What will be the most impacting PR trend to take hold in 2007?
Blogs and other new media will supplant mainstream media as consumers' primary information source
Environmental reputation will become a key PR initiative in the U.S., as it is in Europe
Companies will begin to hire PR for individual projects (rather than as AORs), like in the UK
Online media will continue to splinter into micro-focused granular niche outlets
The answer is none of the above. While all of these will be important, the number one PR trend of 2007 will be dealing with the PR fallout from congressional subpoenas. Maybe you have to live in the Greater Washington Area to understand what is about to happen.
Senators Biden and Leahy, Representatives Waxman and Conyers, have all promised aggressive oversight hearings. You can be sure that other committee chairs won’t be far behind. Local law firms are already soliciting business. PR Strategists are dropping quotes in the press hoping to attract clients. The fall out will not be limited to Washington, DC or even the Unites States; these investigations will have international repercussions.
It should be kept in mind that there will be continuing high profile prosecutions. Scooter Libby’s trial begins this month, the Abramoff investigation continues, and there will be others. Many newsmakers will find themselves having to respond to both congressional and criminal investigations. For federal contractors sucked into this, (Hello Halliburton, HP and Walmart want to thank you for taking them off the number one PR disaster list.) the difficulty will lie in responding to subpoenas without admitting wrong doing, and deflecting blame in such a way as to not burn bridges for future business, a very difficult needle to thread.
A proper PR crisis management and reputation repair campaign will have to integrate the legal defense with media and online relations. It will be necessary to respond to charges, both legal and press, discredit critics wherever possible, and stop rumors before they spread. To do this PR will need the traditional tools of media monitoring and public opinion polling; but will also require new tools to mine blogosphere and publicly posted online discussion groups to gage public opinion. The fools will try astroturf techniques. This is invariably a bad idea, but in this atmosphere catastrophically bad. With hundreds of interested parties, both professional and amateur, on the look out for that sort of thing, you are certain to be caught. Don’t even think about it. Indeed if you are a federal contractor and you try this, someone will accuse you of misusing government money. Even if the charge is false you could get hauled up before a committee.
Technology reporters take note, the winners, as always, will be the providers of the technology the enables the investigations, the defense, and the citizen response. Search technology, both online and enterprise search will see robust growth as a result of all this. Technology such as Blogpulses’s conversation tracker will come into its own.
As the hearings go forward, we will all be reminded of the importance of records management and email archiving. We will also learn new things about evidence recovery. There is sure to be some idiot idiovitch who still doesn’t understand that when you delete email you only delete the pointer, not the message.
A less publicized winner, but even more profitable, will be the providers of litigation support software. The litigation that springs out of these controversies is likely to continue for years after public attention has drifted elsewhere.
Technology that enables the citizen response to all this will also be a big winner. Blogging will continue to grow, and providers of blogging and commenting software will see growth as will fighters of comment spam. Indeed it is likely that a whole new class of spam will grow out of this. My guess is that someone will be stupid enough to vandalize their critics’ discussion sites with aggressive comment spam. They will be caught and it will provide the rest of us with huge entertainment.
There will be a lot of anguish in the months to come; but for those of us in technology there will be many opportunities.