The comms crystal ball: What should the in-house PR team of 2020 look like?

Crystal Ball by Mark Skipper

A chap called Geoffrey Hoyle wrote a book in 1972 – predicting that, by 2010, everyone would be wearing jumpsuits, work a 3 day week and would have electric cars delivered in tubes of liquid.

He also predicted the widespread use of ‘vision phones’ and doing your grocery shopping online.

I was reading a BBC article about it the other day. Apparently, a facebook campaign managed to track Hoyle down, which led to his book – ‘2010: Living in the Future’being reprinted (with the year in the title changed to 2011).

I find the whole thing fascinating and I’m not alone. Futurology is big business. It even has its own twitter handle @the_future – and hashtag #futurology.

The thing that seems to excite all futurologists, more than anything else, is the changing nature of communication – with many predictions, which seemed outlandish when first made, becoming commonplace years later.

David Brin’s 1989 novel – ‘Earth’ – for example, predicted citizen reporters, personalised web interfaces and the decline of privacy. We’re not laughing now.

I do wonder whether we consider this sort of thing enough when trying to future proof our organisations. If I look back just 6 years ago, to the shape, skills and project work of my team – compared with now – it’s almost unrecognisable. What will it be like in another 6 years?

I don’t have all the answers, but I know that if my team is to work brilliantly in 2020, I need to be gearing up for it now and doing a bit of my own futurology.

‘Workforce planning’ is such a yawn phrase. But, whether we like it or not, it’s an absolutely crucial aspect of comms management and it happens to be something I’m focusing on at the moment.

There are 5 key principles I’m working to:

  • Link to strategy

No workforce plan is worth the paper it’s written on if it doesn’t link to your organisation’s corporate strategy, your own comms strategy and your departmental action plans. What are you trying to achieve over the next few years? Is your team equipped to deliver? If not, how will you address it? You need evidence to back up your proposals.

  • Scan the changing landscape

You need to get attuned to the latest comms trends and be aware of what’s on the horizon. Having a focus on the long term, and then planning for it, is a darn sight better than reacting to short term requirements all the time. The future of the PR industry project, run by the PRCA, explores topics such as globalisation, social changes, and new comms platforms and channels and is worth a look as there are some useful online videos available.

  • Plug the gaps

Once you’re clear on your strategy, the future direction of comms and how your organisation should respond, you need to identify any gaps you have that could hamper delivery. Do you and your team need to learn new skills? Is a new post required? Are there comms activities which aren’t needed anymore? Can staff be freed up from old tasks to pursue new priorities? All of these, and more, need to be considered and built into your workforce plan.

  • Consult your team

It should never be done in isolation. Workforce planning needs collective input and your team are best placed to provide feedback, ideas and offer up solutions. They know their department better than anyone.

  • Evaluate as you go along

Regularly review your plan and amend and adjust as you go along. It should be a living document, not shelved away to gather dust for the next 6 years.


My future-proofing priorities are all about developing a team of hybrid professionals, multi-skilled communicators, with a greater emphasis on digital skills.

It’s about banishing outmoded and unnecessary activities, freeing up time to pursue more dynamic techniques. And, it’s also about building greater comms skills amongst the wider organisation and securing greater contribution from grassroots staff.

What does your comms crystal ball reveal for the future?

And, do you have a workforce plan to deliver?

Photo credits:

Crystal Ball by Mark Skipper (creative commons)

The PR power of ‘I’m sorry’ – Maria Miller and how not to do an apology


Surely Maria Miller must have realised her first attempt at an apology had spectacularly backfired?

It’s probably why the Culture Secretary issued a new one – this time much more contrite and directly to her constituents via the Basingstoke Gazette.

Her second attempt was littered with phrases like “I’m devastated”, “I’ve let people down” and “I have always sought to do the best job that I can”. I can’t help but wonder why she didn’t do this the first time round.

Her first apology couldn’t have been any more different. Widely ridiculed for its lack of sincerity, it lasted just 32 seconds and left many commentators cold – you’ve got to read political sketch writer Quentin Letts’ hilarious account of proceedings.

