This summer, there have been two instances where I have been in a privileged position that has hammered home how impactful PR can be. I am a judge for the PR Week awards this year and read many entries of our industry’s finest work. And I was also at this year’s PRCA International Summit, moderating a panel and hearing from our peers at a global level.
Something came up in both these situations that was an important reminder for me – strategic thinking combined with a good dose of creativity has tremendous impact!
It’s an easy thing to forget when ploughing through the day-to-day task list, but as communicators, we are in a unique position to have a significant impact on our clients’ reputation.
As communications professionals, we are supporting an organisation’s goals and objectives through our work, and that requires us to be strategic in how we do this. If we don’t create impact, we’re just making noise, and so what’s the point!
We are constantly absorbing the news, tracking trending topics and have a good feel for public appetite for certain stories. Having this contextual awareness enables us to get the timing and positioning of our communication right. We know what the conversations are, when it is right to wade in or when it is right to add a new perspective.
At the same time, we’re creatives. We may not get the same recognition as those working in advertising, but our work requires creativity in a world where so many have something to say.
We know and are regularly reminded that facts are boring, and people seek entertainment. You only have to see how far and wide misinformation goes when it feels scandalous, or extreme, versus how far something goes when it’s sensible and correct. Internet bots fuel misinformation, with generative AI not helping matters, meaning creative cut-through couldn’t be more important these days.
Strategy needs creativity and creativity needs strategy
You can have a very strategic communication campaign and you can also have a very creative campaign, but for true success you need to marry both.
During the PR Week award deliberations, there was much discussion amongst the judges on commending very creative work especially when it felt original and fresh. However, the judges and I would often track back to the organisation’s objectives and whether this very creative and fun campaign actually achieved the desired outcome. If it didn’t, it was hard to justify giving it a higher score than an entry that did hit the objectives.
Likewise, creativity came up in many sessions during the PRCA International Summit. Diversity leads to more creativity, generative AI still needs human creativity, young talent bring huge amounts of creativity and keeps them inspired. Creativity, however, is something that is cultivated and has widespread impact on our work, our people and our industry. But for us to have creativity that inspires, it must tie to a strategy that hits a bigger objective than just ‘standing out’.
Strategic thinking and creative ideas are not mutually exclusive and aren’t we lucky as PR experts to bring both together. It’s a powerful combination.
Every day, I see headlines filled with stories on AI regulation. This fast-paced conversation has left government bodies unsure about the rules they should implement. The UK has proposed decentralised models, while the US has engaged tech leaders in discussions on AI safety and security. Meanwhile, the EU has introduced the AI Act.
The discussion on AI regulation is far from over—it’s just getting started. If you work in tech comms, it’s crucial that you have a voice in this conversation. If you haven’t been involved yet, now is the time to join in.
Innovation speed like no other
The UK Prime Minister opened London Tech Week stating it’s “time to act – and act fast.” This want for speed is with a view to have the UK lead on growth and investment in technology. But for this to happen in a way that’s good for the world, the discussion around the guardrails for AI must be just as fast and just as continual as the development of the technology itself.
Also, at London Tech Week, Microsoft UK’s CEO, Clare Barclay, touched on speed. She took to the stage and opened with ‘by the time I finish with this keynote, much of what I’ve said will be outdated. That’s how fast innovation is in this space’. She pulled up a slide that really hammered home the impact and speed of generative AI disruption, showing adoption of new technology and its speed. It took Spotify 4.5 years to get to 100 million users, it took Instagram 2.5 years to reach the same milestone, and for TikTok it was nine months. Chat GPT? It took only two months to achieve 100 million users. That level of uptake illustrates how prevalent this technology is, and how no industry is untouched.
Clare also referenced Microsoft’s responsible AI principles – fairness, reliability and safety, privacy and security, inclusiveness, transparency, and accountability – making the particularly significant point that these are continually reviewed and updated.
There is a huge ecosystem around generative AI – from the firms developing new applications of AI, to companies providing the tools and the means, as well as the range of organisations deploying generative AI technology. With such huge ramifications on jobs as well as the use of people’s data, every application of generative AI spotlights potential ethical issues, so responsible AI must be discussed openly and through a range of viewpoints. Whether you’re from a large organisation at the forefront of the innovation, or a small firm developing a specific use case for generative AI, all voices must be heard.
