Earlier this month, I attended Tech Show London at the behemoth that is the ExCeL. Aside from getting my hands on a free waffle, I listened in on a particularly illuminating session on comms in cybersecurity – now the basis for this piece.

Cybersecurity and the CSI Cyber Effect

How long is a piece of string? That was the first answer when panellists were asked about some of the common comms challenges faced in the cybersecurity sector. But seriously, what are some of the key challenges?

Firstly, public perception. Cybersecurity has been given the Hollywood treatment, with films and TV shows depicting impossibly attractive actors somehow cracking MI6’s firewall in minutes. Are these scenarios actually possible? Maybe. Regardless, the Hollywood effect has muddied our understanding of what cybersecurity professionals do, why it’s important, and what an actual threat looks like.

In reality, cybersecurity is just about taking care of things; it’s foundational, it’s normal, it’s part of the everyday. But building it into the day-to-day running of a business isn’t as straightforward as it seems. In fact, one of the panellists noted that, in his experience, a lot of companies don’t have a cybersecurity crisis comms plan in place until an incident actually occurs.

It’s going to be difficult to embed cybersecurity across a business if there’s a lack of internal comms, and absolutely zero external comms plans in place. But, as one panellist noted, comms is the number one life skill to have – so how can it be deployed here?

Bridging the internal comms gap

Improving comms in cybersecurity starts internally, by bridging the comms gap. When asked about how this can be done, one panellist said that the answer lies in relationship building, as it trickles down into every area of a business. Another argued cybersecurity should be embedded into projects; it might not be the most exciting aspect, but it is needed. And, of course, the importance of language came up – if an organisation develops a shared language of risk management, it can be incredibly beneficial.

Interestingly, one person said that they would like to see more difficult and awkward discussions happening, especially in the event of an incident. Sure, they’re uncomfortable, but a shared ownership of risk is needed, and being conscious of risk should be normalised across every area of a business. And if a breach occurs, trace it back to see what mistakes people are making to ensure that they don’t happen again.

Never neglect crisis communications

Bridging internal gaps is crucial, but the driving force behind a lot of the session was the need for a crisis comms plan. Think about it: we wouldn’t dare leave our homes without first locking the front door. We don’t even think about it because it’s engrained in us to just do it. The same line of thinking needs to be applied here, and having a comms strategy in place for incidents and breaches has the potential to either make or break a reputation.

In a nutshell, an airtight crisis comms strategy looks like:

  • Keeping communication lines open. Externally speaking, it’s important to keep the customer informed, even if there’s nothing to say. Not every detail needs to be shared but keeping them in the loop shows that you’re taking an incident seriously. Internally speaking, I’ll paraphrase what one of the panellists said: the organisations that handle incidents most effectively are the ones that can wake up at 3am and already know exactly who to call. And the ones who are being called will already know why, where the comms plan is, and the next steps to take.
  • Redefining messaging. It’s not just about processes. Stressful situations can impact articulation and make even the most unwavering spokesperson fluster, so prepare base responses in advance, stick to them, and update them as and when necessary.
  • Living and breathing the plan. Crisis comms is not a box ticking exercise, and a plan should not sit on a shelf gathering dust. Rather, treat it like a fire alarm: build an organisational culture that constantly tests the plan under various scenarios. Keep it updated and drill it into the workforce. Live and breathe it; you never know when you’ll need it.

You may not be munching on a waffle right now, but hopefully you’ll have read this and come away with some important insights. The bottom line? Both internal and external comms have a major role to play in cybersecurity, and if you don’t yet have a crisis comms plan in place, it’s never too early to start working on one.

Company scandals and crises hit the headlines on an almost weekly, if not daily, basis. Cloudflare has been in hot water recently, for instance, for the way the company handled mass layoffs. It was made worse by the now infamous video of a woman being let go by two people she’d never met prior, and the company has come under fire from the media, previous employees, and even current staff. There’s also the personal brand of Elon Musk, who continuously seems woefully unprepared for responding to criticism aimed at X (formerly Twitter).

As individuals, we’re taught that failure is an expected and unavoidable part of life, and that it’s how you deal with failing that really matters. The same mindset, really, should apply to companies. Mistakes are inevitable, and the effects can either be short-lived or they can have the potential to cause long-term damage to a brand’s reputation. As such, a blueprint of how to handle a crisis should be in place for every business – big or small.

