The current economic outlook is not what we’ve hoped for. With inflation rising to its highest level in 40 years, many businesses are rightly concerned about the future. Even some of the biggest tech companies are struggling with the current economic headwinds. Meta are slashing their hiring plans, while others are being forced to trim their current workforce.
While tough times lie ahead, managing the reputation of your company is a business imperative. After all, brand loyalty driven by a good reputation will keep your stakeholders in your corner, even when the going gets tough.
Businesses that have made it through pandemics and economic downturns have all had one thing in common – they’ve placed prominence on their company reputation, internally and externally.
Here are some key actions to consider when looking to create a recession proof reputation:
Embed reputation management into your company culture, so that your entire organisation is onboard with its importance. After all, the reputation of your organisation doesn’t just exist in the C-suite, it cuts across the entire organisation. For IT, it’s about protecting a company’s assets, no consumer wants their data leaked by a company. Whereas for HR, it’s important to be viewed as a good employer.
Stand out from the crowd
Not every company can be a Tesla or a Meta, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stand out. Most organisations have something worth shouting about. Find what that uniqueness is and leverage it and use it to connect with your employees and customers. Having a reputation for innovation, resilience, and agility will help engage your stakeholders and create a ‘halo effect’ with shareholders.
Reputation in the round
As well as engaging internal stakeholders, you should think carefully about your reputation in the round, by considering every avenue of your reputation. Your executives, press coverage, share of conversation, among other things, can have an impact on your reputation. There are multiple touchpoints, and you should be addressing each one.
‘Ensurance’ is the best policy Investing in your employees, suppliers, customers, and third parties is crucial and will pay dividends in the long run. Additionally, you should regularly audit internal policies, as well as those of your partners. While this is a laboursome process, it will ensure you’re covering all your bases. Above all, actions speak louder than words, so don’t be afraid to replace out of date policies or end relationships that no longer align with the values of your company or could be seen as harmful to your reputation.
It’s all too common a question for a communications agency to hear – “but show me how a comms plan will generate sales and new leads”. Unfortunately, the answer is not as simple as X+Y=Z. The foremost purpose of a communications agency is to shape the reputation of the company it’s working for. Influencing the opinions of customers, partners and even the company’s own employees. Organisations oftentimes underestimate the value of reputation shaping and instead, only want to see facts, figures and a solid ROI.
Now I am by no means suggesting that there isn’t an ROI on comms, it is just notoriously difficult to measure. But if you want to follow the maths to see how the distribution of a press release results in sales then knock yourself out with this blog by Greg Jarboe.
So hopefully I’ve got the numbers people on board by now and with the introduction of Google Analytics 4, this tracking process is only set to become easier. GA4 will use AI and predictive analytics to provide highly granular visitor data. This will mean better tracking of visitors from initial arrival, through various stages of engagement to the end goal, so lots to look forward to!
But in all honestly, the impact of communications stretches far beyond tracing clicks to a website. It’s clear, of course, that you can attribute economic results to comms activities, but the true value lies in the shaping of your organisations reputation.
In this day and age, customer loyalty is as fragile as ever. One poor user experience, a single bad review or even a certain political standing can deter customers from your website. So how do you change these opinions? Here are four simple steps to take to make your brand, and your reputation, shine.
So, moral of the story – limiting comms to numbers and stats is like limiting an artist to only one colour. The painting will be complete but missing a wealth of potential and creativity. So, open your mind, broaden your paint palette, and let your reputation become a masterpiece.
The media landscape has been changing for many years. COVID, however, has acted as a catalyst of this change – just as it has done for countless other sectors and industries. From 2019 to 2021, print subscription circulations fell by 7%, and single-sale copies by 11%. Put simply: when it comes to building reputations, shrinking media pools are becoming a bigger problem.
This places pressure on PR professionals and journalists alike. On the journalist side of the aisle, they are thinly spread – often juggling multiple beats at once and increasingly being judged against engagement and click-through metrics. Adding to this, they’re completely inundated with emails and pitches.
On the PR agency side, the shrinking media pool has an obvious effect – it’s harder to secure the coverage our clients want. It’s harder to get in front of the right people, harder to build relationships, and harder to have our pitches seen and phone calls answered.