The rise of ‘AI washing’
You’ve probably heard of ‘green washing’, well, ‘AI washing’ has the same connotations. Essentially, it’s organisations claiming their offering involves AI technology when the use of AI is minimal. There’s been backlash and fatigue around AI product announcements, and the same will happen on this AI regulation conversation if people wade in with something ‘vanilla’.
My advice is to determine a point of view that highlights your (or your company’s) unique perspective. It can also help to point out elements that have yet to be discussed – maybe small in the grand scheme of things, but important for your industry. Of course, communication professionals love for leaders to have controversial opinions, but in the discussions around regulation that may not be appropriate.
So, whilst AI innovation continues at pace, and regulation struggles to keep up, the need to harness the power of AI responsibly and ethically is a priority for us all. Open discussion, where multiple views are taken into consideration, is how we get there faster.
Quiet thriving (the opposite of quiet quitting) is the newest HR buzzword doing the rounds. Quiet thriving essentially means making small changes, shifting your mental state and helping give you a positive outlook. And we could all do with that positivity right now after the disruption of the great resignation teamed with economic uncertainty.
For those in comms, what does this trend mean? How much positivity is there within your organisation and are you using that to fuel growth?
A company’s reputation is shaped by perceptions of others – that includes your workforce, and their voices can have huge power in enabling success. When employees become advocates, they act as a reliable source of truth. But like everything, if it’s not authentic, you’ll get found out and it will backfire. So, how do you know when the time is right to tap into the advocacy potential of your workforce, particularly if you have had a lot of turmoil following the great resignation?
Step 1: Where do you stand on employee sentiment?
Before creating any kind of communications strategy, you must understand the current sentiment of your workforce. The best way to do this is to carry out an audit and analyse your current company culture. During the great resignation period, many organisations have had their true culture revealed for all to see. For some it’s been great and for others it’s surfaced underlying issues. Regardless of where you are, you must understand what situation you face and how you want to shape your culture here on in.
In particular, evaluate your values. Does your workforce embody the ones you have? Is there a value set not covered that resonates more strongly? Do the values align with behaviour – i.e. more than just words on a page? It’s important to understand these as they become guiding principles to where there needs to be a change and shift in behaviour.
Once confident that your people are on side, are true advocates and believe in the goals of the company, you can work with them to amplify that passion for the good of all.
Step 2: Crafting an employee advocacy programme
All employees will have influence – when it comes to where to place your efforts, it really depends on your communication goal. If a goal is to attract young talent, fresh from universities, then spotlighting your new recruits and using their university networks is the right path. But if your goal is to reach more prospects, then a communication programme which profiles your executives and experts is the best way to go. And there’s no reason for a multi-pronged communication programme if you’re looking for communication to serve several goals – what’s important is to not have a one-size-fits-all approach.
Also, there are often synergies between your communication goals and HR goals. For example, HR may want to showcase a successful LGBTQ+ employee community programme, which could lead to more unusual perspectives and storytelling. For example, a new product may be about to launch, and instead of having the CEO talk to a journalist about it, how about having a member of the team who helped develop the product, and was greatly supported by the company’s LGBTQ+ community? Often, this version of the story is more refreshing!
If you’re looking to scale your employee advocacy programme, start small and build up. In the era of authenticity, the quality of the communication is more important than the quantity.
Step 3: How do you measure up?
Starting small helps you establish meaningful metrics, particularly if this is a new approach for the company. Getting a baseline in place, means you can benchmark yourself from there, then build and pivot as your communication programme grows. Part of measurement must drive back to employee sentiment, because if there’s a shift, it may mean putting the brakes on your employee advocacy programme to fix things internally.
So, as we head into Spring, with sunnier days, are you using your people’s positive sentiment to help shape your organisation’s reputation?
It’s the month of love, so what better time to take a good look at your PR crush and why you admire them so. I’m talking about organisations, not necessarily PR professionals, but actually there’s always an incredible team behind great PR so it’s good to look at the drivers of the comms engine too.
