Quiet thriving (the opposite of quiet quitting) is the newest HR buzzword doing the rounds. Quiet thriving essentially means making small changes, shifting your mental state and helping give you a positive outlook. And we could all do with that positivity right now after the disruption of the great resignation teamed with economic uncertainty.
For those in comms, what does this trend mean? How much positivity is there within your organisation and are you using that to fuel growth?
A company’s reputation is shaped by perceptions of others – that includes your workforce, and their voices can have huge power in enabling success. When employees become advocates, they act as a reliable source of truth. But like everything, if it’s not authentic, you’ll get found out and it will backfire. So, how do you know when the time is right to tap into the advocacy potential of your workforce, particularly if you have had a lot of turmoil following the great resignation?
Step 1: Where do you stand on employee sentiment?
Before creating any kind of communications strategy, you must understand the current sentiment of your workforce. The best way to do this is to carry out an audit and analyse your current company culture. During the great resignation period, many organisations have had their true culture revealed for all to see. For some it’s been great and for others it’s surfaced underlying issues. Regardless of where you are, you must understand what situation you face and how you want to shape your culture here on in.
In particular, evaluate your values. Does your workforce embody the ones you have? Is there a value set not covered that resonates more strongly? Do the values align with behaviour – i.e. more than just words on a page? It’s important to understand these as they become guiding principles to where there needs to be a change and shift in behaviour.
Once confident that your people are on side, are true advocates and believe in the goals of the company, you can work with them to amplify that passion for the good of all.
Step 2: Crafting an employee advocacy programme
All employees will have influence – when it comes to where to place your efforts, it really depends on your communication goal. If a goal is to attract young talent, fresh from universities, then spotlighting your new recruits and using their university networks is the right path. But if your goal is to reach more prospects, then a communication programme which profiles your executives and experts is the best way to go. And there’s no reason for a multi-pronged communication programme if you’re looking for communication to serve several goals – what’s important is to not have a one-size-fits-all approach.
Also, there are often synergies between your communication goals and HR goals. For example, HR may want to showcase a successful LGBTQ+ employee community programme, which could lead to more unusual perspectives and storytelling. For example, a new product may be about to launch, and instead of having the CEO talk to a journalist about it, how about having a member of the team who helped develop the product, and was greatly supported by the company’s LGBTQ+ community? Often, this version of the story is more refreshing!
If you’re looking to scale your employee advocacy programme, start small and build up. In the era of authenticity, the quality of the communication is more important than the quantity.
Step 3: How do you measure up?
Starting small helps you establish meaningful metrics, particularly if this is a new approach for the company. Getting a baseline in place, means you can benchmark yourself from there, then build and pivot as your communication programme grows. Part of measurement must drive back to employee sentiment, because if there’s a shift, it may mean putting the brakes on your employee advocacy programme to fix things internally.
So, as we head into Spring, with sunnier days, are you using your people’s positive sentiment to help shape your organisation’s reputation?
ESG is big on the comms agenda but it’s a complex subject. It’s not just about addressing a company’s ‘environmental’ impact.
ESG is short for Environmental, Social, Governance, so there are a host of wrap around components, like skills development, workforce reform or equality and social impact on communities. An ESG programme ultimately serves as a framework for measuring the sustainability and ethical impact of a company’s operations. Due to its complexity, breaking ESG down for your audience is vital, whether that be clients, prospects, employees or investors.
Seeing as April is Earth Month, let’s unpack the E in ESG – environment – and the comms challenges that surround that element.
Companies are increasingly being called out for greenwashing when their ESG comms lacks substance or is seemingly a PR stunt. What should be communicated is proper progress, plans and even challenges.
A report recently published by the IPCC reinforces the urgency of taking more ambitious action around decarbonisation. According to the report, to keep within the 1.5°C global warming limit, emissions need to be reduced by at least 43% by 2030 and at least 60% by 2035. Granted, we have a long way to go but every effort contributes to the overall impact and there are a number of steps companies can take to break down the barriers to decarbonisation.
Instead of trying to be all things to everyone and painting a picture of a perfect organisation with a faultless ESG programme, openness is the best policy. Rather zone in on the one or two things that you as an organisation are doing well and communicate this effectively, acknowledging there is always more to be done and that you have a roadmap. Sharing your journey will resonate with others in your position and they will be appreciative of the advice and learnings.
