The PR industry has changed significantly in the past 15 years. We’ve seen the evolution of content marketing and the introduction of inbound marketing, as well as the introduction of social media and data. And we now have artificial intelligence, propelling the industry further and faster than ever.
It’s been fun to go to work each day and test something new, learn new tools and technologies, and implement everything into our comms programs.
The challenge that comes with that, though, is the uncertainty of it all. The only thing that’s certain is that something new will come along to upend how we’ve done things. Our jobs have become more about predicting the future than it is about executing tactics—and good for us! It’s far more strategic and important to be doing that work than to be writing news releases about new hires.
There is a word for this: futurecasting.
But what is futurecasting in public relations? And how does one go about futurecasting in their comms programs?
Well, my friends! I have you.
Learn How to Predict the Future
A few weeks ago, we talked about how to use anti-fragile tactics to predict the future. As part of that, we discussed the importance of staying up-to-date on current events by reading everything you can about your industry and about the world.
It turns out that predicting the future isn’t the only benefit of doing this. You can also futurecast. The more well-read you are about all the things that might affect your organization or your clients’ organizations, the better you’ll be able to predict the future.
Before we get into how to do that and what it might look like for you, let’s back up and talk about futurecasting: what it is, why it’s important, and how you can get good at it.
I love the example Entrepreneur uses in a recent article, “As climate change takes center stage globally, companies and organizations must be prepared for increased public scrutiny about their environmental footprint. A futurecasting PR approach might involve creating a narrative about the company’s commitment to sustainability before any controversy arises. By doing so, they establish themselves as proactive leaders rather than reactive entities scrambling in the face of criticism.”
It’s taking everything you’ve read and predicting how it might affect your organization: climate change, economics, social justice, impending natural disasters, and more.
But let’s back up for a second. What is futurecasting?
What Is Futurecasting?
Futurecasting is a strategic planning process that has you thinking about potential scenarios and trends to anticipate and prepare for what might affect the business in the future. It’s used to make informed decisions in the present by considering how different factors might evolve over time. Futurecasting is not about correctly predicting the future, but about identifying a range of plausible possibilities and understanding their potential implications.
It might include:
- Scenario building
- Trend analysis
- Disruption analysis
- Adaptive strategies
- Innovation and opportunity
- Long-term planning
It’s important to note that futurecasting is not about predicting a single “correct” future but rather about preparing for a range of possibilities. The aim is to enhance strategic decision-making, adaptability, and resilience in the face of uncertainty.
Which Comms Skills Are Necessary?
It sounds a bit far-fetched. I get that. But when you think about some of the best futurecasters, they include people like Bill Gates and Al Gore. Steve Jobs certainly in his day, as well. They can read the tea leaves, based on what’s happening around us, and use that information to look at possibilities that could affect the world.
And communicators can do this, too. It requires taking the work you already do to anticipate news stories, storytelling, content development, and lead nurturing—and enhancing those skills by anticipating emerging trends, technologies, and societal shifts.
For those of you who do any crisis work, you already do this—you monitor social media and the news to anticipate a forthcoming challenge. You pay attention to what’s being said about your brand and prepare. Futurecasting is taking this practice a step further to allow you to think about what reputational challenges the organization might face in the next decade.
Roadmap for PR Pros
OK, let’s talk about the roadmap you can use to enhance your skills to get good at futurecasting.
- The first thing is to stay informed. We’ve already talked about this quite a bit, both today and in our anti-fragile discussion a few weeks ago. But it bears worth repeating: stay up-to-date with current events, industry news, technological advancements, and cultural shifts. Regularly read reputable sources, attend conferences, and follow thought leaders in relevant fields to build a strong knowledge base.
- Next is to study the trends. Analyze trends in technology, consumer behavior, media consumption, and cultural attitudes. Understand how these trends will likely evolve over time and consider their potential effect on your work.
- Then do scenario planning and include different members from different teams. Develop the ability to create and analyze multiple scenarios. Envision a range of potential futures based on different factors and identify how each scenario might affect your organization or clients.