When speaking to organisations, I often ask the question, ‘who do you admire?’, ‘what is it that they do in comms that gets you excited?’. The answer I get most of the time is, ‘good question, I’ll have to think about that one.’ I don’t forget to go back and ask the question again, because there is so much to learn from what a person says in response to that question – and all the more interesting when it’s an organisation outside their industry.
Could admiration be a reputation measure of success?
Measuring PR impact is a topic continually discussed – it takes many forms and can get a little heated with many differing opinions.
But to use a phrase that doesn’t prompt the nicest visual, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. There are many tools and methodologies to help PRs and marketing folk calculate the impact of PR. The starting point is to determine what’s important to the business and work backwards from there.
A very familiar metric is share of voice, which measures a company’s presence in comparison to a set of competitors. Another often used metric is ‘share of conversation’, which measures a company’s presence in conversations around a certain topic. That’s a great way to look outside of your industry and understand broader points of view and how your company fits in.
I’m adding ‘share of admiration’ to the mix, and this would be measured against companies that you do not compete with, at a sales level, but you may at a reputation level. You essentially benchmark yourself against their reputational strength. To make this measurement a fair comparison, you need to look at universal reputation metrics. This can include:
There are numerous ways to measure these elements, and various sources you can pull from – within and outside your organisation. For comprehensive reputational intelligence, we work with our partner, RepTrak, who have a proven model for corporate reputation management, taking multiple data points and applying its algorithm to create actionable insights.
Whichever way you measure, the most important thing is looking at reputation from all angles. Reputation often feels intangible, but it’s simply the sum total of perceptions and actions, good and bad.
Why it’s important to look outside your industry
Looking at competitors is important, of course, as you’ll be competing with them on sales which is a key driver for growth and success. Often competitive insight either shows what they’re doing differently (where you may need to play catch-up) or certain aspects where your company may be ahead. However, it can be limiting. By looking at companies outside of your industry, it can help with creativity or ideas that can differentiate your company further, not on a service/product level, but in the way your organisation behaves and engages with stakeholders. Getting out the industry bubble can bring real freshness to a comms strategy, and possibly something your industry may not have seen before.
So, who do you admire?
The current global economic backdrop is not a pretty sight and many businesses have had to make cuts of various kinds. Whether it’s a restructure, layoffs, or re-evaluating big expenditure like office spaces, the pressure following a drop in consumer demand continues to mount.
There are glimmers of light, though. There was surprise growth in the UK economy in November 2022, and France and Germany are currently set to narrowly avoid recession. Plus, we’ve got to remember that we’ve been through the turmoil of COVID-19 – and we made it to the other side.
So, as leaders in PR and marketing, what did we learn then, that’s relevant now?
Showing deep business understanding: If the board is focused on profitability, show you can do more for less by being resourceful and demonstrating how to be more effective. If the board wants growth, show that you’re focused on lead generation, customer engagement etc. Proving that your marketing focus aligns completely to the priorities of the organisation means you’re less likely to have your resources cut.
Create connections: If you’re not already, get out of the marketing bubble and make stronger connections internally. Is there a way you can get closer to finance? And if not finance, the people that influence finance, for example the senior team in sales or other C-level executives. You want others to support your case to retain your budget – you need to make them realise ‘I cannot be successful without marketing’.
Visibility and promotion: A way to get closer to board members or others in leadership is to build their profile externally, showing the value directly. You’re probably already doing this by positioning experts and leadership as the faces of the company, but also look at your board and ask yourself: who could be more visible? Like the above, you’re creating more allies internally.
Don’t think you can hide: All costs are on the P&L and a discussion about your budget will happen if it hasn’t yet. Be proactive and think of solutions that work for both you and the business. In this current environment, the finance team will currently be focused on cashflow so maybe there are ways to create an impact now and pay later. For example, working with a PR agency, the payment terms can be 30-60 days, meaning results today, payment the following month. Not many organisations have cut their way to survival, rather it’s more about keeping costs down within acceptable limits.
More for less: Ensure you are doing the majority right and fast and don’t let perfection slow you down. Timelines have shrunk meaning the time for change is today, this week –- forget about plans looking eight weeks down the line. And repurpose, repurpose, repurpose. Be as resourceful as you can.
