One of the tech stories that really caught my eye this month is Facebook’s focus on developing the metaverse. Recently, the company announced that it plans to hire 10,000 employees in the EU to work on this so-called metaverse, and it got me thinking – will the metaverse force us into changing the way we communicate, or will it just be another tech plaything that doesn’t really go anywhere? 

When I think of the metaverse, I immediately imagine the OASIS from Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, one of my favourite sci-fi novels. In the book, the OASIS is described as “a massively multiplayer online game that had gradually evolved into the globally network virtual reality most of humanity now use on a daily basis,. The Steven Spielberg film adaptation of the book gives us a more fanciful description of the OASIS as, “a place where the limits of reality are your own imagination… except for eating, sleeping and bathroom breaks, whatever people want to do, they do it in the OASIS. And since everyone is here, this is where we meet each other. This is where we make friends.”  

Could this be the Facebook vision? Could Mark Zuckerberg be the new James Halliday, the creator of the OASIS in the novel?  

Maybe not exactly (and considering how the plot develops in the book, you kind of hope not either!) In fact, no one quite really knows yet what the real-life metaverse could look like, probably not even Zuckerberg himself. What we do know, in a broader sense, is that it’s going to be some kind of future iteration of the internet, made up of “virtual spaces” linked to a perceived virtual universe – that’s according to the Wikipedia’s description anyway.  

This kind of concept is already beginning to enter our world – remember those Travis Scott and Ariana Grande’s concerts in Fortnite last year? Fortnite enthusiasts were thrusted into an immersive concert experience during gameplay, with each individual player able to freely roam around, “watching” the concert in whatever way they wanted. It was an immersive experience and a huge hit for Fortnite, to say the least, and we can expect the metaverse to be the next step up from this.   

Levelling up immersive technology 

Facebook doesn’t expect the true metaverse to be up and running until at least ten years from now, mainly because the immersive technology is not quite up to scratch yet, and, let’s face it, with Facebook’s history, no doubt they’ll be a few regulatory challenges along with way. That said, VR and AR have already come a long way since inception, with VR gaming particularly taking off in the last decade, and AR making waves in marketing campaigns and other commercial industries. But it’s still not something the average person comes across in their daily routine – this is the metaverse’s challenge at the moment. It’s a huge risk to spend time and money creating a whole new virtual world that’s only accessible via VR headsets or other equipment, only to find out that a limited number of people can access it because of the high price of the equipment and the computing power that is often needed to provide a well-executed VR experience.   

It certainly will be a challenge to get the metaverse fully up and running, whether Facebook make the breakthrough or not, but investors are seeing the potential of it too – especially with COVID-19 separating friends and families, and people longing for a connection that isn’t just on a screen, you can totally see it becoming a way to better connect people.  

What it means to communicate in the metaverse 

Infrastructure and tech aside, though, if we really are seeing the metaverse in the next ten years, a real-life OASIS that could end up being our new normal, what will the affect be on the way we communicate? 

For a start, in the corporate world, those long work Zoom calls could become a little more interesting in the metaverse. Imagine being able to see more than just a talking head on a screen and being able to walk around a virtual meeting room, or even a virtual office? Virtual meetings may become more inclusive, and a near-real life atmosphere of in-person meetings. There’s potential for meetings to become more creative if the metaverse allows for employees to create their own avatars or characters in the metaverse, which could completely change the perception and culture of your company, and how you communicate with your stakeholders. You could even have a metaverse CEO or leadership team and mould them into whoever you want them to be, regardless of who they really are on the outside. Quite a scary thought! 

From a consumer-perspective, the metaverse could allow for an even better and personalised customer experience. Retailers could offer more immersive “try before you buy” services, like getting your metaverse person to try on the clothes you want in real-life. The ability of the metaverse to create pretty much any virtual environment also further feeds our curiosity about the world – Wikipedia pages in the metaverse could get a lot more chilling, if they’re able to transform them into an immersive experience, that’s for sure! But it could also help put more emphasis and action on certain topics too – like, if we’re able to immerse ourselves into the true effects of climate change in 50 or 100 years’ time in the metaverse, people, companies and governments may be more inclined to drive further action in the real world because they would be able to see and feel the affect it actually has – something which is difficult to communicate currently.  