Without wishing to state the obvious, a change in landscape requires a change in approach. Of course, a big part of the solution is for PRs – and our clients – to be more creative and thoughtful in how we approach media. Having our finger on the pulse of changing markets and cultural moments, and tying our clients’ messaging into these in an authentic, interesting and valuable way for journalists, is crucial. Being more selective is also important – not every press release is relevant to send to nationals (or anyone, sometimes!), and it’s important for PRs to be honest with our clients about this.
But there are numerous other ways to shape an organisation’s reputation, aside from media relations. Here’s just a few ways:
For us PRs, making clients aware of the many ways of building reputations, and ensuring that we ourselves are experts in these, is a non-negotiable. PRs, and the organisations they work with, need to begin thinking broader and deeper than media relations. Every company should now be thinking about the range of possibilities for PR, rather than gazing through the single lens of media coverage. Shaping a reputation that will carry a company forward is much more than a media profile alone.
Imagine entering your workplace in a 3D world and heading into a meeting room where you greet your virtual colleagues. It feels like you are together, but in fact, you are at home wearing a VR headset as indeed they are, and perhaps on the other side of the world. We might not be too far off from this scenario.
The increased adoption of VR and augmented reality (AR) are evolving both work and play. In the short space of a few months, AR and VR have become inherently tied to the world of communications. When Facebook underwent a major rebrand and unveiled themselves as Meta last October, widening its reach outside of social media into the virtual reality space, the world took notice. And when Big Tech sets a trend, people follow. Virtual reality has even been touted as the next new way to experience hands-on training and development.
Modern workers are no strangers to communicating remotely. But the substantial impact of these technologies on the comms world will be their power to help us collaborate in ways that were unheard of before, bringing people together who might not otherwise meet, enabling authentic human interactions. From allowing creativity to flourish, to enabling communication (in a virtual space) with people across the globe. Here are my top three ways that VR could enhance your comms efforts:
Your space plays a key role in how creative you are. And for those of us in the comms industry, creativity is our driving force. If you do not feel inspired and comfortable in your surroundings, you will not perform at your best. Virtual spaces have the power to be much more effective than physical spaces in this way – simulating reality and allowing us to work in a virtual world where possibilities are endless.
VR meetings are also a powerful tool. Unlike Zoom calls, VR meetings enable you to see the physical presence of colleagues, making it much more like an in-person meeting. Understanding body language and the dynamics in the room are a valuable tool for gauging the feelings of your colleagues and making decisions accordingly. Plus, we can break free of the traditional office setting – who wouldn’t like to conduct meetings or draft an article, from the beach, or an inspiring historical landmark if that were possible one day?
As comms professionals, it is crucial to meet our audience where they are. Emotional connections are important, particularly for brands that are seeking to bolster authenticity in their interactions with potential customers. In fact, this is the heart of our business. People need to feel seen and heard in order to engage – and VR has the immense power to help with this, by leveraging technology that enables human connections regardless of location. Authenticity is also important when communicating with customers and clients – it’s crucial that we don’t underestimate the importance of a virtual hug during a time when many have been distanced.
How virtual reality could influence our daily lives has been a hot topic , described as the future of work, and for good reason. At the moment, the technology almost seems too good to be true – because it has the power to create a new level of seamless collaboration that was unheard of a few years ago. Brainstorming sessions are more powerful in person, and when physical location is no longer a factor, it is limitless what could be achieved.
VR has the power to make our day-to-day business easier, more productive, and more authentic – which is crucial for organisations to flourish. And while this technology is still developing, it could change everything that we know about human interaction and collaboration in the space of a few short years.
Nowadays, attention span is one of the scarcest commodities we have in modern society. Online life can be addictive and endless, with perpetual anticipation of the next big thing and every brands’ reputation on the line. With this in mind, now is the perfect time to start prioritising and shaping your comms, with authentic and captivating PR strategies. Maintaining your company’s reputation, demonstrating your positive culture, and looking after your own workforce will ensure people are tuned in and listening.
Attention span is defined as the ‘amount of concentrated time on a task without being distracted’. Scientifically, they call it ‘attention failure’, essentially investigating why cognitively we reach for our phones with such ease and frequency at every point in the day. Attention spans are shrinking, with some reports suggesting that humans are 25% less engaged than they were only a few years ago.
