The Future of PR is African

October 6, 2014

For decades, PR as a profession and as a service industry has been largely an American, British or European concern, but all of this is changing, almost overnight. I’ll be in Delhi this week, and I’ll probably say that the future of PR looks Indian. And after that, Abu Dhabi, where the future of PR will look Arabic.

This comes partly from my need to be a pleaser. It also happens to be true.

People far more knowledgeable than I have written a lot about the massive shifts our world is currently undergoing. Primarily, a confluence of three components:

  • An increasingly interconnected and global economy.
  • The increasing prosperity of a ‘middle class’ in what were once called emerging economies.
  • The disruptive expansion of social media and information technology.

The effects have led to new markets for goods and services, a strain on natural resources, wider awareness of issues and opportunities, and the rise of the planet’s first truly global generation – the Millennials.

As PR becomes less dominated by a few perspectives and more inclusive of many viewpoints, we will see it emerge and evolve as something more Indian, more Arab or more African.

But what does mean for the future of PR?

I’ll make a few guesses, to get a conversation started:

1. PR will continue to grow globally.
It’s notoriously difficult to get reliable data on PR as it is currently recorded, so it’s probably impossible to project accurate numbers into the future, but I am fairly confident there will continue to be more people, money and projects in the world of PR in the coming years.

2. The lines will get blurrier.
Most people who are not in our world see no differences between PR, advertising and other forms of marketing and communications – it’s all the same to them, and I don’t think that will change.

In fact, as communications becomes more integrated, and as organizations and brands attempt to speak consistently with one voice in a way that is both authentic and shareable, it will be even harder to recognize something as advertising, PR or even brand journalism.

Basically, for those of us who already have a hard time explaining to our mothers what PR is, we won’t find it any easier in the future.

3. But the lines won’t fade completely.
Successful PR agencies won’t become ad agencies. They may form partnerships or even become part of an advertising network, and some may acquire advertising capabilities. However the core of the future PR professional, and agency, will remain the ability to find connections and opportunities for collaboration between an organization and its stakeholders.

4. We will be in a constant fight for talent.
There was a time (like when I was entering the business) when the criteria for success in PR were few and not that demanding. If you could write a decent press release, your odds of survival in PR were pretty high. PR is far more sophisticated today. What we do and how we do it requires extraordinary people with way-above-average intellect, curiosity and creativity. It demands emotional maturity, high energy, strong patience, wide knowledge and deep expertise.

5. The African PR industry is about to boom.
Call this a hunch, but I think we are at the beginning of a big bull market for PR in South Africa and a number of other markets on the continent.

At Ketchum, I look after many of the larger multinational assignments and see just about every request that comes in. I’ve noticed a big increase in the number of requests listing African markets as primary areas of activity. A few years ago, this figure would have been none. Now, I see South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya included frequently.

Africa is the world’s NEXT global marketplace and crossroads, and as we’ve seen from other gateway markets — remarkable innovations and creativity can be expected.

Global PR is held together by professionals and organizations that share common values, but its energy and vibrancy is also a source of great attraction.

So my hope is that we’ll continue to see PR flourish in Africa, India and elsewhere in the world, as our industry forms an ever-widening network of individuals and agencies that share a belief in the power of communications.

As a Senior Partner, CEO of Ketchum’s European operations and Chairman of the London office, David Gallagher brings more than 20 years of public relations experience, both as a client and as a senior agency adviser, to some of the world’s leading brands and companies. Interested in PR, politics, Texas Longhorns and life with two labradoodles. Follow him on Twitter @TBoneGallagher.