It goes without saying, though, that any new form of connectivity and experience in the virtual world doesn’t come without its issues when it comes to communication – the spread misinformation, cyberbullying and self-image issues are just some of the issues that have been born out of the social media era, and who’s to say that they could also be transcended in the metaverse too? If the metaverse aims to be like the OASIS, where anyone can be who they want to be, it could raise concerns of deceit between individuals if they aren’t who they say they are, scuppering relationships when they find out who they’re actually communicating with in real life. There also remains the ethics behind isolated worlds being owned by different companies and collecting our data, and monetising on every move we do in the metaverse. Beside what’s happening in the metaverse, there are also the concerns of what it could be doing to us as individuals on the outside and our real life communications – having even less distance from reality could spur on a mental health crisis, and while we might interact with more humans in the metaverse, the real human connection will still be lacking. To quote Ready Player One: “I never felt at home in the real world. I didn’t know how to connect with the people there. I was afraid, for all of my life, right up until I knew it was ending. That was when I realised, as terrifying and painful as reality can be, it’s also the only place where you can find true happiness. Because reality is real.” 

Whatever the metaverse might become in the future, whether it be a place we use in our daily lives, in our working lives, or simply as leisure, it will provoke huge shift in the way that we communicate and interact with each other. From even bigger, better and more personalised immersive storytelling to the rise and creation of fictitious influencers that only appear and take part in the metaverse. And as comms professionals, it could really be a gamechanger, whether we like it or not. We must be ready to take into account the opportunities in the metaverse, as well as the real impacts that the metaverse could have on an individual in the outside world.  

The metaverse might not be arriving for a few years, but when it does, we must be ready for it.  

The 24/7 news cycle lets us see and listen to what’s happening all over the world as soon as it happens and thanks to the social media machine, we’re able to instantly react to these stories and trends. Whether it’s simply acknowledging it through a like on Facebook or Twitter or getting involved in the conversation with others, the free speech nature of social media has given us the power to immerse ourselves in the news. And that includes brands too. In fact, we’re increasingly seeing brands take a stance on polarising topics to show their audience that they too are entitled to an opinion and are ‘in the know’ of what’s going on. But sometimes companies and brands can be too quick to comment on what’s going on or not think it through properly, being too invested and focused on getting in on the conversation before it dies down. And it can have repercussions on their reputation.

We all remember the controversial Kendall Jenner Pepsi advert which caused outrage on social media for trivialising the Black Lives Matter movement, and most recently BrewDog got caught out for its ‘solid gold’ beer campaign that misled winners to believe the can was worth £15,000, when actually it was made out of brass. Elsewhere, did anyone in the UK really notice that Richard Branson went into space on the day of the Euro 2020 final? It was certainly a big moment for Virgin and Richard Branson, but when you’re competing with the final of a football game that a country hasn’t seen in 55 years, you probably won’t get much cut through in the media. It was only really after the weekend that people had noticed Branson had gone into space, but the moment had already really passed.

Not every campaign is going to reap amazing results or cut through the audience every time. Hey, if we could predict the news agenda a week in advance, us PRs would be laughing! But what we can do is be strategic with our campaigns and put steps in place to ensure our tactics aren’t missing the mark completely. Follow this checklist next time you’re putting together a reactive comms strategy:

Careful what you hook onto. Focusing comms around the news agenda can be a minefield and hooking onto sensitive issues can end up biting you in the back. Last year we saw lots of brands react to the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matters protests, pushing out comms to stand in solidarity with the issues. However, for some brands, this only opened a can of worms when employees and some customers surfaced stories of how the brand had actually been discriminating against minority groups. If you choose to hook onto sensitive issues, make sure to think about what else you can contribute other than just words. People will see through your tactics and realise you’re trying to boost awareness or sales at your company if you’re just trying to jump on the bandwagon.

Take your time to catch all the details. In today’s fast-moving digital world, brands and companies want to do news hijacking and stunts as quickly as possible to ensure they’re getting into the conversation while the topic is hot. But when we’re working quickly, sometimes we can lose attention and forget the smaller details as a result. Make sure you’re proofing and proofing again to catch those pesky spelling errors or little details that we might miss. Don’t forget that punctuation also matters.