Researchers in Denmark studied a range of media types; from movie ticket purchasing habits, popular books, Tweets, as well as Wikipedia attention time. What they found was that the hotness of topic, time in the public sphere, and desire for a new topic vary greatly and depend on the media type. As an example, Twitter is currently fixated on the recent Elon Musk board scandal but people will quickly move on to the next thing. Those doing a deep dive on Wikipedia are engaged for far longer.
How can we overcome this attention span deficit? By moving to briefer, personalised, and authentic comms to engage distracted audiences and create content that is evergreen that won’t be caught up in the trend cycle. Not just with audiences, but with your internal comms too. Using engaging internal comms strategies to hold attention will also ensure this is reflected externally.
Positivity engages audiences, and shines your reputation
Brandon Stanton, the creator of the viral storytelling account Humans of New York, emphasises when writing his personal profiles that he does not describe people in adjectives, but rather describes actions of their life. After all, actions do speak louder than words. Looking across his portfolio of work on social channels (with 20 million followers), he notably gets right to the point, with little explanation or introduction. Your audience is smart enough to get the gist.
The journey of a good narrative in comms
Researchers found that people read information on paper vastly differently than online, as the amount of data to absorb on a singular page in a book is far less than a busy webpage. The slow and linear journey of a book is why it is so pleasing to race towards the end (no spoilers, please!). Your online content should follow suit, and always engage in a complimentary, moving narrative journey.
It seems obvious, but the simplicity of the beginning, middle and end with challenges addressed by solutions, is just the way our brains like to consume. So, when you’re creating content and communicating with your audiences this year, remember to get back to basics. And don’t check your phone whilst writing it- resist the urge, if you can.
Silicon Valley is still the World’s Innovation Centre, acting as a global nucleus of multi-billion-dollar tech brands like Apple, Google, Netflix, Airbnb, and Oracle. While these are all successful businesses through their products and services, they have all – for the most part – also had great success in maintaining their reputations.
When considering this, I had a bit of a light bulb moment – quite literally. I recently read that the longest lasting light bulb in the world is 121-years-old, is also in California and has burned for more than one million hours, and it got me thinking about how this bulb has lasted this long and what it can teach us about maintaining company reputations.
The secret to this ever-shining bulb is constant maintenance, quality materials, careful handling, and infrequently being turned off and on – and these principles all apply in a metaphorical way to reputation management too. Don’t believe me? Here’s my four components to keeping your reputation – and brand – alive and burning.
1. Drive it forwards
Like a 121-year-old light– a good brand needs constant maintenance. You might have the market share or the highest share of voice now, but if you don’t work hard to stay at the top, competitors and new companies will catch up and overtake. People are drawn to brands that continue to move with the market and trends around them, and those that adapt and put themselves out there to try new things.
Use your communications to stay at the forefront – you can’t be complacent and assume you’ll maintain popularity without any hard work. You could model this on a company like Netflix, which had its humble beginnings in the late 90s as a mail-order video-rental service and is now one of the biggest film and TV streaming services around. While the business itself is successful, people also know it as a brand that constantly brings out new content, keeps up with trends, and moves with the world around it. However, what’s also important about Netflix is that it plays to its strengths – and it’s critical your organisation knows its strengths too.
2. Build on strengths, but handle with care
As your organisation grows, you’ll find that you become stronger in some areas that others. This can be handy for winning new business, but it can also cause problems if there’s misalignment between what people know you for and what you want to be known for.
If your company is still growing, using communications and careful messaging to promote the different areas of the business can help stop you being pigeon-holed into one speciality. However, if your company has a heritage in a particular service – don’t dump it entirely. You don’t have to be defined by it, but if it’s what made the business successful in the first place, use it to your advantage. When innovating, consider how your communications can help give legacy products or services a makeover or new light and take them to the next level – just be careful of getting distracted by the ‘shiny new thing’ when planning your strategy.
3. Avoid ‘shiny new thing’ temptation
‘Shiny new thing’ syndrome is the idea of moving on from one brand new idea to another – and it’s pretty common. For instance, you might switch off an approach to your social media strategy that’s worked well so far and turn on a brand-new approach that’s untested but seems promising and new because everyone else is doing it – it’s the ‘shiny new thing’.
