving image of the city. 

We’ve talked for years about having more diversity in the agriculture industry. When I began working at the Ohio Department of Agriculture in 2001, I was often the only woman in the room to discuss policy and communication strategy. In the last two weeks, I presented at two womens-only industry events. We still have a long way to go to expand that diversity to minorities, but I remain hopeful that women will use their new-found seats at the table to set it for other underrepresented individuals. 

5. Simplification and Searchability are Essential

The onslaught of messages and media are not slowing down. In fact, our data centers are consuming so much electricity, the industry is scrambling to ramp up energy production through any number of renewable and traditional means. 

What’s coming out of those data centers? Millions of terabytes of data that has to be used for something. And, none of it makes any sense without communication! It is incumbent upon science communicators to make sense of that data. I do believe that artificial intelligence will do some of that, but there will continue to be a need for human discernment and management of information. It will be incumbent upon the receivers of this information (aka, the public) to discern its value, but it will be up to the professional public relations professionals to make that message stick. The principles of solid communication — the science of creating meaning — remain unchanged through the evolution of media. Simple, truthful, meaningful words and illustrations will never go out of style.