Many hands make light (and better) work. When we put together a big PR idea or campaign, it’s a good idea to crowdsource opinions from a wide group of people because we are often so immersed  in the idea that sometimes we don’t see the potential consequences. Whether it’s internal or external, make sure to gather opinions and feedback from a variety of ethnicities, genders and nationalities. This can also be a good exercise to spot errors and suggest what could go wrong so that you can plan better and ensure your idea will stay on the mark.

Tailor your campaign to each country. If it’s an international campaign you’re working on, be aware that you can’t just take a blanket approach. Different countries have different senses of humour, different cultures, and just generally different ways of communicating with one another. What’s harmlessly neutral in one country or region might be offensive in another. So, keep your ear to the ground and use your local employees or PR agencies to help you define what works.

Do a quick sanity check on the news. 2020 completely threw out all our marketing and comms plans, thanks to coronavirus, and since then marketers have become more wary of how quickly plans can change. You never know what might be around the corner, so it’s a good idea to do a quick check on the news channels to see if any breaking news might impact your campaign and make your brand or company look insensitive. And if you’re banking on a certain result to come out, e.g. from a football game, make sure you have a plan B or even prep two campaigns so you’re prepared for either outcome. Footballer Joe Hart learnt this the hard way when posting “job done” on social media after his team lost in the Europa League. Oops!

Have a plan for the worst-case scenario. Even after you’ve followed the steps above, you can’t accurately predict how your campaign will go down with the audience so it’s important to be prepared for the worst-case scenario and have plans in place to react to backlash or negativity quickly, if necessary. Take a look at our CEO’s piece for some great crisis comms tips to help.

However big or small your campaign or PR idea, we can’t always get it right or please everyone every single time, but it helps to be cautious and check and double check that that’s what you really want to say to your audience. With so many eyes on the internet and social media, mistakes will almost certainly get picked up, however small they are, and how you react matters.

Well, well, well, we’re officially at the halfway point of 2021 (no, we can’t believe it either!). This year has certainly flown by and who would have thought a year ago that we would have almost the whole of the UK population vaccinated against coronavirus? An amazing achievement for the healthcare sector and everyone involved.

As always, it’s been a busy month in tech and as lockdown restrictions are continuing to ease, we’re also beginning to see a real picture of how the tech sector is planning to return to the office, if they are even returning at all! Here are the stories that we’ve been digesting this month.

There’s been a lot of hype about the electric scooter trial launch in London, which kicked off this month. Admittedly, I’ve given them a go already and can confirm they are pretty convenient for those quick trips to the shop to grab snacks. Probably not so great for shifting the lockdown pounds but it’s a super fun way to get around to say the least! There is concern that these e-scooters need tighter regulation, however, after research in Berlin found that injuries are most likely to occur at the weekend, when riders have been drinking – oops!

The return to the office (for real, this time) has been a hot topic this month, with research saying that the majority of London office workers are not planning to return to the office full-time and 86% of tech professionals want to work from home. The big tech companies are also announcing their plans for the return to the office (or not) with the likes of Facebook extending remote working to all staff, while Apple employees are pushing back on the company’s plans to return to the office after its CEO, Tim Cook, said all staff must return for three days a week from September. Whether a full return to the office is on the cards or not for companies, we’ve not seen the end of this debate quite yet.

More insight on the accelerated growth of the UK tech ecosystem now and it’s been revealed that our tech sector now has 100 companies valued at $1bn, which is more than the rest of Europe combined. It seems we’re quite the Unicorn hangout, and this also bodes well for the two-thirds of UK companies that plan to increase investments in tech and IT over the next year.

Onto AI now, and one of the most interesting pieces in the media around this huge topic from this month was Rory Cellan-Jones’ piece in BBC News. The tech journalist was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2019 and has been trying out different pieces of technology that can help with the disease. It is a fascinating read and really shows how far the parameters of tech can go.

That’s all for now! Want to receive a daily news roundup of the biggest tech stories? Sign up to our Firewire here

What’s trending this Spring?

Almost three months into 2021 and despite lockdown still looming over us here in the UK, there finally seems to be a real end in sight this time following the government’s welcoming roadmap out of lockdown (Beer gardens to open in April? Yes please!).

