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Advice on Staying Ahead of the Trends

Live in the now is advice oft given to many an overstimulated, overwrought denizen of the 21st century. Don't tell that to public relations pro Richard...

Live in the now is advice oft given to many an overstimulated, overwrought denizen of the 21st century. Don’t tell that to public relations pro Richard Laermer, though.

He’ll probably start making the case for why it’s essential to look ahead, in order to avoid being swamped by new trends, as there are more things cropping up (or being reintroduced with a twist) faster than most can stay on top of.

Laermer, author of more than a dozen books, gives some tips for spotting trends with staying power in his 13th title, “2011: Trendspotting for the Next Decade” (McGraw Hill, $25.95), slated to be published in April. The guidebook-style book seeks to prepare marketing and media types, among others, for a near future the writer marks as beginning on Jan. 10, 2011, a date he selected as it’s 10 years after former president Bill Clinton left office.

“Everybody I speak to, even kids, says, ‘I can’t wait until so-and-so,’ instead of ‘I’m excited about now,'” related the 46-year-old chief executive of RLM Public Relations Inc. “This is a mediocre time; a time to take a deep breath, look ahead and have some fun [doing so].”

In fact, the writer, whose voice generally runs from colorfully anecdotal to good-natured gotcha, needles fellow futurist and competitor Faith Popcorn, whom he recalls in his book as having left him with “the impression she wasn’t that into her work. A little bored….Besides, she runs a ‘strategic trend-based marketing consultancy.’ My personal goal is to rid the world of that kinda jargon,” he claims, even though his new book is subtitled “Trendspotting for the Next Decade.” (There’s only so much one can take too seriously, seems to be the subtext.)

Informed of this take, Popcorn protests serenely, “I adore my work. I’m certainly not bored. When I leave my plane seat, it looks like a billy goat ravaged it,” she added, referring to the considerable pile of information she typically ingests in flight.

Among the notions — and wishes — the author of “2011” has chewed on and projected himself are that people will start slowing down in their daily lives (“Why rush?”); customer service will finally become a “law” of sorts (“That’s enough of being put on hold.”), and the movement to stay at home will gather momentum.

One reason we ought to care about such things is because it’s becoming “a little scary” for people who “don’t know at least a little about what’s going on,” Laermer said — and all the more so as commerce increasingly overwhelms culture. Notwithstanding his public relations firm’s role in greasing the wheels of commerce, the author said one result of commercialism’s onslaught is a growing cadre who are feeling like “staying in bed and pulling the covers over their head.”

In one of the book’s many how-to moments, Laermer devotes some of his “Dive Into Trends…” chapter to a list of “What you can do starting today.” His advice encompasses several basics, which could fall by the wayside in harried times, such as:

– Get on mailing lists about things that interest you.

– Talk to experts — arrange to meet.

– Don’t ignore indicators. In 1929, the only ones who made it through the Crash were those who read newspapers.

– Just do it. (Fine, Nike had a point.)

Among the brands doing a good job connecting with the contemporary consumers Laermer considers “hyper-aware kings” are Apple and Verizon, while Starbucks and Victoria’s Secret are failing to make the grade. Apple gets his thumbs-up for its quick offer of a lower-priced iPhone when the first model sold at a less-than-brisk clip and its remake of Apple TV this year, enabling downloads of movies and music directly from iTunes for viewing on enhanced digital and high-definition TVs. “Would IBM have done that?” he asked rhetorically of the redesigns.

Verizon wins “starting to come around” kudos for its 30-day, opt-out policy. Victoria’s Secret is chided for product quality that doesn’t equal the brand’s hype, a problem acknowledged this month by the chain’s ceo, Sharen Jester Turney. And Starbucks is a brand Laermer loves to hate, most recently for its hype of employee training and most broadly because at the shops he finds there is “no local element.”

Laermer ties up these threads with a trend, as well: “Since we are the most networked people in history, you can’t get away with stating anything sloppily anymore,” he writes. “When you communicate with your customer, be careful.”