We’ve all seen reputational disasters play out before. Crisis comms kick in, and leadership is forced to make tough decisions about the future. But, what about when a company reputation isn’t totally obliterated, but it takes a knock?
Tackling a PR setback
England’s Rugby Football Union (RFU) has a partnership with British Airways. British Airways has leveraged this partnership in its comms activity, with various marketing actions including sharing pictures of the England men’s rugby team flying first class to their matches. So, when the sporting world found out that the RFU and British Airways declined to fly the England women’s rugby team first class to their World Cup matches late last year, both organisations experienced a PR issue.
Ever since this information became public, debate has ensued about whether the two organisations made the right or wrong decision. Whether you agree or disagree with the decision, we can all agree that this situation is about reputational impact.
Character vs capability reputation
Company reputation is split between character reputation and capability reputation. Capability reputation is the organisation’s ability to deliver a product or a service, in this case, the RFU and British Airways’ capability to transport the team from A to B.
Capability reputation is always balanced with character reputation, which is all about how a product or service is being delivered. In this example, both organisations were perceived as capable of getting England’s women and men alike to the pitches. But, in a context in which sexism in sport remains prevalent, the organisations’ decision to offer superior treatment to the men’s team was always going to result in a character reputation setback.
Building a consistently winning character reputation strategy
Shaping a company reputation is a lot like playing a game of rugby. Organisations hype themselves up, formulate a winning strategy, and then start to make moves. But it’s important that leaders don’t let their gameplan slip.
Consistency is Queen, as proved by the Red Roses breaking the world record for most consecutive wins in International Rugby Union. Similarly, a company reputation is formed over years, and every action counts. Above all, leaders must avoid reputational blunders by building out a long-term strategy that avoids contradiction and always remains consistent.
The metaverse is a word we are increasingly hearing throughout society these days. People like Mark Zuckerberg are trying to bring it into the mainstream with elaborate presentations and high-profile rebranding efforts, however it remains a word that people are aware of, but not a concept many people fully understand.
Some people are touting it as the future of communication – a virtual world in which people from all over the globe will be able to interact with each other as if they were standing in the same room. There’s no denying that the potential is enormous. Although the technology and application aren’t firmly established and people are slow on the uptake, we can already see some of the ways that it could revolutionise the world, especially for our ability to communicate with one another.
Communications in the working world
Remote and flexible working, a legacy of the pandemic-induced lockdowns, are here for the long-term. A recent survey revealed that over 30% of full-time UK employees are working a hybrid working schedule and consequently Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Slack and many other platforms have become an ever-present part of many of our working lives. This is one area that the metaverse has the potential to make a huge impact. Instead of being separate, only connected by looking at a 13-inch screen, whole teams could be fully immersed in a virtual world of their own design, interacting with each other as if they were in the office, a presentation hall, or event space.
From a communications point of view, it is clear to see the positive impact this could have on teamwork, collaboration and company culture. Although video calling has enormous advantages, and without which lockdown would have been even more of an ordeal, it still has its limitations. Non-verbal and visual communication are often limited, leading to stunted conversations and a lack of natural rhythm that so often is the cornerstone of developing meaning relationships with your colleagues. Through a customisable avatar, colleagues could move in and out of meeting rooms, relax in communal lounges or host presentations in a conference centre. NextMeet, a company based in India, have developed a platform which can be used to onboard colleagues. Instead of being talked at for hours with only a PDF for inspiration, they could walk round a virtual room or building, with several interactive stands where they can explore the company in a much more engaging way.
However, not only internally, the effect this could have when it comes to meeting clients or customers is also exciting. Potential or current clients could visit your ‘workplace’ in the metaverse and be given a proper welcome, introduced to the team and see the branding and environment that the company wants to portray with its design, layout and decoration. This would allow people to create a much greater connection with a company and its culture.
However, it is not simply in one-to-one interactions at a micro level that could be transformed. The ability for companies to create fully immersive and interactive communication campaigns on a macro scale to millions of people is also a possibility. Events can be hosted in the metaverse, with countless people able to attend. For example, Foo Fighters, Justin Bieber (unfortunately) and Travis Scott have all hosted concerts in the metaverse, with the latter being attended by 28 million people.