One part of this is having a ‘handbook’ of sorts, with clear protocols and practices laid out. This could include approval processes for statements, timelines, at what point to involve legal, and hierarchies of responsibilities with who owns what clearly demarcated. Templates for statements and announcements can also be useful, helping speed-up reaction times when it matters most.

Bringing in a PR agency when a crisis occurs is one effective way of getting support and guidance. However, even more valuable is having a long-standing relationship already in place. Here’s a few reasons why that can be so valuable:

  • Skip the intros, they know you well – When you’ve been working alongside a PR partner for a long time, they know who you and your company are – the mission, values, and messaging. If a crisis hits, no time need be wasted making introductions to the company. They know you and your voice, and they can get stuck in offering support.
  • Avoid knee-jerk internal comms – If you’ve already been working with a PR team to bolster your internal communications, then rapport and trust will already be established among your employees. So, if a crisis hits, you’ll have a strong foundation in place to communicate next steps with staff.
  • Support with customers & stakeholders – Crises aren’t just bad for public image – they can be really damaging to relationships with customers and other stakeholders. A trusted PR partner can work closely with you to craft statements and strategies on how to protect these relationships in the wake of – and lead up to – a potential crisis.

These are just a handful of ways a PR partner can support when it comes to crisis comms – there are so many more. Ultimately, having an experienced and agile PR team alongside you is not only beneficial for day-to-day reputation building; it is critical for when a crisis hits and a reputation needs protecting.

How many times have we uttered these words in defeat during the festive season? After hours of trying to decrypt the magic combination of ‘yesses’ and ‘nos’ in a chatbot window while online shopping, desperately trying to reach the inbox of a human employee.

Well, if you believe the AI industry’s announcements, come the new year, that will soon be a struggle of the past.

Yes, chatbots are undergoing a rebrand. No longer are they the cryptic gatekeepers to the human behind the screen; companies are working on making virtual assistants more humanised. Take bank NatWest’s new AI-powered chatbot, ‘Cora’ for example. Human name aside, it has been developed with the goal of being more personable by being able to provide information to the user in a friendly conversational style.

The humanising of chatbots comes at a time when we are living a strange duality of both fearing AI’s scope and embracing it as one of us. At the same time world leaders met at Bletchley Park to discuss next steps around regulation for AI, we were asking Alexa for quick dinner recipes.

And while identified by some as “one of the biggest threats to humanity”, we are calling it the names of our friends and family. This isn’t a new phenomenon. One of the first chatbots was called ELIZA and was developed in 1966. In fact, you can still chat to ‘her’ today. But more confusingly in the past year, celebrities like Kendall Jenner sold their images to Meta to create chatbots who look and speak like them.  

The effectiveness of using a celebrity image in humanising chatbots is questionable. When speaking to Billie (Jenner’s AI counterpart), watchers of The Kardashians are transferring their parasocial relationship they have with Jenner from the show to Billie – adapting quickly to using and trusting the bot.

Further to the way chatbots are looking and speaking to us, we are unconsciously accepting the personalisation of the software. Using language for human actions is increasing anthropomorphism of AI in our everyday conversations. Terms like ‘hallucinating’ – for describing when a chatbot AI programme produces false information – has become Cambridge Dictionary’s word of the year, cementing it in the 2023 zeitgeist.

Many of us, especially the older generation, are resistant to the chatbot, preferring to pick up the phone and have a real person handle our queries about returning gifts or logging into our banking apps. But a study at the Technical University of Berlin found that working alongside robots causes us to slack off in the same way we would with human colleagues. Is this a crack in the wall between humans and machines?

Perhaps as 2024 continues, and AI’s rebrand becomes more streamlined, the lines will blur between how we treat other humans and how we speak to chatbots.

Which begs the question – how long will it be before we are asking “Can I just speak to a chatbot, please?”.

We’ve all seen reputational disasters play out before. Crisis comms kick in, and leadership is forced to make tough decisions about the future. But, what about when a company reputation isn’t totally obliterated, but it takes a knock?

Tackling a PR setback

England’s Rugby Football Union (RFU) has a partnership with British Airways. British Airways has leveraged this partnership in its comms activity, with various marketing actions including sharing pictures of the England men’s rugby team flying first class to their matches. So, when the sporting world found out that the RFU and British Airways declined to fly the England women’s rugby team first class to their World Cup matches late last year, both organisations experienced a PR issue.