Before we dive into the main tech headlines for March, it wouldn’t be right to talk about the UK news agenda without acknowledging the recent and tragic death of Sarah Everard in London and how it has highlighted issues of women’s safety in society. Many women, including myself, have reflected on experiences where we’ve felt unsafe or harassed while doing mundane, everyday activities and how these issues are often brushed under the carpet. This isn’t the first time violence against women and women’s safety has been highlighted in the media and online and it certainly won’t be the last either but it’s clear that change needs to happen – the government recently reopened its call for evidence to further develop its Violence Against Women and Girls strategy and the activist group, Reclaim These Streets, has already done a tremendous job of raising money for women’s charities, so there is plenty of movement on the topic, but we have a long way to go yet.

Back to the world of tech now, and both Facebook and Google have found themselves in hot water once again, this time with Australia and the news ban saga. In short, Australia passed a new, world-first law which would make Facebook and Google pay for news content on their platforms. The big tech platforms bit back with threats to block all news content to Australians before eventually agreeing deals with the like of News Corp to pay for content. It’s been an interesting story to follow from a comms perspective because while journalism remains a core communication pillar for people to gain knowledge and news from across the world, with Google and Facebook being the main drivers of this communication in some instances, it’s important for news publications to be protected but also have fair opportunity to thrive in the digital world.

Elsewhere, Bitcoin has made its way back onto our newsfeeds again following yet another surge in market cap, which saw it reach above $1 trillion in mid-March. The rise has seen calls for further regulation from the financial industry as it continues to break records, most notably from deVere CEO, Nigel Green, who said a regulatory framework for Bitcoin is needed for investor protection. Regulation or not, Bitcoin doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon!

Onto the automotive industry and some major green pushes from Volvo and Volkswagen, which both announced plans to sell more electric cars. Volvo announced plans to sell only electric cars by 2030, while Volkswagen says it will sell 1m electric or hybrid cars this year, a huge target that further shows the acceleration of sustainability initiatives among brands. No doubt once we’ve weathered the pandemic, sustainability and climate change will (and should) be our next global challenge to overcome and further develop. We’ve already seen a huge number of brands focus comms campaigns on sustainability as it becomes a key pillar in reputation building and shaping, and it’ll be interesting to see what other tech brands have in store this year to tackle the climate crisis.

Finally, Amazon opened its first checkout-free supermarket in the UK this month in West London, paving the way for a new kind of retail experience. Thanks camera and sensors, or as its aptly named, “Just Walk Out” technology, shoppers are able to simply pick up the items they want and walk out without the need to pay at a check out. Already launched in the US, the Amazon Go stores sure have that novelty factor that will no doubt entice customers to try it out but with the state of high streets in the UK at the moment and shopping habits shifting, it’ll be interesting to see how this technology plays out and whether it will help or hinder brick and mortar retail.

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I don’t think I’m wrong in thinking that many of us are very much looking forward to saying farewell, au revoir and auf wiedersehen to 2020. It has been quite the turbulent year, to say the least, and I’m sure almost people are exhausted and ready for the Christmas break. With vaccines preparing to be rolled out, 2021 is already starting to look more hopeful and ‘normality’ may actually start to return.

Whilst we’ll be quite glad to see the back of this year, we shouldn’t totally forget it. We’ve seen a lot of great things come out of 2020 that had a real impact on lives and society – from the generosity of people and companies offering their money and support to those in need, to finding a better work life balance through remote working –, so it’s not all been doom and gloom.

Here at Firefly, we have had many moments of inspiration throughout the year. If anything, the whirlwind of 2020 got us talking, debating and sharing so much more, with lots of great new ideas and reflections in the comms space. Launching Reputation Shapers was most definitely a highlight for us – more on that below! With every crisis comes creativity, new thinking and differing outlooks on life, and so I wanted to share some of our best pieces of content.