The possibilities this opens up are immense. Even with all the technological advancements we have enjoyed in recent years, our options don’t go much beyond words, visuals or sounds absorbed through either a phone or a computer. Using virtual reality, augmented reality or a mixture of the two, stakeholders could attend a town hall hosted by the CEO, get an in-person demo from the head of product, or be taken on a personal tour by head of client services, all from the comfort of their own home or office.
The jury is still out as to whether this will be the next big leap forward for connectivity, like the internet was, or if it won’t live up to its potential and be resigned to the history books like my beloved minidisk player. With the metaverse’s expected value to be upwards of $5 trillion by 2030, it seems like the momentum is unstoppable and I for one, am intrigued to see how it develops.
Either way, you won’t see me at a Bieber concert anytime soon.
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!
The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP27, took place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, this past month, where global leaders gathered to discuss solutions to the ongoing threats associated with the climate crisis. While progress was made in the form of a new five-year work programme to promote climate technology solutions in developing countries, the conference faced widespread criticism for failing to do enough to address the crisis. The consensus is clear that innovative new climate technologies, or green tech, will be crucial in the push towards reaching net-zero goals.
Now that COP27 is behind us, it’s a good time to reflect on key discussions surrounding green tech and take a look at what the future could hold.
What is green tech, and where are we now?
This year, an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report painted a particularly bleak picture. Due to the lack of progress made, it warned that the earth is set to reach 1.5C above preindustrial temperatures within the next two decades – putting people around the world in immediate danger. This stresses the critical need for ambitious climate action to be taken throughout the global economy. The IPCC named digital technology as a key enabler of energy efficiency to reduce emissions across multiple sectors.
The report placed a spotlight on carbon removal from the atmosphere as a key way to limit further global warming and remove emissions from the air that are hard to eliminate, such as those produced through industrial processes. This can be done through planting trees and soil preservation, but also through green tech solutions, including machines that extract carbon directly from the air. Currently, many of these ‘direct air capture’ solutions are expensive and require a considerable amount of energy to implement.
The report indicated that capturing the required amount of carbon dioxide from the air through direct air capture machines would consume the amount of energy equivalent to half the world’s electricity production. Thus, it’s clear that there is still more work to be done to figure out the green tech solutions needed to meet climate targets amid the ongoing energy crisis.
The role of artificial intelligence in green tech
A new programme recently announced by the UK government has shone a light on other ways that technology can play a role in reducing carbon emissions – in this case, artificial intelligence.
The AI for Decarbonisation Programme is part of the UK’s broader Net Zero Innovation Portfolio, which is set to increase AI market growth in the UK, reduce the cost of energy, and increase the consideration of ethics, bias and equity in AI technologies within decarbonisation applications. The primary goal of the programme is to fund projects where AI is being used to accelerate the UK’s renewable energy transition and meet net-zero targets.
As an example of how businesses are using AI to meet climate goals, we can look to Rolls-Royce, that has used data analytics and AI to improve sustainability of aircraft engines. Through creating digital twins of its engines, the company has been able collect real-time data from planes in flight to model performance in the cloud, reducing unnecessary maintenance and improving the sustainability of engines. Energy giant Shell has also made use of data to track and cut greenhouse gas emissions – this is done through tracking large volumes of data and using that knowledge to optimise existing processes.
These applications of AI and data to meet sustainability goals are evidence that there are many roles that technology can play in the fight against climate change, and we are currently just at the tip of the iceberg. As the alarm continues to sound on the escalating crisis, the possibilities are endless for what could be achieved with the right resources in place. And with increasing pressure on governments and businesses to meet their targets, we can only hope that innovation in the sector will continue to grow rapidly before time runs out.
What do a maple syrup company, world-renowned author JK Rowling, and Ellen DeGeneres all have in common? They have all been cancelled and are still reeling from the effects. Cancel culture, which can be defined as the blacklisting and ostracisation of a company, celebrity, or public figure, is one of the biggest issues facing PR today. Companies have fought tirelessly to grow their reputations, and now thanks to cancel culture, there is even more need to build a robust reputation.
Increasingly, we are seeing examples of when a strong reputation with loyal customers (or fanbases) make brands somewhat ‘cancel-proof’. In fact, time and time again, organisations that were once trending on Twitter for their often controversial ‘cancellation’, have risen from the ashes due to their leaders’ strong and resilient reputation.