Ever since this information became public, debate has ensued about whether the two organisations made the right or wrong decision. Whether you agree or disagree with the decision, we can all agree that this situation is about reputational impact.

Character vs capability reputation

Company reputation is split between character reputation and capability reputation. Capability reputation is the organisation’s ability to deliver a product or a service, in this case, the RFU and British Airways’ capability to transport the team from A to B.

Capability reputation is always balanced with character reputation, which is all about how a product or service is being delivered. In this example, both organisations were perceived as capable of getting England’s women and men alike to the pitches. But, in a context in which sexism in sport remains prevalent, the organisations’ decision to offer superior treatment to the men’s team was always going to result in a character reputation setback.

Building a consistently winning character reputation strategy

Shaping a company reputation is a lot like playing a game of rugby. Organisations hype themselves up, formulate a winning strategy, and then start to make moves. But it’s important that leaders don’t let their gameplan slip.

  • Think long-term: The best sports’ teams never give up. The same goes for the best reputational strategies – it’s about future gazing. Companies should avoid contradictory campaigns by building reputational strategies that have longevity.
  • Consider individual moves: No one can play a game of rugby alone. Equally, no company can build a reputation based upon one action alone. Reputation shaping is most effective when each daily action is considered carefully and adds up to the long-term goal.
  • Keep going for gold: It can take time for a message to hit home, just like it can take time to push the ball over the line to score. Consistency helps a message stick, so companies need to be prepared to repeat messaging – and have the actions to match what they say – to really build an effective reputation.

Consistency is Queen, as proved by the Red Roses breaking the world record for most consecutive wins in International Rugby Union. Similarly, a company reputation is formed over years, and every action counts. Above all, leaders must avoid reputational blunders by building out a long-term strategy that avoids contradiction and always remains consistent.

What do a maple syrup company, world-renowned author JK Rowling, and Ellen DeGeneres all have in common? They have all been cancelled and are still reeling from the effects. Cancel culture, which can be defined as the blacklisting and ostracisation of a company, celebrity, or public figure, is one of the biggest issues facing PR today. Companies have fought tirelessly to grow their reputations, and now thanks to cancel culture, there is even more need to build a robust reputation.

Increasingly, we are seeing examples of when a strong reputation with loyal customers (or fanbases) make brands somewhat ‘cancel-proof’. In fact, time and time again, organisations that were once trending on Twitter for their often controversial ‘cancellation’, have risen from the ashes due to their leaders’ strong and resilient reputation.

Crisis management has always been a significant part of public relations, but no one could have predicted the scale and reach that cancel culture might have. So, should communications professionals be scared of the looming threat of cancel culture? Or could a strong reputation mean a resilience can be built against these mass boycotts?

Great reputations and charismatic leaders

Despite the power of ‘cancellation’, reputation has been the saving grace of some companies and public figures, who may have otherwise succumbed to the snubbing. A notable example of this is YouTube titan Jeffree Star, who owns makeup company Jeffree Star Cosmetics. Despite exhibiting behaviour that could risk cancellation, Star and his cosmetics empire have remained resilient to this threat, due to his strong online presence and reputation, as well as his loyal and established fanbase.

In the tech world, one may draw parallels with Elon Musk. Musk’s ability to survive controversy after controversy has been attributed to the fact that he is a charismatic leader, although that’s not to say there hasn’t been some reputational damage to Tesla because of Musk’s behaviour.

Damage that cancellation can do

The reputational damage that cancel culture can do is not to be understated. A certain beverage company will remember 2017 as the year they lost a predicted $5 million dollars in the aftermath of cancel culture. When Pepsi hired the world’s highest paid supermodel Kendall Jenner to star in their protest themed advert, no one (well… maybe some of us) could have guessed that it would result in a huge uproar from people all over the world and significant reputational damage for the company. In fact, the company is still being teased for the incident in pop culture. Although Pepsi has not ‘died’ due to cancel culture, it suffered reputational damage that, with everyone and everything having a permanent, undeletable digital footprint, will not be forgotten and will always be a stain on the company’s reputation. It goes to show that no brand leader, or even the world’s biggest supermodel, could save Pepsi from taking a hit to their reputation.