  1. Unrestricted creative thinking in an ever more restricted world. Back in March, when we were all feeling a little uncertain and unmotivated, Charlotte wrote this piece which includes some handy tools to help boost creativity and morale – something we’ll definitely be needing again in January when we come back refreshed from the Christmas holidays!
  2. Communicating in a global crisis. Effectively communicating in a crisis is tough, as some companies have learnt this year (some better than others). Angel’s piece from April discussed this conundrum and how we can navigate a meaningful message in a troubling time.
  3. Europe: How to get multi-country comms right. Did you catch our webinar ran by our European PR experts? Here’s a taster of what they discussed.
  4. It’s time for comms to get serious about ‘cancel culture’. Whilst the pandemic distracted us from many things, it failed to distract us from cancel culture. In fact, the movement seemed even more prevalent this year. Tim delves into more detail in this piece and why it’s important for us comms folk to get our heads around.
  5. The Covid marketing brain: How marketers are thinking and acting in new ways. Marketers have had to shut down some plans, rethink others and completely move away from their usual timeline. The team and I decided to illustrate what the marketers brain might look like in this piece for Just Marketing back in May – this will likely continue to evolve in 2021!
  6. Comic relief: An ode to humour. In darkness, you always try and find the light and in this piece, I shed some light on all things comedy and how it can be used as an effective communicative tool.
  7. Do company values add value? Company values have been particularly tested this year. In this piece from Christian, he explored what they really add to a company and whether they’re worth it or not.
  8. Employee communications after sudden transformation. In this playbook, Charlotte explores the challenges that leadership have faced throughout COVID-19 when it comes to communicating to employees and what organisations can do to unify the workforce following a period of sudden change.A must-read for any internal comms departments!
  9. The COVID-19 casebook. Many companies went to superhuman lengths this year, going above and beyond to help those in need this year. In this casebook, Christian highlights some of the unsung heroes in the B2B world.
  10. The Firefly guide to shaping your reputation. After some serious hard work and brain power, we launched Firefly: The Reputation Shapers, our brand-new proposition. As part of the launch, we put together our guide to reputation management which reflects our proud history and abilities as an agency.  

We look forward to writing more inspiring and thought-provoking content in 2021 and continuing to shape the reputation of tech-driven companies. Bring it on!

Autumn is well and truly upon us now that we’ve switched back the clocks, and with fresh coronavirus restrictions enforced across the UK and, dare I say, the festive season right around the corner, it’s been a busy month on the tech news front. Here’s our roundup of what you might have missed in the tech world.

The UK finally launched its COVID-19 track and trace app and, of course, it wouldn’t be an app launch without a few hiccups. After receiving more than 10 million downloads, users were reporting “possible COVID-19 exposure” notifications which would disappear once tapped on, looking quite concerning and confusing. After the app’s Twitter account confirmed the specific notification needed to self-isolate, the app was eventually updated and the glitch finally fixed. Phew!  

Misinformation seemed to once again be a big topic in the media this month with Bill Gates speaking out, and many content-sharing platforms announcing more measures to curb misleading information. YouTube announced that videos promoting misinformation around Covid vaccines would be banned and removed tens of thousands of videos relating to the QAnon conspiracy theory group. Facebook also took action against QAnon by announcing that will be removing all QAnon pages from its platform ahead of the US election. And speaking of the US election, guess which candidate had his tweet removed for violating misinformation rules?

Meanwhile, Apple’s latest iPhone was unveiled in a virtual event this month. Launching in range of sizes and specs, the iPhone 12 will be the first iPhone to support 5G and will cost upwards of £699 and as much as £949 depending on which model and the amount of storage it comes with. The company also announced a new, smaller HomePod smart speaker to compete with Google and Amazon.

Elsewhere, EU regulators are preparing to draw up a “hit list” of up to 20 large internet companies that will face tougher rules around transparency and data sharing in a bid to curb their market power. It’s not yet known which companies will be on the list, but Facebook and Apple are the likely contenders along with other Silicon Valley giants. 

And finally, after 11 years, Facebook has pulled the plug on one of its once most popular games, FarmVille. The game, which had more than 80 million players at its peak, required players to tend to crops and raise animals with the help of their Facebook friends but unfortunately, from December, Facebook will no longer support Flash-based games making FarmVille unplayable.

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I’ve always been a fan of Greg James and his light-hearted morning show on Radio 1 and since lockdown began, I’ve found the radio show even more comforting, especially now that the comedy and silliness has ramped up. Just the other day, Greg was talking about a quote he gave for a press release about Radio 1’s Big Weekend – he said when he gets asked for a quote, he’ll always try and add something funny, knowing it would likely be deleted but with the intention of making the recipient laugh. This time round, his quote was left in, it read, “And if it all goes wrong, we can just blame the pandemic and say that at least we tried.” It certainly tickled me, and to hear that Greg James had included it just to make the person reviewing it laugh, made me realised how important humour and laughter is right now.