Crisis management has always been a significant part of public relations, but no one could have predicted the scale and reach that cancel culture might have. So, should communications professionals be scared of the looming threat of cancel culture? Or could a strong reputation mean a resilience can be built against these mass boycotts?
Great reputations and charismatic leaders
Despite the power of ‘cancellation’, reputation has been the saving grace of some companies and public figures, who may have otherwise succumbed to the snubbing. A notable example of this is YouTube titan Jeffree Star, who owns makeup company Jeffree Star Cosmetics. Despite exhibiting behaviour that could risk cancellation, Star and his cosmetics empire have remained resilient to this threat, due to his strong online presence and reputation, as well as his loyal and established fanbase.
In the tech world, one may draw parallels with Elon Musk. Musk’s ability to survive controversy after controversy has been attributed to the fact that he is a charismatic leader, although that’s not to say there hasn’t been some reputational damage to Tesla because of Musk’s behaviour.
Damage that cancellation can do
The reputational damage that cancel culture can do is not to be understated. A certain beverage company will remember 2017 as the year they lost a predicted $5 million dollars in the aftermath of cancel culture. When Pepsi hired the world’s highest paid supermodel Kendall Jenner to star in their protest
As much as some companies may hope and pray, cancel culture is not going anywhere. The rise of social media’s influence on society (71% of Tik Tok users believe it’s where the biggest trends start) means that brand need to learn to adapt and survive against cancel culture, and the addition of a charismatic leader is a major component to reputational resilience. The decisions that a company makes when it concerns a company’s reputation must be thoroughly thought through. Ultimately, it is not cancel culture itself that organisations (with or without a face) should fear, but the status of your reputation and whether it can make your company resilient.
You step outside your house into a mild November morning. Walking down the road you see something out of the corner of your eye – something red, round and suspiciously Santa-shaped. Surely not, it’s only November. You shake yourself. You’re just seeing things! That email your Mum sent you about which dates you’re coming home has spooked you. You’re playing tricks on yourself. It’s too early.
You pop into the local off licence for a paper. As you’re browsing, the song playing on the radio drifts into your consciousness. The blood drains from your face. You hurry from the shop, paperless. It can’t be, you mutter, as you pass a man in his sixties hanging lights on his roof, the ladder beneath him shaking violently. It’s too early.
Fighting the urge to look behind you, you arrive at your local station. But something catches your eye. You freeze. A group of church-going, festive-jumper-wearing carol singers stands opposite you. As you watch in horror, they are counted in by a woman wearing antlers. You fall to your knees.
“But it…it can’t be! It’s too early!”
But your screams are drowned out by the sounds of 12 voices belting out Good King Wenceslas – all at different times, all in completely different keys.
Nowadays, it seems to be universally accepted that the moment the Halloween pumpkins are chucked onto the compost, it’s Christmas time. That’s nearly two months of Christmas jingles, adverts, music, window displays and carol singers. The Christmas build up is all-encompassing, even for those who don’t celebrate it. By the time it actually rolls around, a lot of us are fatigued.
As PRs, we can learn something from this. Especially when it comes to pitching in news.
Raise your hand if you’ve considered pre-pitching news weeks before it goes live, and sometimes even before all the details are ironed out? That’s probably most of us.
Of course, a heads up that the news is coming, followed by updates as and when they are required, is a strong strategic approach. However, attempting to sell-in news too far in advance, and too aggressively, can quickly become grating to journalists. Imagine seeing the same news with the same embargo date appearing in your inbox, every few days, for weeks. And if details aren’t completely ironed out, you can run the risk of the incorrect information being published.
That said, pre-pitching is a tactic that can work and that some journalists appreciate, but it really depends on the strength of the news. It shouldn’t be an approach with every piece of news, but with the ones that make the most sense, for example, a significant company announcement where a journalist will have questions or may want to do an interview, or a piece of news that ties to a moment in time like an event.
As PRs we need to be tactful in how we approach pitching. Journalists’ inboxes are growing increasingly crowded by the day, and we should not be adding to the noise until it is the right time for what we have to say. Just as with Christmas, not everyone is going to care about, or like, our news. There is usually a good window to inform in advance, but not so far in advance that it’s forgotten by ‘go live’ day or that they feel fatigued talking about it.
So, don’t be like the Christmas pushers. It’s important to take a smart, respectful, and efficient approach. And when there is news to share, always ask yourself, is it too early?