But what’s the result? You get a basic understanding of different approaches and strategies to your communications, but you won’t have an in-depth understanding of any – which you would have if you’d stuck out the original approach and refined it. You need to give your planned approach a chance – see it out, take time to analyse and improve on the results. An element of experimentation is ok, but it’s best to keep refining approaches so you can learn rather than guess.
4. Your power source
While all these areas are important to consider in innovation, your organisation also can’t forget about the people who are making the innovation happen – your quality materials, your energy and your customers. They can have a bigger influence your company reputation than you may expect. Consider a company like Uber, which has had its innovative and ‘cool’ reputation tarnished in the past couple of years by sexual harassment cases. It’s still a dominant company, but a huge number of consumers chose to boycott the brand in the wake of those cases.
You need to work with your HR team to nurture the people – your fuel and energy power – who are driving your business forward, listen to their concerns, and act on them. It’s not just about keeping a consistent and exciting external brand in place, but also about using your communications to create and maintain the best possible internal brand, because that’s what is reflected externally.
While not every company can be as big as the Silicon Valley giants, maintaining your company’s reputation, demonstrating how your company is innovating, and looking after your team will enhance your longevity and give your organisation the best chance of survival – both in a business and reputation sense.
Shine bright, don’t dim the light.
Facebook has had its fair share of crises in its relatively short and troubled tenure – the most recent being revelations from whistleblower, Frances Haugen, about the company’s algorithm increasing divisiveness on the platform, as well as insider knowledge about Instagram being harmful to mental health. And yet, at the start of the year, we heard about the company’s rebrand to Meta with a renewed focus away from social media and toward what is known as the metaverse (check out our previous post on the metaverse to find out more).
While it seems perfectly feasible for Facebook to rebrand – as businesses typically rebrand every seven to 10 years (Firefly included!), Facebook sceptics might think that the ‘Meta’ rebrand is merely an aesthetic exercise in an attempt to cover up a string of wrongdoings. Rebranding to Meta to align with future goals and visions of the metaverse does make sense – a company setting out a new vision, new goals and a rebrand to align to those goals is the natural next move. But in the case of Facebook (and many other rebrands, which I’ll come onto), it can also be a reputation reshaping exercise, which brings me to the question, is a rebrand enough to save a reputation?
Moving with the times – why companies rebrand
Facebook isn’t the first, nor will it be the last company to rebrand, especially after a spout of bad publicity. In fact, many brands will do a complete overhaul throughout their time – in a lot of cases, it’s how big brands have kept going for so long. When McDonalds chose to completely revamp its restaurants from the playful, Ronald McDonald kids culture to the more sophisticated, café-like culture of today, it was simultaneously going through a major crisis. The documentary “Super Size Me” exposed various health concerns around McDonalds food, prompting a drop in profits and leaving a bad taste in the mouth (no pun intended) for consumers.
Elsewhere, the Gillette 2019 advert which announced the brand’s new slogan and made references to #MeToo and toxic masculinity conversations split opinions across the public. Some deemed the change a fresh look from the 30-year old tagline, while others decided to boycott the brand, claiming it as “feminist propaganda” and “emasculating men”. The brand rode the wave, defending the campaign and stuck to its new ways despite the outrage.
Besides moving with the times, a rebrand might also be spurred on by a new CEO or exec team, there may have been a recent merger or acquisition, or perhaps the company is ready to go global and needs to rebrand to be able to reach that global audience. Whatever reason a company chooses to rebrand, it can reap many reputational rewards, but also faces multiple risks if not done right.
Don’t just be a pretty face
Saving a damaged reputation needs to be carefully considered. Simply changing the face of your brand alone won’t cut it, the audience will be able to see straight through the cosmetic changes, so remember to also work on real change inside the company too.
Here are few pointers to consider if you’re thinking about rebranding and reshaping your reputation:
January has long been known as the time for creating new plans and pushing for change in our personal lives. The same goes for our professional lives, as we set new priorities by embarking on new projects as much as driving forward older ones.