As much as some companies may hope and pray, cancel culture is not going anywhere. The rise of social media’s influence on society (71% of Tik Tok users believe it’s where the biggest trends start) means that brand need to learn to adapt and survive against cancel culture, and the addition of a charismatic leader is a major component to reputational resilience. The decisions that a company makes when it concerns a company’s reputation must be thoroughly thought through. Ultimately, it is not cancel culture itself that organisations (with or without a face) should fear, but the status of your reputation and whether it can make your company resilient.

The last couple of years have brought what has felt like near non-stop economic turbulence. Brexit, Covid-19, the outbreak of war in Ukraine and now the spiralling cost of living and energy prices have all created shockwaves to global economies. At a time where the pinch is being felt by businesses and consumers alike, communications – both internal and external – must be approached delicately.

Communicating how a product or service can genuinely help customers during this period – whether it’s through cutting back IT costs, speeding up internal processes, reskilling talent quickly, and so on – is important, yes. But it is also important to recognise that this may not be the time to apply huge amounts of pressure to existing and prospective customers. Consumers and businesses alike are being cautious with their spending. There are nerves, fear even, about what’s to come. An aggressive sales and communication strategy might seem the way to go, but it’s certainly not the most empathetic.

At times like this, the art of communication becomes more nuanced than ever. It’s vital to show your customers that you see them, that you understand the challenges they’re facing as well as their fears and reservations. It’s important you don’t adopt a blanket approach but instead understand how the economic downturn might be affecting each of your key target industries differently, and what the different needs are. Businesses can show this understanding and expertise through website content like blogs and whitepapers, email marketing, and social media that adds value – sharing relevant insights and advice. Thought leadership pieces from a company’s experts and executives is another great way of communicating value and advice. A renewed focus on customer advocacy could also earn you more loyalty as it allows existing or potential customers to see the value of your product or service through the eyes and experiences of others.

Of course, communicating with customers or external stakeholders is only one side of the coin. Internal communications during an economic downturn are also crucial. Staff must be made to feel safe and valued in their roles. And, if redundancies do need to happen, your internal communication plan needs to ensure that transparency, empathy and consistency are incorporated. The manner in which layoffs are carried out can truly make or break a company’s reputation, as demonstrated by SnapChat’s CEO saying layoffs were a way to weed out the company’s ‘haters’.

Having communications partners by your side to share their expertise and help guide you and your business through these coming months – or even years – is hugely valuable. Brands and reputations don’t stop in an economic downturn. In fact, these are the very moments in time when they are moulded.

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?

Leadership and 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.

Company values

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!

So, what can we learn from this as communications professionals?

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:

  • The CEO embodies a company’s reputation: the CEO of any company embodies its reputation. Organisations should be willing to let go of a CEO if their actions or personal life begin to distract from the mission of the company – failure to do so can cause irreversible damage 
  • Accountability: organisations that hold themselves accountable for past mistakes will be able to distance themselves from previous damage and begin rebuilding their reputation
  • Values: organisations should constantly review their values, culture and policies to ensure that they reflect the mission of the company. Out of date practices should be scrapped and replaced with policies that promote diversity and inclusion. 

The past few weeks must have been pretty stormy in the KPMG comms team. KPMG’s ex-chairman, Bill Michael, recently came under fire for making controversial remarks about his employees “playing the victim card” and “moaning” about their circumstances during the lockdown. The comms team reacted fast and the organisation was quick to make changes – and communicate them well! However, it’s unfortunate that most of the damage took place in a matter of days as Michael’s story trial was analysed and scrutinised by the media in no time at all. It’s clear that there is a lot of work to be done with repairing KPMG’s damaged reputation and the comms teams are more than likely sorting it as we speak, but what would you do if this happened to your organisation?

Of course, this question may feel like nothing more than hypothetical but getting stuck in these kinds of dilemmas isn’t as far away as you may want to believe. It could be something as simple as a video leaking of your CEO or Senior Director saying something in private that goes against the company vision or values. It could be a spokesperson retweeting something without fully understanding the implications. Or even just someone forgetting to change from their social media account to their personal account and tweeting something inappropriate from the company feed. It may seem unlikely, but these things have happened countless times before. Cast your mind back to 2017 when Uber’s founder Travis Kalanic’s argument with a driver was leaked – it cost him his job and a hit to his reputation. We’ve explored this further in our Reputation Shapers guide that you can access here.