It may feel gloomy right now, but this is the time for marketing, because once we’re on the up, growth will come fast again. Being prepared will mean you can go after every opportunity and look back at this time as just another blip!
As Monday rolls around, another episode of House of the Dragon is ready for me to watch. I hit play. But oh, the c-word is used again by one of the main characters. It’s really becoming annoying.
The c-word has always been very divisive, some people can easily say it, some just can’t. But the overuse of such a strong swear word is beginning to cheapen the script, in my opinion. Whilst dropping it in occasionally may make things a bit spicy, saying it so regularly loses its shock value and begins to grate.
Why am I talking about this? Comms professionals are the masters of words – how, when, where we use them, as well as what we want to hammer home. It’s important to use big powerful words so people sit up and take notice, but it requires careful balance to make an impact.
Getting the messaging on point
It’s important to spend time on messaging because it’ll give you the exact words to sum up what your company does, concisely, as well as create consistency when it comes to the company tone and characteristics. And the smart use of these words is the difference between your audience tuning in, versus switching off, or worse, actively disliking you (nobody wants that!).
For any company, your starting point is analysing your competitors and the words you’re currently using. Ask yourself:
Breaking it down
The messaging I’m talking about here is for communications, not ads. Remember that you’re not creating a strapline, you’re creating clear and concise ways of describing your company. The best way to write this initially is three sentences – what the company does (and for who), why it’s different and what the benefits are to the customer. Those three lines are your messaging anchors so it’s worth spending time on these, very carefully choosing the words and structure of the sentences.
These three anchor sentences are your framework. Once you have these you need to consider your audiences – i.e. how do you tweak these for current customers versus new customers? How about employees and future hires? Again, look at proof points, making sure you have ways of backing everything you say.
And now the balancing act
You’ve now got a framework, you have your proof points, you have the tailored versions, now you’ve got to make sure it’s all being used in a way that makes an impact. The first step is to bring consistency across all your communication channels – digital and physical. The second, is knowing your ‘shock value’ words (and I advise not to use the c-word!) and making sure that’s used at the right moments. Shock value words could be for securing someone’s attention in the first instance, or when you want to highlight a certain point. Just be smarter than the script writers of House of the Dragon when it comes to the reaction from your audience!
Data floods us with an incredible amount of insight on people and our behaviour. Online retailers, for example, can see age, demographic, how long customers spend on each page, where the mouse hovers, what’s in a person’s basket, what’s abandoned… and so on. But what data like this doesn’t tell you is the why. Of course, you can do surveys and find out what your customers are thinking, but be careful. Is that what they’re really thinking or are they saying something that seems like the right, logical answer?
For instance, when you think of glasses, what’s the most important part? The lenses, to be able to see, right? So, with this logic, lenses should be the determining factor when buying glasses, yet the frames are the big sellers. It’s the frames we care about the most when selecting glasses. Why? The frame is the emotional connection to the glasses, which makes you think things like “do I look more intelligent?”, “do these accentuate my facial features?”, and “I hate glasses, so I want the most subtle ones”.
We have to look beyond what people say. I was reminded the other day of the brilliant Henry Ford quote: “If I had asked what people wanted, they would’ve said faster horses”. And of course, we all know that’s not what Henry Ford gave them, instead it was the first mass-produced automobile in the form of the Ford Model T In this scenario this focus on speed was actually about time gained. The Ford Model T allowed the average person to own an automobile and, as a result, spend more time with friends, family, acquaintances, etc. I mean, just look at the many car adverts out there that show good times with family and experiences. The adverts are rarely ever about the features in the car.
Think gain and maintain
Now, we’re not all trained psychologists, but it’s worth spending some time thinking about how you communicate benefits for your organisation. Whether that’s the benefits to employees, or the benefits to the customer. Often, we find ourselves talking a lot about pragmatic benefits, for example, how this solution or product will enable growth or success. And in some cases, it’s not about communicating a ‘gain’ but communicating about what you ‘maintain’. Take a new learning platform as an example – you may get some whizzy new features, but it also offers your employees a way to stay and grow within the company.