2022 is set to be a unique year in the comms world, as after two years of riding the wave of the pandemic, we are finally starting to see light at the end of what has been at times an incredibly dark tunnel. Although, that light is not the ‘normal’ pace of business as we experienced it pre-2020, nor should it be. We should celebrate the developments that have come out of this difficult period, taking what we have learned from a moment of crisis to put our best foot forward for our campaigns in 2022.
Some things to consider in your comms planning.
Investing in sustainable climate action
As consumers and investors alike increasingly value strong action when it comes to the environment, brands can no longer afford to announce a climate target and call it a day. Businesses are being scrutinised more than ever for their action on climate change and must therefore ensure that their operations are consistent with what is being communicated externally.
To put it simply, a climate-centric PR campaign will not work unless it’s authentic. However optimistic your external communications, if these are not backed up by a firm commitment which can be measured regularly and fairly, external stakeholders will easily see through the mirage. Today’s consumers and investors are used to seeing companies take misguided, vague climate action, and demand more as a result. Businesses that have little-to-no experience in this area should see this period of mounting pressure as an opportunity to possibly seek expert counsel from consultants, start building a narrative that is relevant to their business and back up their decisions with concrete action.
Navigating the waves of social media regulation
Social media has progressively become a core part of any good communication strategy, but as its use becomes more widespread, so does its regulation. Facebook whistle-blower Frances Haugen’s testimony before the US senate in 2021 shed light on the damage that has been caused by the social media giant to its users, leading to legislation such as the Online Safety Bill in the UK being strongly considered by lawmakers.
The bill mandates that social media platforms have a duty of care towards their users in protecting them against potentially damaging content, which is absolutely a step in the right direction when it comes to more responsible social media usage. Companies must ensure that they keep their finger on the pulse when it comes to regulatory changes, as increased legal scrutiny often results in new user guidelines. Businesses not only need to ensure that social media as a communications channel is integrated into their overall communications strategy, but also need to comply with new guidelines.
Maintaining synergy through employee comms
Hybrid working continues to be favoured by the vast majority of businesses, having taken on board the benefits of a blended model over the past two years. Most companies are putting trust in their employees to choose the approach which works best for them, whether that be coming into the office every day, or on a less regular basis. As a result, teams are often working with a mix of colleagues dialling in virtually, and physically present in the office.
Hybrid working allows staff to fit their work around their lifestyle more than ever before, which can lead to increased productivity and certainly boosts employee wellbeing. But, at the same time, it can naturally lead to a fracturing of teams. Any divide is certainly not the fault of the business, nor the individual staff involved, but rather a natural progression brought on by inconsistent face-to-face contact. But the response is not necessarily to revert to mandated physical working, which is not always possible these days. Companies must instead focus on improving their internal comms strategies, ensuring that messaging is clear, and any change is regularly and effectively communicated to staff. This will be more important than ever in 2022, as hybrid working is solidified as part of our reality, and no longer is acting as a temporary measure implemented during the pandemic.
A New Year is the perfect time to reconsider your comms campaigns and building your brand’s reputation. Want to learn more about how you can shape your greatest asset? Download our guide to reputation management here.
The Great British Bake Off is back in full swing, but it isn’t just the bakers preparing for their all-important showstoppers, it’s also PR pitching season and the time to pull out all the stops to win over organisations looking for a new PR partner.
However, much like baking, one wrong move can be the deciding factor between being star baker or being sent home! If you’re on the receiving end of pitches from new PR partners – here are three key things to look out for.
Favour the flavour
Making a cake look attractive is only part of the challenge – you can have the most aesthetically pleasing cake packed with handcrafted edible flowers and light-up geodes but if it doesn’t deliver on taste, it’s unlikely that you will be progressing to the next round of the competition. And the same can happen in the pitch process. It can be tempting to load pitches full of glitz, glam, wild promises and high expectations, but the cracks will soon begin to show the closer you get to the finished product which can leave a bitter aftertaste.
Creative campaigns and ideas are only one side of the coin. A balanced PR programme must be packed with realistic and attainable goals, promises that can be fulfilled and transparency about what is offered. Like creating the perfect croissant, it can brown beautifully but if the layers aren’t defined, you simply aren’t getting what you expected.
Stick to the recipe
Adding those extra chocolate buttons or another spoonful of golden syrup is all part of the baking experience but ultimately, you need to stick to the basic recipe and routine in order to create the perfect bake.