There is no doubt that an over-exuberant or insensitive leader somewhere will make mistakes again, and there is so much being written right now about leading with empathy. But, how can you prevent this from happening in the first place and protect your organisation if the heavens open and you find yourself in the middle of a communications storm? Here are three tips to help with weathering the storm:

Take time to train

Just because someone is a good speaker doesn’t necessarily mean that they are ready to speak to the world. It is so important that senior teams are trained and fully briefed before stepping into the media limelight. And it’s not just about knowing how to speak well with the media, it’s about knowing how to stay on message and communicate appropriately. Similarly, it’s important to know what kind of person they are. Are they likely to lose their temper? Are they stubborn? If so, these things could become an issue and understanding what they may need and supporting them is equally as important.

Remember, it’s not just the media we have to be prepared for. The drama with KPMG stemmed from an internal discussion at a town hall, Uber’s issues arose from a leaked conversation with an employee and countless figureheads have been cancelled on social media for speaking out of turn. Just like the timeless saying goes: Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

Staying calm in a crisis

Being in a crisis, regardless of the situation, is a stressful ordeal for anyone to face but being prepared for it makes the experience a bit more palatable. With any media-related plans that have even the slightest possibility of turning sour, your comms teams must be prepared for a crisis situation.

If you aren’t prepared and something has come up to bite you, much like the KPMG comms team must have felt recently, the first step is to pause and understand just how damaging this is. Knowing what you are working with will help to rationalise the next steps and understand how much help and support you may need. This can also help to understand how rapid your response should be. Jumping on the issue too soon could make it seem insincere but leaving it too late leaves time for speculation to occur.

Secondly, what is the best way to communicate your response? Is it sending a press release, or holding a press conference? Or even just focusing on one interview to clear the person’s name? Whatever is the best practice for the situation, stick with that and follow it through until the end. Depending on the scenario, actions may be your next step. When looking at KPMG, the cultural lack of awareness might not end with the removal of the chairman but it’s a start – this needs to be followed up with proactive action from the company to get their reputation back on track to prove to their people, clients and the outside world that they are doing things to actively improve these situations.

Finally, ensure you are monitoring the situation and staying on your toes. Just because the news cycle is over, doesn’t mean it won’t come back to bite you!

Crystal clear communications

The vocabulary we use to communicate is just as important as the way we communicate. An easy way to ensure the right language is used is by accurately preparing for communications – this can be through detailed briefing documents with sections that focus on topics and phrases to actively avoid, or in-person training sessions. Granted, pressure or nerves may get in the way, and that cannot be helped, but giving support and practising should help to avoid potential mishaps.

The only thing worse than saying the wrong thing is saying nothing at all. When faced with a difficult question, it may feel safer to say “no comment” or divert from the question itself but this can be just as damaging. Recently, Matt Hancock came under fire from Piers Morgan on This Morning following the free school meals scandal. Instead of answering the question, Hancock merely recited the “safe” phrases and unsurprisingly, the interview spread like wildfire. Should his comms team have been prepared for this question? Absolutely! But communications can be unpredictable and with the power of social media, one foot in the wrong direction can become a crisis in a matter of minutes.

Getting it right with communications is tough – the world is unpredictable and what grabs people’s attention is changing every day. As comms professionals, we must ensure that we are prepared for all outcomes, good and bad. These tips will help you to prepare your teams and leaders for communications gone bad but sometimes it helps to get an outsider to help. We run workshops and personal coaching programmes that can help with these issues and prevent them before they arise – you can read more about our services and offerings here.

Countless people have said it, but this year really was anything but predictable. Despite the sudden change, the year wasn’t all doom and gloom. Mental health was discussed more, social justice movements really accelerated, carbon emissions dropped at the height of lockdown, Animal Crossing had its time in the limelight, and most of us learnt how to make bread and other baked goods.

With 2020 almost behind us, we’ve been having some great discussions here at Firefly about what we think the year ahead holds, so here are six of the main trends we’ve come up with that we think will have a huge impact on the world of comms in 2021.