It’s worth looking at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – most of us are very familiar with this – but have it in front of you when you’re thinking of communicating benefits. In the B2B space, you’ll often be looking at the ‘Esteem’ category which includes achievement, respect, confidence, status, and recognition. Of course, it’s important to communicate the impact on an organisation, but to tap into the needs of the human buying the solution, you need to think at an emotional level. Why are they really considering this purchase?
There are also psychological beliefs that you may think you know, but you don’t.
The words seamless, frictionless, easy, intuitive are bandied around a lot. But actually, there are moments where frictionless isn’t the best option. Think about relationships, the more time you put in, the more invested you are. That’s not to say make everything difficult, but there are occasions where it’s important to create a relationship over time, particularly when trust is an important factor to make that sale.
As simple as you may think you’ve made something, it’ll still be open to interpretation. Remember the white and gold dress, or was it blue and black? It should’ve been a simple thing, but our differences in colour perception created huge disagreement. Your brain makes quick decisions, quick judgement calls, and that can often lead to misinterpretation.
When we sell, we think we should just communicate the positive. But that’s not always the right approach. Like a story, something bad may happen before the good, that’s what creates the arc and the intrigue. It’s worth communicating the negatives, along with how you’ve removed these as a brand. The brain is wired to assess for risk, so it’s best to be authentic and transparent. That also creates an honest dialogue, and we all appreciate honesty.
We all have split personalities. We’re ourselves, our avoided self (who we don’t want to be, the days we see all our flaws) and our ideal self. So, you may carefully analyse the personality types you’re communicating to, but bad news, these are personalities that are in constant flux. It means careful positioning, framing and use of language, knowing that it may not hit the spot on the wrong day at the wrong time.
Hopefully this has got you thinking in terms of how you communicate the benefits of your products, services and/or company. Now, although this is psychology at a really basic level, there are organisations out there that can dig a lot deeper and help develop psychological insight. This piece was inspired by a webinar run by InnovationBubble, who are a whole team of psychologists specialising in different areas.
We’ve all been through quite a year with a lot of change. So, ask yourself, how are you relevant now? And are you communicating that in the right way?
Summer is around the corner, and much of the goings-on in the tech space gives us that warm and comforting feeling. There’s innovation, there’s growth, there are moves in the right direction which are responding to societal needs. It’s very exciting! Here’s the roundup of the main stories.
The UK tech industry has grown tenfold in the past decade. In fact, London leads in Europe and is picking up the pace on Silicon Valley. British unicorns grew from eight in 2010 to 81 in 2020 – incredible! CityAM has all the stats from the government’s Digital Economy Council and Dealroom on the strength of the British tech industry.
Meanwhile, Google and Instagram have been making moves to improve diversity. Google added a feature to its Google Docs which suggests alternatives to gendered words in a move to help improve inclusivity. The idea is to use non-gendered language to not inadvertently offend colleagues or friends. The Daily Telegraph covers the news. Instagram’s move is slightly different, not removing gender from words, but adding the right gender terminology to profiles. The social network plans to offer users an easier way to specify their gender identity. The pre-approve list of common pronouns includes she, he, they, ze and others. This Guardian article has the details.
In the other corner of social media land you have Twitter, which launched a paid subscription service with some interesting new features. Twitter Blue – the name of the new service – will allow users to undo tweets and better curate tweets through a feature called ‘Collections’. The Independent reports that this service will cost $2.99 per month. Any takers?
Now, this next innovation I am definitely a taker. US researchers have found a way to turn thoughts into text. Just think, you’re on a refreshing lunchtime walk and you have a great idea, you just have to write it out in your head and a ‘brain-computer’ captures the mental handwriting. It involves having a brain implant, the size of an aspirin pill, according to the Daily Mail.
And finally, global vaccinations are going well but there is more to be done, especially to fight misinformation. YouTube, in collaboration with the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, has launched a vaccination ad campaign, primarily targeted at younger people. The campaign is paid for by YouTube and comes after it was criticised for being slow at halting untrue content about Covid-19. BBC News has the full story.
All this positivity really gives us a real spring in our step ahead of summer. This May rain won’t dampen our spirit!
The pandemic hit some organisations harder than others, and for companies like Airbnb in the hospitality industry, it was a big blow. So, it wasn’t a surprise that Airbnb made the decision to pause all its performance marketing, but what may be a surprise is that the cut is going to be permanent.