- Conduct thorough research on your industry and related fields. Understand the competitive landscape, emerging players, and disruptive technologies that could affect your PR efforts. Just like the climate change example I used, how might something like that affect the business in 10 years? And what are you doing now to prepare for that?
- Spend time doing cross-disciplinary learning. Familiarize yourself with disciplines beyond PR, such as technology, sociology, economics, and environmental science. This interdisciplinary approach will help you see connections between different areas and anticipate their interactions.
- Explore tools and methodologies used by futurists, such as trend analysis, environmental scanning, and SWOT analyses. These tools can guide your futurecasting efforts.
- Engage with experts from various fields, and attend seminars, workshops, and conferences that focus on future trends. Collaborate with professionals who have expertise in areas that complement PR, such as data analysis or technology.
- Cultivate creative thinking skills to imagine possibilities beyond the obvious. Encourage brainstorming sessions where you explore unconventional ideas that could shape the future of PR.
- Be open to change and willing to adapt your strategies based on new information and insights. Flexibility is crucial in a rapidly changing environment.
- Consider the ethical implications of emerging technologies and societal changes. Futurecasting involves anticipating positive developments, potential challenges, and ethical dilemmas.
- Develop a long-term perspective in your PR strategies. Consider how actions taken today might influence your reputation and relationships in the future.
- Futurecasting is an ongoing process. Dedicate time to continual learning through online courses, workshops, or reading materials related to foresight and strategic planning.
- Pay attention to weak signals—early indicators of emerging trends or shifts that might not be widely recognized yet. These signals can provide valuable insights into potential future developments.
- Keep a record of your futurecasting efforts, including your predictions, analysis, and outcomes. This documentation can help refine your futurecasting skills over time.
How to Use Futurecasting In Your PR Programs
Now that you have the skills to futurecast, how do you integrate them into your PR programs? Let’s take a look at some of your options.
- Use futurecasting to identify potential issues or crises that might arise in the future. By anticipating challenges, you can develop proactive strategies to address them before they escalate.
- Craft compelling narratives that anticipate future developments. Use storytelling to communicate how your organization is prepared to meet future challenges and take advantage of opportunities.
- Create content that aligns with anticipated future trends and interests. This can include blog posts, articles, videos, and infographics that provide insights into upcoming developments.
- Position your organization as a thought leader by sharing well-researched insights on future trends. Publish reports, whitepapers, and research findings that showcase your expertise in foreseeing industry changes.
- Tailor your messaging to address the needs and expectations of future audiences. Anticipate how your target audience’s preferences might evolve and adjust your communication accordingly.
- Collaborate with experts in various fields to gain insights into potential future developments. Engage in panel discussions, webinars, or joint projects exploring your industry’s intersection with other disciplines.
- Assess how different future scenarios might affect your organization’s reputation, stakeholders, and bottom line. Develop strategies to leverage positive events and mitigate negative ones.
- Develop crisis communication plans that account for potential future crises or reputation-threatening events. Being prepared for various scenarios ensures a more agile and effective response.
- Anticipate how the media landscape might evolve. Understand the changing preferences of journalists, bloggers, and influencers to tailor your media relations strategies.
- Adapt your social media strategy to align with emerging platforms and trends. Engage with your audience on platforms that are likely to become more influential in the future. Keep an eye on the new social networks and what’s tanking (cough, Twitter er X, cough).
- Build relationships with organizations that align with your futurecasting insights. Collaborate on projects that address future challenges and demonstrate your organization’s proactive stance.
- Develop PR campaigns with a long-term perspective. Address future issues or trends that are on the horizon, positioning your organization as a forward-thinking leader.
- Establish metrics to evaluate the success of your futurecasting-informed PR efforts. Monitor how your strategies perform against anticipated trends and adjust as needed.
Remember that while futurecasting can provide valuable insights, it’s important to maintain flexibility in your strategies. It requires a willingness to explore the unknown, challenge assumptions, and think critically about the forces shaping the world. The future is inherently uncertain, and being able to adapt your plans based on new information is crucial.
By integrating futurecasting into your PR strategy, you can position yourself as a forward-thinking professional who anticipates trends and adapts strategies for success.