It's that time of year again. You and the other leaders at your company are spending time looking back on the year's performance--what went well, what could be improved, what you'll make room for in the budget, etc.--to prepare for the new year. If you want to be fully prepared, though, you need to add one more element to the mix: the latest trends.

Yes, it's always good to look back and use historical data to help you set benchmarks and measure progress. But you also need to look ahead and understand what's coming next in your industry. To help, here are seven PR trends that need to be on your radar to succeed in 2019:

1. PR will continue its alignment with content marketing.

One of the most important changes that's happened in public relations over the years is the mentality shift away from self-promotion at your audience's expense. Yes, your job is still to promote your brand--but it's also about knocking down trust barriers and giving your audience the chance to connect with you. To reach your audiences, you have to do more than shout the loudest; you have to deliver value, too.

And that's why the industry will continue to see increasing alignment with content marketing. Content marketing has always been about using content to educate, engage, and deliver value to your audience. As that becomes a greater priority for PR, the two will need to work together more closely.

After all, PR positions your brand positively in the eyes of the audiences that matter most to you, and content marketing is what turns that reputation into revenue. The two need to be on the same page to work their best, and having a modern PR plan in place is crucial.

2. Personal branding for business leaders will remain a PR priority.

Public relations is all about how the people in your audience view your brand. For better or worse, that perception includes their views of the people leading your company. So the way your key employees and company leaders brand themselves plays a big role in the way your audience connects with and trusts your brand. As a result, thought leadership and personal branding have become important functions of modern PR teams.

I mentioned that PR and content marketing are aligning more and more, and this is another specific example of where that overlap is helpful. PR teams need to be ready to work alongside marketing to help key employees create content that builds their thought leadership and connects them to their audiences.

3. Demands for accountability will increase.

Consistent pitching is absolutely part of the PR process. But if all you can deliver at the end of the day are pitch emails to media contacts, then you're going to have a hard time demonstrating your value to clients and staying competitive.

Tangible deliverables are what matters. Your clients are much more interested in receiving a published press mention than they are in hearing that you pitched 200 reporters with no results. PR leaders need to take into account increasing demands for accountability and develop processes that can deliver the actual results clients are after. With digital ROI becoming easier to measure, this need for accountability will only keep growing.

4. PR will have to play a role in content performance, not just publication.

The performance of those deliverables is a growing priority for PR leaders, too. That's because media contacts and editors at online publications are becoming more concerned with content performance. If the media contacts you're reaching out to are being held to certain metrics--like page views, social shares, time on site, etc.--then your best bet for strengthening your relationships would be to look to those metrics, too.

To turn a published press mention into a true win for everyone, start finding ways to help your clients make the most of their deliverables. A content distribution plan and an engaged following, for example, can help that content reach more of the right people--and that's good news for your client, your media contact, and you.

5. Linkless mentions are starting to carry weight.

In the digital world, backlinks are one of the strongest signals of a website's quality and trustworthiness. That meant that for a long time, securing a press mention or write-up that linked to your website was the ultimate goal. Brands and their PR teams would work really hard to squeeze in a link (or two or three) to their website in their pitches to journalists. The problem with that approach was that the link was often the priority, not necessarily the pitch quality or audience value.

Thankfully, linkless mentions are beginning to carry more weight in the world of search. Search engines are getting smarter, and they're better able to understand the context of a mention even without a link to your website. This is a great signal that the industry is moving toward the understanding that true quality and audience value are important, not just getting a link in a mention. PR teams need to be aware of this change.

6. PR technology will improve efficiency and relationships.

Public relations is about relationships. Because your success in PR is so dependent on your ability to meaningfully connect with people, help others, and manage relationships, I've seen some PR folks who are skeptical of bringing technology into the mix. But relationships and technology aren't opposing concepts. Used correctly, technology can make your relationships stronger.

Just as the right customer relationship management system can help a sales team, the right PR tools can help PR professionals. For example, AI and machine learning tools can help teams with tasks as simple as curating media contact lists and automating certain touchpoints to bigger projects, like predicting a potential PR crisis before it's too late. Public relations teams will need to get more comfortable with the idea of integrating tools and tech if they want to stay competitive in 2019.

7. The loss of trust in media will be an ongoing challenge.

Trust is getting harder and harder to earn, and it's never been easier to lose. The "2018 Edelman Trust Barometer" study found that trust is down around the globe--and for the first time, media is the least-trusted institution.

This obviously complicates the job of PR leaders. Thankfully, the same report found that there is a rise in trust in one important area: experts. In fact, trust in technical experts, CEOs, and successful entrepreneurs has risen since 2017. When I read this, it was an immediate reminder of the value of sharing your knowledge and insights with your audience. At a time when trust is so fragile, it's important for everyone in PR and communications to understand what audiences are looking for in the voices they trust.

Like every aspect of communication, public relations is always evolving, and the ways you reach, engage, and build trust with the audiences that matter most to you need to keep up. Thinking through these trends now will help prepare you for success in 2019.