I always avoid prophesying beforehand because it is much better to prophesy after the event has already taken place.
— Winston Churchill, Former Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Making predictions is a dangerous game for anyone in politics particularly in this fast-moving quixotic media age. But nevertheless, we are at that time of the year where, as communications consultants, we are obliged to take a brave look into the future to try to select key moments which may dominate the media and political landscape in 2018. Atlas consultant, Ed Gavaghan sets out here some of his predictions for next year.

 

Sporting Diplomacy

Sport has the power to change the world.
— Nelson Mandela, Former President of South Africa

Three of the moments chosen for our retrospective of the last two years were sporting, namely the England Women’s Cricket World Cup triumph, the Brownlee brothers heroics and Andy Murray’s call-out of everyday sexism. Rosena Allin-Khan, MP Brandon Lewis, MP and Sam Burne James of PR Week reminded us with their choices that sport has always had the power to not only bring people together and unite nations but also give a platform to make points beyond sport.

Sporting events in 2018 will be no different and in particular two events will shine a light on two countries who have increasingly been in the news for very different non-sporting reasons: Russia and South Korea. The Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea,‎ due to be held in February, comes at a difficult time for the peninsula. Originally called the ‘Peace Olympics’, there were even calls for a unified Korean team in certain disciplines as late as June 2017. These grand plans have sadly been dashed as the Northern regime continues its aggressive military stance, locked in a worrying face off with most of the world.

We look forward to some rays of light as the focus falls on the competitors taking part. Rebranded “New Horizons”, the power of the games to inspire a new generation of would be gold medallists remains. With home advantage, South Korea will hope to beat their 13th place finish in Sochi, whilst Team GBs hopes rest with Lizzy Yarnold in the women’s skeleton, #GoLizzy.

And then the World Cup in Russia. Never one to be shy of a chance to show-off on the world stage Putin will be keen to make the most of this opportunity to shine. After Olympic doping scandals and the ongoing investigations into digital interference in election campaigns across the world, Putin will want to show who is boss and Russia’s supporters (and politicians) will be hoping their team deliver on and off the pitch to put Russia back towards the summit of the sporting firmament.

England, as ever, travel with high hopes and low expectations (or is that low hopes and high expectations?) while Brazil and holders Germany will no doubt be favourites once again. For those who do attend, make sure your collect your air miles as the average distance between stadiums is 400 miles…

The hope will be that these two events showcase the importance of sport and the impact it can have beyond the field and slope. However, the chances of doping or spying allegations along with the potential threat of hooliganism may ensure that events hit the front as well as the back pages.

 

The Special Relationship

What were we doing? We were trying to roast a chicken.”
— Meghan Markle, Actress and Humanitarian Campaigner

Once upon a time, as Europe dominated the news, a British Prince fell in love with an American divorcee after a whirlwind romance... and they lived happily ever after.

As true fans of Netflix’s The Crown or the superb King’s Speech with Colin Firth will know, it is now 81 years since Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson created a constitutional crisis at the heart of the British monarchy.

Thankfully, the news that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are to be married in May next year was met with cheers in the streets. One of our Moments (nominated by Afua Hirsch) highlighted the Prince’s actions in defending Meghan against the public abuse and harassment she had received in the media and demonstrates the huge changes in social cultural attitudes over the last century. Their marriage is an opportunity to breathe new life into the venerable institution that is the British monarchy.

The nation will no doubt rejoice, but some will still grumble over the lack of a public holiday to mark the occasion… Points to Tourism Australia for the best newsjacking effort we’ve seen this year.

 

A tale of two centenaries

We are here, not because we are law-breakers; we are here in our efforts to become law-makers
— Emmeline Pankhurst, Leader of the British Suffragette Movement

2018 will no doubt be dominated by two landmark centenaries: women’s voting rights and the end of the First World War.

Emmeline Pankhurst led the Suffragette movement through direct action, peaceful processions, and the odd fiery ruse to propel women’s rights to the forefront of the political agenda. Alongside suffragist Millicent Fawcett, they were the founding mothers of gender rights in the UK and will be rightly lauded in 2018 as a statue of Fawcett is unveiled on Parliament Square to commemorate the date.

Remembrance Day is always a major national event, but 2018 will be a more sombre and reflective occasion. The annual parade to the Cenotaph will incorporate larger delegations from Commonwealth nations, with events across all home countries occurring in the week leading up to the day. Expect mass media coverage and international prominence for a day where the nation will be celebrating peace and the founding of the institutions created to preserve it.

 

The rise of the non-publishers

What is interesting is the power and the impact of social media... So we must try to use social media in a good way
— Malala Yousafzai, Female Activist

How should we regulate social media? It is one of the most important questions that current governments have failed to answer.

Social media has the ability to connect, create, diagnose, dissect, assess and distort at a pace so far not witnessed in human history. The potential for good is almost limitless, but we are only now truly understanding its affect on our communities. Never have we been so connected, yet so far apart. Views that were once marginalised are heralded as the will of the people.

Those that seek to moderate are eclipsed by those with more ‘likes’. Nobody shares a ‘moderate’ viewpoint. It revels in the extremes. It does not recognise truth, sense or rationality. It multiplies the contrasts. There is no middle ground. No space for reason.

It is in ensuring that there is a place for rational, balanced argument that mainstream media still has a role to play. But in a failing system, how can media publishers fight against the non-publishers? The last two years have proven that the old adage, ‘s/he who shouts loudest, wins’ is alive and well and the increasing dominance of online news was highlighted in one of our #Moments which points to the beginning of the end for print media. Expect the inexorable rise of online media, both social and traditional, to continue in 2018 with another print title going to the wall.

Other major corporate media moves such as the Disney purchase of Fox and the rise of Facebook as a source of regular as opposed to personal news shows the direction the industry is going. But this has come too late for Buzzfeed UK, which downsized considerably at the end of 2017 due to financial constraints – constraints created by the dominance of Facebook which utilised Buzzfeeds skills in digitising and promoting stories through its service with no payment structure.

Will Twitter follow suit, or will 2018 see Snapchat capture the youth market news feed – the dream demographic for big spending ad campaigns?

2018 could be the year where non-publishers ultimately start to play by publisher’s rules. This would give accountability in a system which is increasingly filled with #FakeNews.  

 

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