Green hushing on the rise
On the flip side, green hushing is on the rise due to companies fearing scrutiny of their stated targets and facing accusations, or even lawsuits around greenwashing. A Swiss carbon finance consultancy South Pole surveyed over 1,200 self-professed “heavy-emitting” companies across 12 countries, and their report revealed that 25% of respondents were “keeping quiet” about their science-based climate goals. These companies have mostly set themselves net-zero targets but just aren’t publicising them.
We get it – organisations are opting to withhold information on their climate strategy for fear that releasing it will bring some form of reputational risk to their company, but radio silence may not be the way to go.
By not divulging any information, companies may be perceived as hiding something or already greenwashing which could also pose reputational risk and put them at odds with their stakeholders.
ESG influencing employee decisions
No doubt, there is pressure to address the climate crisis, with personal views on sustainability and environmental impact now being carried through into the workplace and influencing employee decisions. In a recent Yale survey, 51% of 2,000 business students said that they would accept a lower salary to work for a more environmentally responsible organisation. Employees are now more willing to leave their jobs, otherwise known as conscious quitting, if they feel an organisation’s ESG commitments are lacking.
Interestingly, research by Cornerstone, revealed that employee demand for corporate responsibility and workplace sustainability learning content increased by 100% from 2021 to 2022 – indicating a gap between company sustainability policies and employees’ understanding of how to support those policies. Companies should create a common language and understanding within their organisation, and the first step in achieving that is through communication. Who better to be your environmental advocates than your employees.
Keep it real!
ESG should be more than good intentions, which should be reflected in a company’s communications plan. It’s about communicating a tangible, practical plan that is achieving real results. ‘Fake it until you make it’ should certainly not form part of your ESG comms plan. Our advice? Have a voice, be consistent and be authentic!
Europe is a fascinating place. Its history, cultural diversity and impact on the globe make it truly unique. And although it has gone through many challenges in recent decades, including some questionable decisions and a surprising election or two, Europe still remains a great place to do business.
It is also a pivotal market for many companies’ global success and for anyone looking to establish a good base for doing business throughout the region it is critical to establish a strong reputation. To achieve this, a comprehensive PR strategy is crucial. However, Europe is comprised of over 40 countries and 23 languages, and subsequently requires a lot of nuanced thought, particularly as it relates to measuring success.
When compared to other markets, such as the US, there are several key things to bear in mind when assessing how impactful your PR efforts in Europe have been, most important of which is to look beyond the numbers.
Although in simple terms it may seem that the larger the audience and reach of your content, the better, this is not always the case. It’s true you should always look to maximise the impact of your content, but there are a few important aspects to consider when measuring success. Firstly, if you are used to numbers that can be generated in a market such as the US, numbers in Europe can seem underwhelming. Ensure that you are aware of the size of the markets you are dealing with – the population of the Netherlands for example is smaller than that of New York State.
However, also think carefully about comparisons between countries within Europe. Due to the variety within the region, there can be vast differences in reach between countries – you shouldn’t be disheartened if your figures from outreach in the Vatican City aren’t quite on the same level as those in Germany, for example.
Quality not quantity
Be sure you are putting things in context. Instead of counting pieces and their impressions, develop a scoring system in line with your business goals that focuses more on the quality of your content and its specific impact. Measurements like type, tier, message penetration could be a much better indicator of success compared to straight numbers. Part of this is looking at target audiences in those markets you are focusing on and assessing what opportunities they can provide. For example, a readership of a few thousand people in Sweden, may seem like a tiny number, however if these are business or industry leaders with a very specific interest in your sector, that number all of a sudden looks very appealing. However, beyond that think of what it is you are trying to achieve and perhaps target a specific country for a specific industry or goal – for example, manufacturing in Germany, or financial services in the UK.
Additionally, look into measuring a reusability score. We are all having to look after the pennies these days, and as a result anything that can be done to get the most value out of your work should be pursued. If money spent on a single effort can act as your Swiss army knife, generating press releases, media alerts, commentary, thought leadership and beyond, this can be a great indicator of the overall impact that your strategy is having.
