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!
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.
Did you looove that tech news fix? You can get more technology news delivered daily to your inbox by signing up to our Firewire newsletter here.
It’s been a month of twists and turns! The US has a new President, there has been a breakthrough in finding a Covid-19 vaccine, the UK economy has grown… It’s exciting but there’s still a way to go before getting to anywhere resembling normal. It has been a busy time for tech too, accelerating innovations and navigating new regulations. Here’s a roundup of this month’s top technology news stories.
The pandemic has given a real kick to retailers as more tech gets rolled out in supermarkets. M&S has expanded its scan-and-pay technology to all stores; stores director Helen Milford told the BBC that “With the current restrictions in place, making shopping as easy and efficient as possible is really important to us and our customers.” Meanwhile, Ocado is automating more warehouse tasks that handle online orders.
Online shopping has truly soared but we’re being warned on the impact of our spending ahead of Black Friday. Emission levels are expected to boom. The advice to reduce our carbon footprint is to not expect – or demand – next day delivery.
Big tech also continues to face antitrust crackdowns around the world. Regulators in China are drawing up new rules to keep firms in check, whilst the EU has announced charges against Amazon – news via the FT. And to add to that, 165 organisations have clubbed together to push the EU to take a tougher line against Google. Read more on this in this Reuters article.
As we stay inside during these colder months ahead, there will be plenty to keep us busy in the run up to the festive season, particularly for gamers! The recently released Xbox Series X has already triggered record spike in internet traffic. Daily Mail has all the details. If you’re more of a PlayStation person, the PS5 has also just launched and promises ‘more horsepower and [will] run faster with better graphics’.
And if gaming is not your thing, TV and film streaming sites will have you covered. In fact, Netflix is testing linear style programming, specifically for those who can never pick a programme or film. It’s only in France at the moment but if successful, it may be rolled out elsewhere!
Expansion into and across Europe is a major move for most businesses. Whether based in another continent such as North America and tackling Europe for the first time, or already established in one European country and now entering other markets, Europe presents significant opportunities to grow a business and reach new prospects.
Getting your communications strategy right is an important factor to break into the European market.
Representing France, Germany and the UK, Fireflies Zahra, Marco and I, joined Jill Creelman from our partner agency Inkhouse, based in NA, to share our tips for successfully expanding into Europe.
In this video, we answer the questions:
Inkhouse | A Video Q&A with Firefly from Inkhouse on Vimeo.
Think you’re ready and want to hear more?
We’re hosting a webinar on 21st October to go through the practical steps of creating and running a pan-European campaign – from the right tools to collaboration tips and tricks. Join us: https://fireflycomms.com/en/pr-in-europe-webinar/
Agility, adaptability, ability to pivot, the age of disruption… anyone else seeing these words and phrases in constant use? I mean, they’ve been buzzwords for a long time, but COVID-19 has meant that people in marketing can’t go a week – a day, even – without hearing or reading these words.
But in fairness to all those who utter them, and despite us becoming deaf to them due to overuse, you can’t deny that it’s a disruptive time for every organisation and there is a real need to be agile, adapt and possibly pivot.
For the comms world, 2020 plans have been redrafted, maybe redrafted again, some parts pushed back, some brought forward, no doubt some curve balls in there too. When in crisis mode, it’s all rush rush, but what about after? How do we go back to some version of normality?
Autumn is a classic time for planning and Claire just recently gave great advice on planning – it’s an essential read for those in PR and comms. I’d like to follow with my thoughts on re-thinking ways of working and equipping your team and/or agency to finish 2020 on a high note, and face 2021 in a strong position.
Collaboration in bursts
We’re used to sitting in meetings to plan out a whole year, but this is difficult when it’s so hard to see what’s ahead. For some people who pride themselves on being organised in advance, this could mean a big change in how they work – and it might feel uncomfortable at first. It is important to understand the general direction, so know your destination and broadly the key stages you need to reach to get there. But there’s no use in setting out lots of details upfront, because all industries are changing at speed and you may find that all the planning time goes to waste. It’s better to regroup more frequently in shorter bursts – maybe quarterly, or around core comms campaigns – whichever suits your organisation. And in a shorter planning cycle –there’s even more of a need to set out realistic timelines.