Stronger communication of social and political movements 

This year, we have seen social justice efforts dialled up drastically. Hugely important topics such as climate change, animal rights, and wellbeing were brought to the awareness of the masses more so than ever before this year. However, the most powerful of which was undoubtedly the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement this year, where many stood in solidarity to fight against racial oppression and reflected on the prejudices within their own societies. The impactful global movement not only brought these issues to the front of everyone’s minds, but it also prompted action from a number of organisations and effective communication became key.

As we approach 2021, it is likely that topics much like these will continue to surface, causing a shift in both corporate and consumer behaviour. Responding in the wrong way, or not responding at all, can have a negative knock-on effect on the reputation of individuals and/or companies, so being prepared for communicating on issues will be a key consideration as we enter the new year. 

Move over media relations

In the coming year, the face of PR will change, even more so than it has already. Companies, and particularly in-house PR teams, are focusing less and less on traditional media coverage. Of course, the media remains an important audience to communicate to, but comms specialists must start to look at the reputation all around them, not just in the media. Finding the right means of communication will become crucial to helping build or improve the reputation of organisations or individuals. With tactics such as SEO, employer branding, and other reputation-building tactics becoming more and more impactful, it’s clear that media relations alone simply won’t cut it anymore. As an industry, we must start to adapt, develop, and innovate in 2021, pushing communication to its full potential.

Tim believes that “The best campaigns nowadays hit different audiences, in different ways, and at different times, and the truth is that media relations on its own doesn’t usually deliver that as effectively as a wider comms campaign.”

Cancel culture continues on

Prior to this year, we knew cancel culture was a thing, but with the power of social media and the increase of social justice movements, both the extent and frequency has increased a fair bit. Most infamously this year was the fall of the once beloved writer, J.K. Rowling who voiced opinions that many deemed as anti-transgender. Despite numerous attempts to repair her reputation by demonstrating support and clarification on her opinions, J.K.’s cancel saga continues.

So far, the comms industry has had some trouble with understanding and getting to grips with cancel culture. And this is only expected to get harder in the coming year. Our words, especially on social media, can make a huge impact. Now that those involved in cancel culture know that it works, it’s likely that this will only increase just how much they partake in the public shaming of brands. Going forward, we must start to take cancel culture seriously.

For anyone who’s still new to cancel culture or wants to learn a bit more, we wrote a blog about it recently. You can read it here.

The battle against misinformation continues 

We wrote a blog last year about deepfakes being a big threat to the media, and the efforts of those involved in spreading misinformation have really ramped up since. The pandemic has caused a huge amount of misinformation to be spread as many questioned the virus, the causes and eventually the vaccine. In retaliation, the World Health Organisation coined the phrase “infodemic” to explain this plethora of information and its rapid spread. Social media giants even began to crack down on misinformation by flagging posts that may have inaccuracies or be deceptive – hopefully, this will be just the start of the likes of Facebook and Twitter preventing the spread of fake news.

In the next year, it’s likely we will begin to see some real innovation in this area and a shift in behaviour, but it won’t be easy. Comms will have a tricky year ahead trying to deliver accurate, reliable, and credible information, and if the culture of misinformation continues to grow and become more mainstream, this will cause even more challenges!

Empathy, care, and continued commitment

After being subject to nationwide and local lockdowns, where many of us were unable to see our closest friends and families, we all needed a little boost. Everyone has already begun to pay close attention to their own mental wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around them. Even the government has begun to comment on this too. With so much focus on this, it is almost definitely something that will impact the year ahead. For comms professionals, communicating with care is key and care should be top of the agenda for leaders too.

Christian thinks that “The Covid-19 vaccine will take a long time to change the world stage, so people will be working remotely for some time yet. This means that leaders must continue being inspiring, motivating their staff, and making difficult decisions for some time yet. It’s time to dig deep and communicate clearly, powerfully and responsibly.”

Planning for uncertain times

As we know, this year hasn’t been predictable at all, and actually, it’s uncertain just how much we can know about the next year. Despite the uncertainty, we can plan for the year ahead by ensuring there is fluidity interwoven into our plans. Pre-Covid, it was easy enough for us to plan around big events, or key moments in the calendar for the following year. Due to the vaccine being distributed, we can almost start planning in this way again, but we must ensure we have a back-up plan if these milestone moments in the year are postponed or cancelled.

