The road to relevance

Welcome to the 2020 edition of the USC Annenberg Relevance Report — a look into the future of one of the most dynamic professions on Earth. As in past years, we have curated a series of short essays from leading executives, academics and students in the public relations field, who are all connected to the University of Southern California. 

Their stories cover a wide spectrum of topics and trends from Artificial Intelli- gence to Homelessness that will impact our society and our work in the coming year. I guarantee spending a few minutes scanning these pages will make you a little smarter and a lot more relevant to your company and your clients. 

But first, what is relevance? 

Relevance is hard to define and even harder to achieve. It’s not the same as fame or popularity or power. It’s more ephemeral, more elusive and more important. Brands seek it. Celebrities pursue it. Candidates crave it. At its most basic, relevance is simply being heard. Something every human needs. 

When a story is relevant, people listen. 

When content is relevant, people share. 

When an issue is relevant, people act. 

Every PR campaign strives to gain these outcomes.To earn the attention of the people they want to reach, by understand- ing what is truly meaningful to them. 

This year, the Relevance Report offers a glimpse into what average Americans will tweet, stream and discuss in the coming year, based on a national consumer survey conducted in partnership with Golin and the Institute of Public Relations.The study examined what brands, technologies and media will connect with consumers in a meaningful way. 

In some cases, the answers are simple: Americans rely on their mobile phones for information more than they do their televisions. In some cases, they’re surprising: People want Disney tattoos more than Harley-Davidson ones. In some cases, they’re ominous: U.S. citizens are more concerned about the policies of their own country than those of Russia. 

In all cases, the answers are variable. A message that connects with one person may be rejected by another. If we add science to the art of Public Relations, we will discover human insights that lead to relevance. That’s when our jobs become more interesting — and more relevant. 

To download a full copy of the 2020 Relevance Report, click here.

Fred Cook is the director of the USC Center for Public Relations (CPR) and a Professor of Professional Practice in the Annenberg School. As the director of CPR, he connects businesses, agencies, academics and students to advance the study and...