It’s easy these days to have real-time visibility on comms campaigns. There are many tools and project management technologies that enable this transparency – like Basecamp, Trello, even Google docs. Having this is great, but it’s what you do with it that counts. Seeing a comms campaign roll-out in real-time means you can course-correct or find more ways to optimise in the moment, rather than wait for it to end before realising it had more potential. For example, a whitepaper may be flying on LinkedIn and not getting the engagement through direct marketing channels, in which case it may be worth pumping more resources into LinkedIn to make it go that much further.
Set guidelines for manoeuvrability
We believe in being as self-sufficient as possible – that’s how things get done, and fast! To do this right, everyone must be clear on the ‘rules’. For example, you may run comms in multiple countries, so how strict are your localisation rules – does a comms team in France have the flexibility to re-write copy keeping the essence of the original content, or should they largely translate and localise only where needed? These pre-set guidelines mean that your comms team is able to plough on and get more done, rather than asking permission…or worse, waiting for instruction! Essentially, you’re making efficiencies by avoiding hesitation.
Faster feed of knowledge
It’s important for everyone on a comms team to be completely up-to-speed on the market, products, services, the business… everything. That knowledge means that comms is clearer and on point, and often sparks new ideas and approaches. And this knowledge comes from multiple sources – internally and externally – through videos, articles, other people’s expertise, online courses, books, events, podcasts…the list goes on. But as well as the comms team having a mentality to always seek knowledge, they must be sharers.
All these approaches give comms greater flexibility – both in facing challenges and seizing opportunities. Yes, yes, I know, I’m talking in buzz words again – but it’s true. Everything is moving faster, it’s ever-changing and working the ‘old way’ won’t cut it anymore.
What we know is that we cannot possibly think that the end of 2020 and 2021 will be ‘normal’ years, because they just won’t. So, instead of focussing of planning, focus on preparedness.
I’ll skip the usual introduction. I don’t need to tell you about the disruption COVID-19 has caused: all organisations today face challenges, a key one being money.
Chop, chop, chop – you can’t read a news site or have a conversation with someone at the moment without hearing about an organisation reducing staff numbers, cutting suppliers, or lowering budgets, among other cost cutting measures. Cuts are being made across all businesses and all departments, and unfortunately marketing isn’t exempt. But there are ways of protecting your budget, or at least getting a less aggressive cut.
I joined the PRCA’s first MarComms Group virtual conference recently and collected the wisdom from the group on how to show value to the board and management level. The advice came from Infosys Consulting CMO Chris Fiorillo, Shallcross Partners’ Chris Hall, The British Promotional Merchandise Association Interim CEO Carey Trevill, and International SOS Group Marketing Director Nick Jones.
Here are the top tips to all you marketers out there:
Show deep business understanding: If the board is focussed on profitability, show you can do more for less, show you’re resourceful, show how to be more effective. If the board wants growth, show that you’re focussed on lead generation, customer engagement etc. Showing that your marketing focus aligns completely to the needs of the organisation now means you’re less likely to have your resources cut.
Create connections: If you’re not already, get out of the marketing bubble, 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 focussed 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: Do the majority right and fast and don’t let perfection slow you down. Timelines have shrunk – the time for change is today, this week –, so forget about plans looking eight weeks down the line. And repurpose, repurpose, repurpose. Be as resourceful as you can.
The signs are showing that this recession will be short but sharp, compared with others in living memory. It may feel gloomy right now, but this is the time for marketing, because once we’re on the up, growth will come fast. Being prepared will mean you can go after every opportunity and look back at this time as just a blip!
“Hello, can you hear me?”
“You’re on mute”
“Can everyone see my screen?”
Yep, you got it, it’s video conference call bingo! And it’s not only work video conference calls we’re on, you may also have family catchups or quizzes with friends. Zoom has been a go-to platform for many despite the security and privacy concerns, but the big tech firms have finally arrived with their products to take on Zoom.