The golden rule of crisis communications is to deploy the 3 R’s – Regret, Reason and Recovery. But it has to be done properly and, all too often, people get the regret bit wrong. The key to a successful apology is authenticity.

I’ve been reading a great blog by Heather Campbell about this, with fab case studies of organisations who got it right – think Apple and FedEx- and those who got it wrong – remember the big BP oil spill?

So, if a good apology is a PR no brainer – why do so many people get it wrong?

There is an excellent article in Psychology Today on the art of apology – which tracks human nature and how pride and the fear of weakness, and also admission of guilt, gets in the way of a good grovel.

It’s understandable. If you crash your car, you’re encouraged not to apologise in case you affect your insurance. Saying sorry is also tantamount to admission of guilt in a court of law.

But in terms of restoring relationships and fixing mistakes, people respond kindly to an apology if they sense a genuine heart and it can make a negative situation have a more positive outcome.

So why did Maria Miller’s apology leave people cold?

Perhaps it was because she was only ordered to repay £5,800 of her expenses over-claim – not the £45,000 she had been originally been called to pay back by the independent parliamentary commissioner for standards. Maybe, on a personal level, she felt exonerated. Certainly, her allies are furious at the lack of support she has received, claiming a media witch hunt.

But, let’s not forget that the Tory MP was ordered to apologise for her “attitude” and handling of the inquiry. She had made a mistake with her expenses claims – whether intentional or not.

And there’s no doubt about it, the Culture Secretary is in crisis mode right now – hoping against hope that her latest apology can restore the damage done by her first.

Will she survive past Easter?

Who knows – but she must realise now that it’s not just what you say, but how you say it – and that seemingly simple fact is often the difference between a PR success and PR fail.



And lo, it came to pass! Maria Miller resigned this morning. She had become the story and in her own words “a distraction from the vital work this government was doing”. Her bungled apology was, no doubt, a major factor in fanning the flames. The three R’s of crisis communications (regret, reason and recovery) sadly lacking in her case.

Monarchy’s Got Talent – how the Kate, Wills and George effect might win it for the Royals Down Under

So Kate, Wills and gorgeous baby George are embarking on their 18 day PR exercise to woo Australasia.

For the next 3 weeks, much of the world will be bamboozled with media coverage of the glamorous young couple and their little prince as they traverse the lands of Oz and New Zealand.

Of course, the trip isn’t just a cynical PR exercise. The second in line to the throne is representing the Queen as the Head of State for both countries – Her Maj has a duty to her subjects down under as much as this side of the pond.

But royal officials know all too well that they’re onto something PR-wise here and surely must regard the trio as their Willy Wonka golden ticket – potential saviours of the monarchy overseas.

They must hope this trip will help to capitalise on the small shift in public opinion over the last six months in favour of the royals. ABC news in Australia reports that only 38 per cent of people are now in favour of cutting Australia’s ties to the monarchy, compared with 45 per cent of voters in the 1999 referendum on the subject.

Will the Kate, Wills and George effect be able to turn the tide even further for team Windsor? Well, this current royal tour is not without its hitches already. Kate has come under fire for ordering a front facing car seat for George during the foreign tour of New Zealand. And, there has been a diplomatic falling out with the King of the Maoris who angrily rejected a meeting with the couple when he discovered they could only spare him 90 minutes out of their busy schedule.

But the Cambridge’s will be determined to turn things around. As the godfather of PR, Robert Leaf argues in his latest memoirs, modern day PR is now primarily about perception management, or persuasion, and doing it effectively is the real key to success for corporations, countries, organisations and even individuals.

I’d imagine that’s exactly what the HM PR machine is trying to achieve over the next 3 weeks. Good looks, friendly charm, accessibility and a very cute baby are their strategic tools to persuade the Antipodean nations that the British monarchy should be for keeps.

So, we’ll have to see how the next 18 days pan out and whether this royal PR strategy pays off. Will they manage to get 3 yes’s from the British, Australian and New Zealand public? My money is on little George nailing it.