Different markets. Different appetites
Media appetites vary hugely throughout the region – in the same way that fish and chips is not a delicacy in France, nor frogs’ legs in Germany, the media is also hungry for different things. It is crucial to have a good understanding of the cultural differences between countries. For example, in a situation where you have a press release to send out that will be localised in a few key languages and distributed throughout Europe, it could be tempting to directly compare results between countries. However, it is highly likely you will see significant differences in the coverage numbers between these countries, even adjusted for population. For example, media in France and Germany have a big appetite for press releases, whereas the UK media is not so keen, and this will have a big impact on results. Other examples include the French and German media’s preference for local spokespeople and brands, meaning you will most likely see increased competition in those markets and coverage numbers could be lower if you do not have a local flavour.
Clearly, measuring success is a crucial aspect of any effort, especially when dealing with limited time and budget. If you are keen to kick off a PR campaign in Europe, be sure to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach and avoid comparing between countries.
For a small continent, Europe is full of a wide variety of different attitudes, tastes and quirks. To understand them all is an almost impossible task, however a little effort can go a long way. By ensuring that you take the time to understand key differences in media attitudes, specific areas of expertise and potential reach you can maximise your ability to measure success.
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?
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.
As revealed in Netflix’s new documentary, ‘White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie and Fitch’, today’s company is very different from the brand of the 1990s and early 2000s. For more than a decade, Abercrombie and Fitch have been in the process of rebuilding its reputation; this reveals some interesting lessons that we can take away as PR and comms professionals.
In its heyday, Abercrombie & Fitch (Abercrombie) was worth more than $5 billion and had more than 1000 stores worldwide. During this period, the company was led by Mike Jeffries, who once revealed in that now-famous 2006 interview that the company’s marketing strategy was deliberately exclusionary. He only wanted the ‘attractive’, ‘cool kids’ wearing Abercrombie. If we look a little deeper, we see that this was not merely a surface level PR strategy – you want what you can’t have, right? Instead, racist and exclusionary policies were embedded within the company’s culture. While these policies once appeared to benefit Abercrombie, as attitudes changed, they quickly eroded the company’s reputation, which has had a fundamental impact on the business’s long-term growth.
The question is; what can the demise of Abercrombie teach us about the importance of managing your company’s reputation?
As the company’s figurehead, the CEO will always have a significant impact on the reputation of your company – both positive and negative! The former CEO of Abercrombie, Mike Jeffries, who once led the brand’s revival, would ultimately become its biggest liability. Jeffries was known for his bold ideas and commitment to the brand. However, he was also uncompromising, unorthodox, and did not take criticism well.
While Jeffries has long since left the company, Abercrombie is still working to ameliorate the damage caused by his tenure as CEO. Ultimately, Jeffries should not have been left to manage the company for so long. That being said, the current CEO, Fran Horowitz, has been working hard to ensure that the company is accountable for past mistakes. In a statement to CNN, Horowitz said, “we own and validate that there were exclusionary and inappropriate actions under former leadership,” adding that the company is now “a place of belonging”.
While the company has a long way to go, the importance of leadership accountability is evident here. Suppose a business fails to hold its leader accountable or recognise when it is time for leadership change. In that case, long-term damage will be inflicted upon the company’s reputation.
As times change, often should a company’s values. Failure to make the necessary changes will eventually impact the reputation of any company. When Jeffries began his tenure as CEO, he built the brand upon racist and discriminatory values. These values quickly began to seep into company culture and policies, hiring practices, and even the designs on the clothes.
In 2003, 8 former employees sued Abercrombie for race and sex discrimination. Without admitting any guilt, the company settled and was required to pay $40 million and sign a decree to change its practices and promote diversity.
For a while, the company continued to get away with its discriminatory practices. However, these days consumers value and expect brands to promote diversity and inclusion. Abercrombie failed to move with the times, which meant that as attitudes changed, the brand became toxic, and their failure to own up to past mistakes came back to haunt them. Companies should continually audit their values and policies to ensure that they are promoting diversity and inclusion and that they are not breaking the law, for that matter!
The demise of Abercrombie from a multi-billion dollar brand to a disgraced clothing company can teach us a few things about managing your company’s reputation:
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.
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.
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