Google has just launched Google Meet; it’s free and currently has no time limit, you just need a Google account to access. The Metro gives it the once over and walks you through the set-up. Meanwhile, Facebook is launching Messenger Rooms where you can chat in groups of up to 50. Here’s the story on BBC News, where Facebook also talks about preventing ‘zoombombing’.
And that’s not all Facebook has been up to. It’s also acquired Giphy – a popular site for making and sharing animated images – which it plans to integrate with Instagram. Read more about it on Reuters.
Another social site in the headlines this month is Twitter after CEO Jack Dorsey announced that all employees could work from home forever. He made a statement in The Guardian that he may have been one of the first to start companywide working from home, but he does not anticipate being one of the first to go back to the office.
While we adjust to socialising-from-home more, entertainment tech firms have our back. Spotify plans to roll out its ‘Group Sessions’ feature which mean people can queue tracks from their individual phones. The Independent has the full story. Meanwhile, the BBC is following in Netflix’s footsteps by adding co-watching functionality. CityAM has a write up of the new service, currently on trial via Taster, the online platform the BBC uses to test new technologies.
Well, well, well, can the internet handle all these video calls, working from home and co-entertainment? Ofcom says yes! In a new report, the regulator found that home broadband speed rose by 18% last year. Read more on BBC News.
Calling all comms directors!
The business case for improving and protecting a reputation cuts across an entire organisation. HR takes an interest as it’s important to be seen as a good employer, whilst it is IT’s job to safeguard the organisation’s assets, including, in some part, its reputation. Then you have the obvious departments like marketing and sales where reputation is a key element of their success.
When we (Firefly) talk about reputation, we split this out from brand or branding. We tend to think about ‘brand’ as what an organisation says about itself, whilst reputation is what others think about the organisation. This means that reputations are largely built by the experiences and interactions we hear from others – customers, partners, media, employees, candidates… even the ‘robots’ like Google and Alexa. And it’s our job as communication professionals to influence these experiences and make the most of interactions.
With these multiple influences on your reputation you must ensure you’ve spoken to the right people in the business when creating your communication strategy for 2020. And have you asked the right questions? So, who’s on the list?
Marketing and sales
You’ll have likely worked together with this group as they have the most to gain from having the right reputation. To state the obvious, being known and recognised helps your marketing and sales team boost leads and convert new customers. But they’re a group you must stay close to, and regularly check in with to ensure your communication programme delivers value.
Make sure you ask them:
HR and recruitment
To attract and retain the best people, the reputation of the organisation counts. In fact, pay won’t always sway candidates, as 50% say they wouldn’t work for a company with a bad reputation. Organisations that neglect their reputation as a good employer will risk losing great people. Therefore, what needs to be highlighted is who the organisation is as an employer – what people get from working there, what exciting innovations are happening, what’s the vision and mission of the business.
Make sure you ask them:
Leaders are intrinsically linked to an organisation’s reputation and many stakeholders will want to understand who’s steering the ship. The reputation of the individuals in senior roles will impact the broader reputation of the organisation – in most cases adding strength through the compelling communication of an organisation’s vision, mission and purpose.
Make sure you ask them:
Product and service development
Many teams will be feeling the external pressure to be more sustainable, to be more innovative, essentially to ‘move on’ from the old ways – or simply to continue making better products at a lower cost. For example, products using lots of plastic unnecessarily, or software with a dated user interface will be quickly pushed to one side, and a reputation of being out of touch can quickly develop. Comms and development teams should connect, share customer insights and ensure what’s being communicated aligns to the future trajectory of the organisation. Those in charge of roadmaps will have this insight.
Make sure you ask them:
Security and IT
Unlike the other departments, working with your IT and security team is more about protecting reputation, rather than proactively building a certain reputation. Almost every organisation has been hit by some sort of cyber-attack – some more serious than others, and some with consequences for more than just the organisation itself. This is when security and IT teams link up to comms to ensure the situation is handled correctly and reputational damage is minimised.
Make sure you ask them:
With all this insight and understanding, the communication strategy you create is more likely to serve the whole organisation. It’s especially important to do this exercise when your organisation is going through change – which is pretty much all the time, right?
Receive thought pieces from our leadership team, views on the news, tool of the month and light relief for comms folk