It appeared to change all the rules defining how businesses should speak and act. But did last year expose simple truths?
FOLLOWING the festive TV scheduling you’ll be pleased to hear this isn’t a 2020 recap.
For many of us it was an annus horribilis – a year that we’d rather forget entirely. Yet as PR professionals we must acknowledge seismic changes, through accelerations towards tech and trends that are here to stay and change the way we communicate, from here on out.
So we thought we’d apply what we have observed directly and indirectly – to outline the lessons learned and the advice for this entirely new year:
- PR can be a function of HR
It would be remiss not to start on this point. Despite all of our best interests and a vaccine on the horizon, huge case numbers and tight restrictions will make for a dejected workforce on the whole.
Savvy HR teams have never been more prized and valued and are getting the recognition and kudos they deserve for keeping staff motivated and productive – but most importantly of all – healthy.
The last year saw employee-focused campaigns and movements thrive, with the clap for carers arguably the highest profile, itself spinning out countless other similar well-wishing initiatives.
Even corporate brands turned attention to the heroic individuals within their ranks – adverts from banks shunned the big budgets and celebrity backers in favour of messages from its teams at home.
We welcomed this trend ourselves – some of the best performing content on Mackie’s buzzing social media channels were the glimpses behind the scenes of its Aberdeenshire farm factory – and its dedicated key workers keeping aisles and shelves full of brilliant produce.
It is clear, people want to see the faces behind their favourite brands – and in turn that recognition can go a long way towards boosting morale. Who doesn’t need that right now?
- ESG is a big deal
Going into the pandemic ESG (Environmental Social Governance) and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) were clunky terms the preserve of the boardroom.
But while that still may (just) be the case, all the indications and research show a public that is increasingly aware of the responsibility of businesses towards society. People won’t work for firms that don’t match their ethics – and they won’t buy from them either.
This focus sharpened even more so during the pandemic. The collective responsibility we all faced meant that consumer sensitivities were heightened to any perceived failings.
One of the first memorable #fails came with Sports Direct’s initial refusal to shut, claiming it was an “essential service”, resulting in a barrage of criticism for failing its social duty and needlessly exposing its beleaguered workforce.
Likewise as most of us sought a return to simpler times, Pretty Little Thing’s 99% off sale backfired. While it achieved a huge reach and engagement, sentiment was negative, with accusations of fuelling unsustainable fast-fashion and slave-like working conditions.
Things weren’t much better for rival brand BooHoo, whose alleged working conditions in Leicester clothes factories were blamed as a key driver for a spike in local Covid cases.
At the other end of the spectrum, while not entirely altruistic, who doesn’t feel that bit warmer towards AstraZeneca and Pfizer and their heroic scientists?
CSR and ESG should never be driven by PR, but good communications is absolutely essential for firms to highlight the net benefit they bring to society.
- Content over gloss
One of the biggest trends in 2020 that should be wholeheartedly embraced in 2021 is a move away from glossiness and high production value (in certain occasions) and towards good honest, often homemade, content.
Driven in large parts by TikTok, as well as other social channels embracing video content even more so than in previous years, our constantly improving smartphone photo and video functions enabled us all to become content creators.
In addition to the surge in wholesome content, brands should be generous – be willing to “give something away”. While your business may not be in the position Greggs was to share its steak bake recipe – or like Joe Wicks and deliver PE lessons for a nation, you’ll almost certainly have intellectual capital that you can give back free of charge.
This establishes thought leadership as well as loyalty from your audience. This blog post is an example of exactly this.
- Crisis communications is back at the top table
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we’ve witnessed ourselves, over the last year, a growing awareness of the importance of a clear crisis communications strategy.
When faced with so much trauma, chaos and uncertainty, all while under far greater levels of scrutiny, how businesses prepare for and respond to a crisis is back where it should be – at the board level.
Countless episodes in history show how vital the response to an issue is, from shutting it down to turning it into a positive, crisis communications needs the buy in from the top. Let’s not lose this momentum in 2021 – how and when a business reacts is (in most cases) more important than the actual crisis it is reacting to – with the potential to be far more damaging. Just ask Dom Cummings.
So has anything fundamental actually changed?
If truth be told, as communicators we didn’t learn a whole lot “new” from the last year. However, in the face of a health emergency not seen since World War Two, it has been reassuring to see good PR take centre stage. On the flip side, poor PR (mostly emanating from politicians) has come under huge attack.
The old adage of “people buy people” has been around for decades, however it certainly came to the fore in the last year and should be central to your PR strategy in 2021.
Businesses that can show their human side, share their stories effectively and regularly, be calm and sincere in the face of a crisis – and embrace PR as part of the overall business strategy – will see their reputations flourish in the coming years.
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