The same can happen in pitching. Whilst changing up some of the slides and adding extra information and ideas as you go along is good, you want to stick to answering the needs of the organisation. And the same goes with team members and who should be presenting in the room too. The team in the pitch should be the team the organisation works with. No pitch and switch.
Try to give each team member a chance to personally introduce themselves, their expertise and what they can personally bring to the table. Transparency is your key ingredient and whilst your best presenters might come across well, look out for sugar coating.
The technical challenge
The Bake Off technical challenge is one that really puts the pressure on the bakers, putting their skills and techniques to the test so why not do the same in the pitching process? Try coming up with a few genuine real-life scenarios and get the team to explain how they would tackle it. You could use a recent crisis you have been involved in and get the team to feedback how they would’ve approached it and why.
Let each team member take a turn to rise to the challenge and prove what they would do and why to really challenge the skills of each person individually as well as the team as a whole. This will work especially well if you have never worked with PR professionals as it shows what you can expect. It will test how well they work under pressure, how they work individually, and also how they work as a team.
Just like a Bake Off showstopper, PR pitches can be baked to perfection to create a delicious and nutritious treat if enough time and practice is invested in them. As long as you evaluate individuality, flavour and professionalism, you’ll be well on your way to finding your star partner.
According to recent stats, more than four billion people now have access to the internet. That’s almost the entire population of the world during the mid-1970s, all able to connect with each other in one way or another through a screen. Back then, no one had even heard of an “online reputation”, let alone the need to manage one, and conveying a message to an audience en masse and connecting with the public only happened through a handful of channels.
Having an online presence is an essential part of a business’s operations and a key communication tool at present. It allows us to broadcast messages to a wide audience at any time of the day, connect with customers and stakeholders directly, no matter where they are in the world, and target specific pockets of communities and personas to influence their thinking. It’s definitely a minefield, and when it’s as easy as typing out a Tweet or a blog post and posting it at the click of a button for everyone to see instantly and comment on, it can be challenging to maintain a strong, consistent reputation. And there’s no doubt that organisations and individuals will come across hurdles from time to time when it comes to handling an online reputation.
Here are Firefly, we’ve been shaping reputations for more than 30 years. And in that time, we’ve sailed through the online communicative waves. From website copy, to social media strategies, to, more recently, virtual events. We know that mistakes can happen. Companies might overthink crisis strategies, by thinking that they can control every bit of what is said about them online and trying to only target a certain group of people. Here’s my take on the common myths about online reputations and how to get the best out of your online resources.
Remember that online reputation management is a long-term, usually positive campaign involving many different stakeholders and third parties. It might seem like you’re dealing with negativity a lot, particularly when it involves dealing with tricky customers via social media or negative press articles, but largely, online reputation campaigns are about finding ways to directly connect with your audience. “Reading the room” might be a bit more challenging because the room is a lot bigger online, of course, but that only makes it more interesting.
2. We only need to focus on what customers, prospects, and shareholders care about
They might be the people that bring in the sales, but third parties such as press, analysts, even your own staff and partners can make or break a reputation. And with a keyboard, mouse, and the internet at most people’s disposal, one Tweet from an employee or an online press article can be enough to cause a stir. Think about the recent BrewDog employee backlash scandal, for example. Ensure that you’re thinking about each and every stakeholder and anyone that might be associated with your company and ensure your tailoring online communications to all these different groups.
3. It can’t be measured
It’s not always easy to measure a reputation, but it’s always possible. Often, the easiest way is qualitative and quantitative surveys to the various groups that are important, but there are many other (often free, often easy) ways as well. For example, if you’re looking for your company’s reputation amongst staff, look on Glassdoor!
4. You can control everything
You can shape a reputation, but it sits inside people’s heads. At best, you can strongly influence it, but don’t always think you can control every single thing that is said about you on the internet, because, largely, you won’t be able to. Be strategic with how you play out your online communications. Are your spokespeople regularly interacting on LinkedIn? What are your employees saying on social media and how can you encourage them to speak positively about the company?
5. Everything requires a fast reaction
Finally, if you do have a reputational crisis, respect the fine balance between responding quickly enough and acting hastily. Consider, be quick, but don’t always go with your gut.
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