According to Charlotte, “A full, detailed yearly plan has not been ‘a thing’ for a while, things change far too fast to look that far ahead. There is still uncertainty around the corner, so comms planning must be fluid and we must give ourselves room to flex, to either face new challenges or take advantage of new opportunities.”

There are, of course, countless other trends that are likely to make an impact in the year ahead, but these are the six we really think you, as a comms professional, would benefit from keeping a close eye on. This year has been an interesting one to say the least, but we’ve all learnt a lot, and despite the uncertainty, some great things have happened. From us at Firefly, we hope you have a wonderful festive break, enjoy time with loved ones, and recharge those batteries for a brilliant new year ahead. And of course, hopefully the newfound baking skills many of us picked up in lockdown can come in handy for whipping up some festive treats while playing Michael Bublé on repeat!

We all went on a summer holiday… or maybe not if you happened to book your flight with BA.

Strikes and IT outages wreaked havoc this summer, with numerous cancellations and delays (in one instance, all apparently due to a plug being pulled out). Not only could this quickly turn your dream vacation into the holiday from hell, it’s also a PR person’s nightmare.

In any industry, there’s never a good time for something negative and unwanted to crop up, and certainly not during the height of summer in the travel industry. And of course, the challenge with crisis situations is that seemingly minor incidents need to be handled correctly. If not, they will also slowly chip away at that reputation you’ve worked so hard to build up and eventually crack it completely.

It’s inevitable that there will be tricky situations to navigate through, but for the comms teams, you shouldn’t need to panic, strap on a life jacket or make your way to the nearest emergency exit: you’ve got this.

All too often though, many businesses are still doing exactly that, getting their approach and reaction wrong. So, if something does arise, what should you say, how and when should you say it, or should you take a leaf from Ronan Keating’s book and say nothing at all?

Staying shtum – the no comment predicament

“No comment” is a famous phrase uttered by many a celebrity or politician, but in today’s media landscape not saying something is a comment in itself. Aston Martin has recently featured in the media over serious losses after its IPO, but most notable of all was the lack of anyone to comment. Indeed, just a day after the news broke, the Daily Telegraph followed up with publishing a whole piece analysing why the CEO didn’t say anything.

It seems that many companies still have not learnt from Facebook’s hard lesson last year during the Cambridge Analytica scandal, as many media sources asked, “Where’s Zuckerberg?” With so many ways to share news and communicate with the public and customers, companies are expected to say something. Not doing so can be taken as a snub, not taking an issue seriously or caring about customers, or even an indication of guilt.

However, there can be a right time to say nothing. In any crisis, it’s important to establish the facts: who is calling you and are they who they say they are? If it’s an unhappy customer, then should you pass it on to customer services? Similarly, is this something that has been a problem in the past? If it is just someone with a personal vendetta now is the time to decline to speak. When it comes to social media trolls, do not engage!

Saying nothing can be a bold move, so just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.

Fanning the flames

When we were kids, we were all told: “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” While as grown adults we may not always quite follow this mantra, when it comes to the world of comms, there can be something to be said for it.

If you do decide to speak up, it’s important to keep your emotions in check and stick to the facts. An extreme reaction may be seen as providing grounds and proof to accusations and can make the situation a whole lot worse. Few of us have forgotten Elon Musk’s Twitter debacle over Space X’s submarine and the Thailand Caves.

Similarly, don’t make any promises or claims you can’t stick to. When TSB experienced service outages last year, it jumped the gun, explaining that the service would be down over the weekend but up and fully running again on the Monday. This was not the case until many days later. TSB’s continued customer dissatisfaction (not to mention subsequent summons by MPs) are testament to hasty promises doing more harm than good.

The biggest faux pas? Shifting the blame to another party. Here TSB also made a false move, trying to push the problems onto Sabadell. But when it comes to trying to manage your reputation, this is not going to sit well with your customers ‒ always take responsibility and hold yourself accountable.

If what you have to say is only going to make things worse, it may well be time to heed your parents’ advice.

Having your say

So how can you differentiate and make sure that you’re putting forward your view, rather than just setting a match to the situation? Here are some top tips:

 

In many countries, the summer is a quiet period, but this isn’t always true – and many firms have found that out the hard way! With September around the corner and a new year less than a hundred days away, it’s more important than ever to be prepared. So, buckle up and with some preparation, even a bit of turbulence can still result in a smooth landing.

Is it time to shape your reputation?

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