Neasa Kane-Fine, Director of RPS Project Communications contributed to November’s Irish Marketing Journal (IMJ) on the future of PR. As RPS is strongly focused on public consultation and stakeholder engagement, Neasa reflected on the challenges and opportunities faced in this area.
Our work involves advising on and delivering consultations that allow for public and stakeholder participation, whether it is to inform development of a new public policy, sustainability campaign or infrastructure project. We also develop and manage relationships to build trust with the communities and many stakeholders impacted by public infrastructure projects and construction.
Public participation is healthy and necessary to inform projects and policies. In recent years the industry has seen a seismic shift in the quantity and content of submissions made to public consultations, thanks to increased awareness through online and social media platforms and multiple devices.
Interestingly, we still see a larger proportion – about 60% – of public consultation submissions being made in writing and submitted via traditional post, rather than through email or online consultation forums that we facilitate. Many people have told us that when they believe something is important, they prefer to write it out and post it, so we facilitate that.
With access to so much information online, including through social media, we need to ensure that accurate and factual information is easily accessible so we are now developing more animated video and infographics that quickly and simply explain complex projects and policy issues, as well as continuing to utilise print and broadcast media.
Another trend we see is that with more people aware of projects thanks to social media campaigns and increased mobilisation of interest groups via Facebook and Twitter, social media often makes it difficult for some to discuss their views openly online. Social media campaigns against public policy or projects often promote polarised positions and questioning or differing views rarely raise their head in the online discussions.
Looking ahead? Social media needs to mature to enable a grown up, inclusive and informed debate about important policy and issues, where all views can be expressed and respected. Social media will never replace direct engagement as meaningful consultation builds understanding as well as addressing issues and concerns, but tools like Twitter and Facebook ensure we reach all our audiences with engaging content.
Data management is a growing area for us and we see more and more large projects requiring bespoke cloud based systems to manage stakeholder and project data across multiple platforms and users, and this need will continue. Demand for creativity will never cease.
Video will continue to grow in importance too. Print will remain relevant for particular projects and certain demographics, but print will become more graphics driven as people have less and less time to consume the written word.
Finally, more than ever, there is a strong need for quality traditional journalism; to objectively establish the facts and provide balance through impartial reporting and valid questioning of all positions.