Have you heard of the ‘Corn kid’ trend on TikTok at the moment? Yeh, neither have I. My background is in corporate video and that’s more my bag.
But whatever type of video we’re talking about, our world is becoming dominated by it. Smart phones and social media have transformed the way we ingest our media, and as a society we are increasingly looking to video to keep us informed and entertained – the average person watches 100 minutes of video every day. The corporate communications world is no exception, with 86% of businesses using video as a marketing tool.
Be aware of optics
This focus on video content may lead to firms attempting to utilise it at every opportunity, constantly looking for ways to get spokespeople on film, whether it be informal interviews, or formal pieces to camera. However, it is crucial to always take a step back and ask, is a video appropriate here? In the wake of Prince Andrew’s car crash of an interview with Emily Maitlis in 2019, I can imagine there being a certain amount of regret from his entourage as to the path they chose to take.
Often, putting someone in front of the camera to discuss a sensitive topic, such as one that could negatively impact a firm or a person’s reputation, opens you up to many things that you may not be able to control and as a result can be extremely damaging.
Different circumstances, different needs
The key is to be very clear about what you are trying to achieve. When a message needs to be delivered to provide reassurance, confidence or even hope, a connection with the audience is critical to its success. Think of that fateful day back in March 2020 – if Boris had sent everyone an email telling us to stay in our homes, I’m not sure it would have had the desired effect. In this instance it is imperative to be prepared, confident and to the point. This is where a carefully crafted script and lots of practice comes in, as well as ensuring that whoever is delivering the piece, especially if tools like autocue are being used, is adequately media trained and charismatic enough to deliver the message effectively.
However, other instances, such as a video to raise a business expert or company profile, call for another approach. For example, this may work as a sit-down interview where often the mistake that is made, counter intuitive as it may be, is to be too prepared. Everyone reacts differently on camera – sometimes the most confident and polished people do not transmit that same aura when being filmed. The key is authenticity and audiences are increasingly adept at noticing a rehearsed line or a lack of passion.
These few tips will help keep your spokespeople confident and engaging, regardless of their experience:
Every day we see videos of all forms done well and done badly. I won’t be giving you advice on the latest TikTok trends, but to produce inspiring video content, always be sure of who you are dealing with, the audience involved and what you are trying to achieve.
A cyberattack occurs every 44 seconds. These attacks target businesses as much as individuals –almost one in three businesses (31%) are now threatened by hackers at least once a week. Such threats can cause reputational damage, but business leaders need not be alarmed. Implementing rapid reactive customer communications can allow organisations to circumvent potentially severe reputational damage in the immediate aftermath of a breach.
As cyberattacks increase in frequency, businesses must mitigate accordingly
Cyberattacks are an almost inevitable part of operations for tech-driven organisations. Evidently, security precautions are implemented to mitigate the impact of these attacks, but hackers are smart. Sometimes even the strongest of environments can be breached, and leaders need to be prepared.
For example, in 2021 one of the most notorious cyberattacks in history occurred. A vulnerability was exposed in Apache Log4j, a Java-based logging utility used ubiquitously within businesses. Hackers used the logger to control victims’ computers remotely, for purposes such as sending spam, cryptocurrency mining, and ransomware attacks. Once the vulnerability was exposed, more than 100 attacks were occurring per minute.
Some of the biggest names in tech were affected by the Log4j vulnerability. Microsoft released extensive customer communications on the topic, with others such as Amazon and Google Cloud following suit.
Top tips for customer communications during a crisis
In the event of a cyberattack, the last thing businesses want to be doing is scrambling to create a reactive comms plan. Leaders should therefore ensure that a robust communications strategy is already in place and can be executed seamlessly, should an attack occur.
Firefly’s top tips for customer communications during a crisis include:
If a cyberattack is well handled, it can be an opportunity to shape a business’ reputation as resilient in the face of a crisis. Leaders who prepare and execute effective customer communications during such times are those who will retain a loyal customer base, despite a cyber threat.
Over the years I’ve had the privilege of engaging with a number of major tech bosses to get their views on reputation, but one insight that came through strongly in my conversations was that “when it comes to reputation, a fish rots from the head.”
Leaders are expected to serve the multiple stakeholders of employees, customers, partners, the community and the environment as well as the traditional model of shareholders. But managing a company or brand’s reputation is rarely simple. There are nuances and differences in attitudes, even within the technology sector.
