Communications Trends You Need to Know in 2016

Fred Hawrysh
CEO PPR Worldwide, North America

From the rise of new media to the global dominance of social networks, the unifying impact of digital technology has forever changed the way we communicate and the topics we discuss.

Organizations around the world are faced with the same challenge of connecting in a world that is becoming ever more complex and cluttered. As communication vehicles and audience preferences evolve, so must we. To help, here are the top communications trends to keep in mind in 2016:

  • Brands and journalists are using social targeting to connect with influencers.

According to an international study by Cision, more than half of journalists report they would be unable to do their job without social media, with 57 percent noting social media improves their productivity.

Tools like Twitter’s Curator and Facebook’s trending bar give time-crunched journalists a view of breaking news and top conversations to inform their reporting.

Communication pros can tip the scales in their favor with tools like Facebook and Twitter’s targeted ads, by placing tailored messages to media based on their email addresses to gain mindshare and increase the odds of earned coverage.

  • The shift toward ephemeral content is changing how brands reach millennials.

Millennials are using apps like Snapchat, Periscope and Meerkat to create content that’s worthy of sharing in the moment. As baby boomers take a backseat to millennials, in terms of spending power, brands will need to increase their presence and relative content to catch millennials where they are.

How? Snapchat is monetizing the opportunity and now offers sponsored stories in the “Live” area of the app. It also features Discover, which serves as a daily news source with content from publications, including The Wall Street Journal, People, CNN, Mashable and more.

  • Traditional newsrooms continue to shrink as digital news sites grow.

We’ve seen a double-digit decline in newsroom count since the recession, but digital news sites are growing with a little help from traditional news titans betting on their success. NBCUniversal invested millions in Buzzfeed and Vox Media, while Hearst invested in Complex, Refinery and Buzzfeed.

This shift is all in an effort to capture audiences where they are. Buzzfeed, for example, aims to keep readers on its site for more than just listicles and now has the News App, which includes breaking stories, financial and tech news.

For PR pros, 2016 is the year to re-imagine what media outlets you consider tier one. Chances are, they’ve changed in the digital revolution.

  • The diversity beat is growing as newsrooms work to diversify their own organizations.

The diversity conversation was front and center in 2015, with attention on diversity in tech- and race-related news around “Black Lives Matter.” We’ve already seen the conversation carry over into 2016 with the diversity debate over Oscar nominations, as well as Twitter and Dropbox appointing new heads of diversity.

In 2016, we expect that many communications teams will be playing catch-up, establishing their diversity goals and point-of-view in the case they fall under scrutiny. Coincidentally, newsrooms are also trying to tackle the same challenge – those who identify as Asian American, black and Hispanic make up only 12 percent of the nation’s daily newsrooms. 

  • Content marketing goes mainstream but new regulations and ad blocking will change the game.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, more than 50 percent of marketers will increase native content production in 2016. With more brands entering the fray, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission issuing disclosure guidance on native content and the rise in ad-blocking software, brands must shift their approach.

PR and marketing pros will become more reliant on data to reach their targeted audience, as ad-blocking will be more common among millennials and tech savvy audiences. Video and visual content that’s worthy of sharing will become the platform of choice for native ads.

  • Virtual reality (VR) will be a new story-telling vehicle.

There’s a good chance you’ve heard about VR in PR, but not many brands have cracked the code on making it an effective PR tool. Instead of spending marketing dollars on ads that can easily get blocked, 2016 will be the year PR and marketing pros test the waters of VR, creating virtual experiences people seek out.

A few early adopters to take note of:


  • Internet of Things (IoT) and the connected customer will change how the world communicates.

By 2025, there will be more than 50 billion connected devices, equating to seven devices per person. The impact of IoT will be as big as the invention of electricity, impacting everyone across every industry. PR will play a critical role in the education process, which will be required both to navigate the technological shift and capitalize on the unique story-telling opportunities IoT creates. For example, new to market Johnnie Walker Blue Label smart bottles , track supply chain information with location based data, but may one day begin to communicate with the consumer on how they best enjoy the product.

2016 will be the year that we see more brands using IoT for customer interaction – testing boundaries on whether the connected experience is providing value or is intrusive -which will lead to some privacy blowback.

While communication objectives have remained consistent, the vehicles and approach have dramatically shifted over the past few years. It’s an exciting time to be a PR pro, putting these trends into action and building an arsenal of new and strategic ideas.

What trends are you most excited about in 2016?