Airbnb’s founder, Brian Chesky, explained that despite taking performance marketing down to zero, the company still had 95% of the same traffic from the year before. This lesson has prompted a complete rethink of marketing spend at Airbnb.
Airbnb plan to move spend away from performance marketing and into brand marketing, with a focus on media relations. During the company’s earnings call, Brian Chesky said that this new ‘full funnel’ marketing strategy is “very important to the corporate story”.
Looking at the numbers, it’s not a decision that has been made lightly either – and I should say that they haven’t cut performance marketing altogether, but reduced it significantly.
Now, you may be thinking that it’s alright for them to make such a bold move, they’re already so well known. And you’re right. The Airbnb brand is strong so getting people to the site is not an issue.
The focus now for Airbnb is different – their communications objectives are now centred around broader reputation and helping people to understand the brand better. The company wants potential hosts and guests to understand the benefits and what makes the experience distinctly Airbnb.
This isn’t just a strategy for brands with big reputations, it’s about applying the right marketing mix to support your objectives. What PR allows is more than just eyeballs on your website, it’s a vehicle to educate, inform and shape your company’s reputation. Those who get it really right create more than just a commercial connection, but an emotional connection to the brand too.
Airbnb really get this.
Now is the time to reassess your marketing spend. The pandemic has changed everyone’s behaviours, so consider this: Do you have a clear understanding of what these behaviours and beliefs are? How do you adapt your comms with that understanding? The European Journal of Social Psychology states that it can take between 18 and 254 days to form a new habit, and an average of 66 days for that habit to become an automatic behaviour. We can safely say that we have had very long stints with significant government restrictions, meaning our routines have changed. How we all live and work will never go back to the way things were, so your marketing strategy mustn’t either.
And it’s not just about gaining a better understanding of your audiences – it’s about realigning your communications to this ‘next normal’.
But remember that there are always changes around the corner. The beauty of Airbnb’s move is that they’ve allowed for flexibility in their marketing strategy, and have kept a mix of tactics, which can be dialled up and dialled down.
We’re on the path out of the pandemic – be bold and #reset!
Oh, February – the month of love letters and pancakes. It’s also been the month of smartwatches checking our heartbeats and companies flipping out about acquisitions. See what I did there?
Here’s a round-up of the tech stories that are hotting up right now and worth keeping an eye on.
Hands up if you’ve started a new form of exercise this past year? Maybe you are new to running or maybe you’re taking it to the next level? You’re not alone and the tech companies know it. Garmin has just launched a smartwatch, specifically for trail and ultra-marathon runners. Apparently, our trail running activities are up 70% during the pandemic! Meanwhile, Facebook is rumoured to be creating its own smartwatch for 2022. According to the Independent, Facebook will be integrating with apps from health and fitness companies including Peloton.
Facebook was also making the headlines earlier in February for the ongoing fight against problematic social media content. Facebook decided to reveal the full scale of its problematic content – with a view on being more transparent about how this is all tackled. The company also announced that it would scale back political content in its News Feed for the next few months, whilst Instagram will ban accounts which send racist abuse to others via direct messages. Sadly, this abuse is rife – with many footballers speaking out. More on this via The Metro.
Whilst there’s a fight on bad content, many tech firms are fighting each other. Google and Microsoft have voiced their objection of Nvidia’s takeover of British chipmaker, Arm. The deal currently faces an in-depth investigation from the US watchdog – read the full story in CityAM. The European competition watchdog is being roped in over Epic Games’ dispute with Apple. The maker of Fortnite claims that Apple is abusing its monopoly in the market. Lastly, the UK competition watchdog has raised concerns over Adevinta’s acquisition of Gumtree, warning that consumers will face higher prices and less choice.
As some tech firms fight, others collaborate. Apple is reported to have approached Nissan to work on an autonomous car project. Meanwhile, Volkswagen CEO has been covered by Reuters saying that he’s not concerned with Apple’s electric car plans, “The car industry is not a typical tech-sector that you could take over at a single stroke.”
But accelerating too fast on electric cars could come with problems. The Daily Telegraph reports that UK public charging points aren’t growing quickly enough to meet demand, putting pressure on the Government.
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