Trust as a currency
The primary currency of great leadership has always been trust. Gaining a reputation for absolute integrity and adherence to the highest standards of trust and privacy are critical. It’s safe to say then that trust is intrinsically tied to reputation. This trust influences more than just purchasing, permeating all aspects of the company almost as if it were a chemical element created by the synergy of the leadership team and the employees themselves.
A gold-standard reputation can delight staff, build shareholder confidence, attract top talent, and establish solid customer relationships from the get-go. Employees love coming to work and competitors mimic and envy your success.
What’s your flavour?
For the most part high-quality organisations believe in reputation, there’s no doubt about that. But it’s also about understanding the ‘flavour’ of your reputation, which ties into your commercial strategy. You can be the best, the cheapest or the fastest, but not all three. For example, some companies are built around being the fastest, and therefore need to build a supply chain to accommodate that. This may mean driving staff in a way that would incentivise speed over quality.
The commercial strategy of an organisation dictates its reputation, and it’s important that people know what they’re getting in for, or you risk building mental tension and stress. If a company strategy serves up a strong hoppy IPA when staff are expecting a light fizzy lager, then problems can arise.
Reputation: The CEO’s Burden or Their Greatest Ally?
Although reputation might often seem like a matter of seeking out problems, it’s not all doom and gloom. Doing good and being a responsible leader is important, but so is having fun. Having a tough project is acceptable but if you can have fun with your team and come away smiling, then your reputation as an employer will be greatly enhanced. And if these seem like broad-ranging issues, then that’s not an accident – as any established CEO will know, the remit of a leader, whether in a small early-stage startup, or a large international firm, will include a huge portfolio of operational, commercial, personnel and other stakeholder issues. Whilst some of it might seem negative in nature, leadership is not only one of the most varied and nuanced roles, but also one of the most rewarding. Steering an entire company through the bad times and the good, leaders are at the very helm of company reputation itself, and if that’s not a satisfying experience, we don’t know what is!
When we think of sport we think of athletes. Athletes that are at the top of their physical game, with abilities that simply defy the laws of gravity. Basketball fans have long admired Michael Jordan’s hang time, and the game of football has never been able to understand Cristiano Ronaldo’s headers which seem to stop time entirely. As we witness various industries digitally transform, the world of sport has not been left behind.
There has been a huge shift in technological advancement which has made it easier for athletes to optimise their performance and improve the experience for spectators at sporting events. Looking 10 years ahead, we can only imagine where the world of technology will take us in sport, but for now, we can marvel at the newest innovations of today which continue to change the pace of the game.
Team Jumbo Visma tearing up Tour de France – 2022
This year, Team Jumbo-Visma led the way, charging ahead of their components for the majority of the races. Jonas Vingegaard won the men’s race, and Marianne Vos claimed the green jersey for most points. Both riders were among the favourites for their respective titles, but one stark difference was the men’s team adopted the use of simulation to fully capitalise on the talent of Vingegaard, and winning the La Grande Boucle.
How does simulation play into this you ask? Fighting air resistance represents up to 90% of the energy spent by the athletes. Team Jumbo-Visma works with some of the best athletic aerodynamics experts in the world, using digital simulation to optimise performance through better aerodynamics. It consisted of solving vast, complex systems of equations with millions of unknowns to improve their performance. Simulation proved to be a pivotal cog in the winning machine!
Data driving football analysis and spectator engagement
Major Spanish football league, LaLiga has looked to its data architecture to better understand its players performance and importantly create a better more personalised experience for its fans. This is all being done through a lakehouse data architecture.
By combining the best attributes of a data lake and a data warehouse, the lakehouse is able to deliver better data management and performance through low-cost, flexible object stores. LaLiga has created a world where data informs almost every aspect of how sports are played and experienced. The data team at LaLiga uses data and AI for match statistics and in-play analysis, based on data from cameras in each club’s stadium. It allows data scientists at the clubs to perform pre- and post-match analysis and predict player injuries before they occur.
The future of technology in sport
There are many more advancements in tech which are changing the world of sport, but the best is likely yet to come. We’re on the cusp of a sports technology revolution with the global sports technology market being currently valued at US $17.9 billion and expectations to reach US $40.2 billion by 2026. However, some avid football fans would agree that VAR technology needs some work – depending on which side of a team you’re on!
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