Laughter as a healer

The pandemic has had a profound effect on our lives, including our mental health. Whether we’ve been directly affected by the virus or not, the uncertainty and being away from our loved ones has been difficult to process. But when our friends have sent us a funny meme or we read or listen to a funny story and laugh, we almost forget about what’s going on – even if it’s just for a few minutes. That’s why you’ll often see news broadcasts end on a light-hearted story after giving the main updates, and we do the same with our daily Firewire newsletter. You want to end on a light-hearted note, so that recipients don’t dwell too much on the potentially doom and gloom stories.

Comedy is also a comforter for many of us because we feel that we can connect with the person that made us laugh. I’ve never met Greg James, but I feel like I know him because I listen to – and am amused by – him and his stories every day, just like with my friends on WhatsApp. Comedy podcasts, like My Dad Wrote a Porno, No Such Thing As A Fish and Help I Sexted My Boss, are formatted in a way that makes you feel like you’re sitting in the pub, chatting with your mates. Of course, not everyone has the same sense of humour but when we do find what makes us laugh, we search for similar material.

Being the funny one

From the comedian’s perspective, making jokes and wanting to make people laugh is part of their personality. However, being the class clown is one thing, but being funny and making jokes as a brand or company is something else altogether. It can appear risky, sometimes daunting, but it can done right.

Innocent Smoothies, for example, is known for its Twitter feed, where almost every campaign is centred around being funny – from their debates on whether new smoothie is blue or green (it’s definitely green by the way), to commentating on TV shows like the Great British Bake-Off, and even the way they handled their mini crisis around the misinformation of ‘conker milk’ was executed in an overtly apologetic but amusing manner. Humour has become part of their brand identity and they’ve used it to personify their brand and give it an authentic voice, which in turn receives a lot of engagement from their audience. It’s clever because it is likely that when their followers see a new Innocent smoothie on the shelves, they’ll remember something funny they said about it and likely purchase it. The power of endorphins, aye?

Using comedy as a tool to evoke an action is also used to raise awareness of more serious causes. The Comic Relief charity and, more aptly, Doncaster Council’s explanation of the government’s ‘Stay Alert’ announcement, both used light-hearted content to spread awareness of a serious message. People tend to remember something if they find it funny, and will often share it with their peers, thus spreading the message further. In these types of instances, especially when coming from a brand, it’s important to find the balance as there can be a fine line between being funny and being offensive. Think of it as laughing with someone, not at them, and focus on the wider story rather than pinpointing a specific person or aspect.

Reading the room

Getting humour right in your communications, whether it’s internal or external, requires a careful balance. ‘Reading the room’ could be a room of 200 people in a highly targeted campaign or a room of potentially thousands or millions, depending on your platform and audience. Within that ‘room’, you might have individuals with different opinions and different senses of humour, so it’s best to accept early doors that you’re not going to please every single person. Take note of the situation and the surroundings around you and avoid stepping over the line if your message or take on the situation could cause offense.

Sometimes funny messaging doesn’t quite sit as well when it’s text only, so it can help to include graphics and images too. At other times, funny images or animations can be powerful on their own. One of my favourite YouTube channels, Kurzgesagt, provides explanations to science’s most difficult questions through beautifully animated illustrations – for people who respond to visuals, like me, the graphics and bright colours really help to understand the message and remember what they’re saying!

Lockdown has shifted expectations immensely and we’ve all had to adapt to the new way of working and living, whether it’s working from home, dealing with the supermarket queues or spending our Saturday nights Zooming our friends. It has been a strange and scary time, and definitely one that we won’t forget, but thanks to comedy and the people that continue to produce funny content every day, it’s been easier to laugh and see a bright side.

In these times of uncertainty, where the situation is changing so quickly and we’re constantly receiving new snippets of information, the media has never been more important in keeping everyone informed. There’s no question that the media landscape has changed significantly since the start of the coronavirus outbreak – outlets are providing daily online live feeds, newspapers have stopped physically printing and reporters from all over the world are covering the stories and situations from every angle possible.

Firefly attended a (virtual) media briefing, hosted by 4media, with The Sun’s consumer editor, Dan Jones, to talk about how the newspaper been operating, how coverage has changed and what PRs can do since coronavirus became the centre of attention in the UK. Here’s four things we learnt:

Half and half

At the moment, about half of the coverage in The Sun’s print edition is devoted to coronavirus-related stories whilst the other half dedicated to general news and features. As the biggest story in the world right now, and with it affecting so many people, this comes as no surprise. It’s expected that it will remain the biggest story for a number of weeks due to the vast amount of changes and information that we’re receiving hour by hour. This means that PRs must be strategic about what and how they’re pitching to journalists, for example, only mentioning coronavirus if it’s really relevant and being sure to pitch journalists at the right time – Dan mentioned that PRs should pitch non-coronavirus stories to him as early as possible in the day.

Journalists are stretched…

With journalists under pressures with coronavirus reporting, having to constantly keep up with the ongoing information, it’s more important than ever to have a story that’s ready-to-go. PRs should think about what’s the most interesting part of the story or announcement and make that the first thing the journalist sees or hears depending on how you’re pitching. And that goes for both coronavirus and non-coronavirus related stories.

…but they are people too

People are scared of this news. It’s been described as one of the ‘the greatest and unprecedented challenges of our time’, and the coronavirus hasn’t just affected people’s health, it’s affected every aspect of daily life, with jobs being lost and social places closing down for the foreseeable future. So, it’s natural for people to feel worried, including journalists! When pitching, don’t hesitate to be honest about your story, acknowledging whether it does or doesn’t have a coronavirus angle, and even a small ‘hope you’re doing okay’ at the end of your pitch (even though we know the phrase is normally taboo in PR!) shows that you’re being sincere about the situation. We’re all human at the end of the day!

Positive stories are key

People are quick to read all the negative news about the coronavirus and there are only so many stories you can do around supermarkets being empty and the number of daily cases. Whilst Dan expects the next week to still be busy with coronavirus-related stories, The Sun is choosing to focus on the more positive side of the story and running articles on best practices for things like working from home and exercising. Anything that helps with the NHS, vulnerable and elderly people is also what’s appealing at the moment and we’ve already seen brands like Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Tesco offering special opening hours for these groups. Stories that are humorous and a bit quirky are also more likely to be picked up at the moment, according to Dan.

Despite the dominance of coronavirus in the media at the moment, it’s worth remembering what our role as PRs is and the relationship we have with journalists. We’re currently living through history and as communicators, our role is vital.  As every day brings in new information that we need to digest, let’s remember to keep on doing what we do best whilst being mindful about the circumstances.

The coronavirus has been hitting the headlines in February, causing huge disruption across the world. For the tech sector in particular, it’s had an impact on supply chains and the GSMA was forced to cancel Mobile World Congress after a string of big tech firms pulled out. Despite the chaos, it’s also been a month of lots of environmental news and stories on social media regulation ahead of the U.S election. Here’s what we’ve been reading about this month:

The month kicked off with the launch of the UN climate summit, COP26, due to be held in Glasgow later this year. During the launch, the government announced plans to ban the sale of petrol, diesel and hybrid cars by 2035 as well as announcing the goal to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Read the full live coverage from the day on BBC News.

Mark Zuckerberg spoke out following the decision not to ban political adverts on Facebook by unveiling a new approach to political advertising that supports free speech. Read the full story on The Guardian. Twitter, on the other hand, took its stance on political content a step further by announcing that it will ban deepfakes over fears that it will spread misinformation ahead of the US election. See The Telegraph for more information.

In the gaming world, Nvidia jumped on the bandwagon of Google’s Stadia, announcing a new game cloud-streaming service called GeForce. The Financial Times has all the details. And cloud gaming services have caused a stir at Microsoft as head of gaming exec, Phil Spencer, said he now considered Amazon and Google the top competitors for Xbox because of their cloud-computing infrastructure. Read more on BBC News.

Self-driving cars in the UK achieved a new milestone this month by completing the longest and most complex journey made by an autonomous vehicle in the UK. The Nissan Leaf drove for 230 miles unassisted, navigating motorways, roundabouts and unmarked country lanes. Head over to The Independent for the full story.

The Daily Mail reported on the UK’s broadband woes, saying that more than six in ten regularly lose their internet at home with more than four in ten of those who complained saying that their internet service provider handled the situation badly. However, rest assured for Three users as the network announced that it will be offering its 5G package to customers by the end of February. More on this on The Metro.

It was a bad quarter for tech firms at the end of last year in terms of revenue according to CityAM. Political uncertainty, declines in staff hires and new business activity are to blame. The good news is, investment and innovation in 5G, automation and AI this year in the UK is likely to give UK tech businesses a boost in 2020.

And finally, February also means that it’s Valentine’s Day and our favourite V day story came from The Metro who told the story of a marriage proposal where a man used a corn-planting machine in a field to pop the question before getting his girlfriend to fly a drone to reveal the message – she said yes and now, a year later, the message can now be seen on Google maps, N’awh!

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I think that the BBC is a pretty amazing organisation… most of the time. With the likes of David Attenborough gracing our screens and the thrilling period dramas such as Call the Midwife, the BBC provides its audience with the usual home comforts that we expect from our public service broadcaster.

However, as of late I’ve been scrolling through the online news section of the BBC, and aside from the constant bombardment of political news, I often find myself coming across articles that really don’t belong on the BBC homepage and barely constitute ‘news’ – ‘Why Ch-Ch-Chaka Khan gets annoyed by her greeting’ and ‘fan smashes his TV when his team loses’ are just two examples. Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy light-hearted, funny content as much as the next person but the BBC and for that fact, many other national publications, were often my first point of call when I wanted news and analysis on the hard hitting issues that face the UK and the rest of the world.

And this got me thinking, why have our news outlets started to prioritise softer stories in comparison to the hard-hitting journalism we used to see? The reason? Our consumer behaviour has changed.

Nowadays, on average, we crave quick, clickbait type content – think Daily Mail rather than the Economist – that captures our attention while scrolling on our phones or through our social media feeds. As our lives become busier, consumers demand easy to access content that can be read or viewed quickly and simply, which is why video and social media are becoming increasingly popular and long form content is struggling.

As we start to see the media landscape changing and publications veering away from their traditional role in the market, what does this mean? Here are my three top tips on how you can adapt in light of these changes:

  1. Do your research — Understand your audience. Publications that may have been a tier one media target three years ago, may not cover the same content today. When planning your campaign strategy, do your due diligence and ensure your in-house team or agencies have researched which publications will attract your audience. Keep in mind how these publications may have changed and whether they’re still relevant to your business. As the media landscape becomes more diverse, understanding which publications to target has become even more critical.
  2. Stay educated — Ok, so you’ve done your research. Great. Now, stick with it. As PRs and marketers, we are constantly monitoring the media for news hijacking opportunities or current trends to integrate into our campaigns. Have your agencies monitor the news and ensure they take note of which publications are focussing on what and how they’re generating their own content. Do they focus on long form or clickbait-type content? Are they primarily using images and videos, or perhaps they are now solely an online-only publication?

As more and more media outlets struggle to keep up with the changing pace of the industry, PR and marketing professionals must ensure that they stay ahead and remain in-the-know when it comes to media targets. Don’t just glance over their website, read their content and determine whether the information your pitching to journalists is suitable and relevant.

  1. Choose your content wisely — If we, as consumers, are changing the media landscape by clicking on short, snappy pieces of content, this ideally, should be considered in your PR campaign. Start thinking along the lines of Buzzfeed and generate interesting content but that can be consumed quickly and easily – video is a great way to do this. If your marketing team is pushing for a piece of long form content to be published in the Daily Mail, for example, it’s your responsibility to educate and advise on how else you might be able to use it. Ask your agencies about what will achieve results, you hired them for their expertise, they’ll be able to tell you what will work and what won’t.


Media channels are constantly diversifying and, as a result, are often diluting their impact. Now, I’m not saying that this is a wholly negative thing, social media, video and clickbait content has had a brilliant impact on the way we consume information, making it easier and more accessible but it’s essential that as PR and marketing professionals, we understand what this means and adapt accordingly.


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