The story of how the fake design agency Madbird ensnared unsuspecting job seekers into its web has gone viral, leaving readers shocked at the façade that was created.

Can you blame these unsuspecting employees who trusted that the company they were working for was in fact legitimate? The evidence presented across all aspects of the company set-up was convincing. After all, we were in the thick of a global pandemic and relied heavily on technology (and still do). It’s become an important conduit of communication in our professional and personal lives.

I myself made the decision to accept a job offer in London and immigrate to the UK – based solely on communication and interaction through technology with a dash of blind faith. Job interviews over Zoom/MS teams have become the norm. Fortunately, I evaded becoming a casualty of jobfishing and joined an established, reputable, and dynamic European tech PR agency.   

Madbird was built lie upon lie and rotten to the core, using a technology-built façade as a blunt instrument to lure clients and employees. It created fake characters, fake imagery, fake campaigns and fake clients and it nearly succeeded. Is it possible the PR and comms industry might have fake imposters?

Let’s assume our industry is not immune to imposters – what steps can you take to flush out the fakes when looking to partner with a PR or communications agency?

Choosing a European tech PR agency

Accreditation

The first step is to establish if the agency in question is registered and has passed management consultancy standards by a notable industry body or association such as the PRCA.  The agency should be accredited and committed to the development of its own industry.

Word of mouth

Reach out to your network to see if they’ve heard of the agency or its founder and establish if they have a favourable reputation, not only in the communications industry but business circles too.

Don’t be blinded by the flash

Establish whether the PR agency you’re considering partnering with has a passion for and experience in effective communications. Any company can put together a flashy presentation that is hugely impressive, but is there substance? Will the team deliver on promises? Is the agency demonstrating a proactive and brave yet focused? Is it an agency that could align with your company’s strategic imperatives and would the team know how to translate that into a communications strategy?

Chemistry is key

Your PR agency should be an extension of your team and be able to integrate seamlessly into your company and team culture. Setting up a chemistry session (in person if possible) should quickly tell you if these are the type of people you would like to work with – do they have the right energy and could you see them building strong interpersonal relationships with you and your team? Remember to trust your gut.

Take up referrals and references

Review the case studies or work the agency has executed (and verify it if you can) and don’t be afraid to ask for referrals whether from clients or journalists.

As a communications agency whose core business is servicing technology-driven clients, Firefly has been fortunate to collaborate with many great companies, large and small, whose technology has made a strong case for impacting human lives, business and our planet positively.

Technology may be our passion and an enabler in business, but we spend as much time as we can listening mostly but talking to our clients, and talking amongst ourselves about different ways, better ways or faster way to achieve results and greater impact. Speak to the people proposed on your team, and interview them as you would any potential joiner to your business. You buy into an agency culture, but really you buy a team of people.

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: 

  1. Make sure it’s representative of all voices – a rebrand and reshape is a huge project, especially if you’re a large organisation. It’s important that these decisions are made with the representation of all employees in the organisation. Basecamp found this out the hard way when a third of its employees left the company after the CEO told employees in an email to keep ideology out of the workplace and to “focus on the company’s actual business” 
  1. Practice what you preach – it’s all good and well announcing sweeping changes to your company on social media and to the press, but you’ll soon be caught out by your employees if no real change is happening on the inside. If you’re reshaping to promote diversity, does your board reflect a diverse workforce? Are you reshaping to be more environmentally conscious? Outline exactly how you’ll be tackling that, both for employees and everyone else.   
  1. Establish a new messaging framework – setting the tone for your refreshed business is essential, make sure to consider exactly what and how you’ll be talking about your business and how stakeholders can support those messages.  
  1. Momentum is key – After the big splash about the rebrand and reshape, make sure to keep on talking. Keep communicating with the new messaging and stick to your guns – it may take some time getting used to it. 
  1. Prepare for (minor) backlash – rebrands and reshapes are complicated and do carry big risk – even the biggest companies struggle to get it right. Just ensure you’re doing it for the right reasons and anticipate responses or a potential backlash from employees and the public.  

At this point, most of us will have seen the latest Netflix-induced cultural phenomenon – The Tinder Swindler. If not, you’ll likely have heard about it through friends, news outlets and every existing social media platform you happen to be active on. But here’s something you’ve maybe not thought about: what can the Tinder Swindler teach us about comms, PR and branding?  

Boy meets girl, boy scams girl… 

If you’ve somehow managed to avoid knowledge of the new Netflix documentary entirely, let me summarise it for you…spoiler alert! A man meets women on the dating app Tinder, presenting himself as extremely wealthy with a lavish lifestyle. He embarks on relationships with these women  and then, a few months down the line, he convinces them that he is in imminent danger from his ‘enemies’. He then persuades them to send him money so he can escape – only, he keeps needing more. Using this method, he’s defrauded his victims of an estimated $10million.  

You might be thinking: sorry, how does this tie into PR and comms again? I’m getting there, I promise.  

Honesty is the best policy 

Let’s talk about image. The Tinder Swindler was an extremely convincing communicator when it came to his image. He portrayed himself as charming, genuine and immensely wealthy – and his victims believed him. But, of course, this was a complete lie. A lie that was ultimately exposed. And, while some might view having a Netflix documentary made about you as a form of success, he’s now known globally as a con artist and his face is not one that many women will be swiping right on anymore.  

The lesson we can all take from this is that honesty is integral when it comes to any branding or comms strategy. Putting a false, romanticised version of a company or brand out into the world may bring some initial success. But without honesty and integrity at its core, any comms plan will eventually crumble.  

PRs are your partners  

Now we know our clients aren’t out to con anyone – as most companies aren’t! That’s not what we’re implying. But it’s certainly not unheard of to get wrapped up in the excitement of appearing in the press. And sometimes, in an effort to achieve this, companies can lose sight of what it is they should be communicating, and how.  

It should be a shared responsibility between the company itself, and the PR agency they partner with, to manage this. Lots of PRs are yes men, and of course there’s an element of this required in any service industry. But it’s also vital that we remember our role as partners and advisors. Companies need PR agencies that will keep them honest, challenge them when PR, comms or branding strategy is overstepping the mark, and provide push back where necessary.  

Substance over splash, always  

For instance, companies can often fall into the trap of wanting to overhype all and any company news, whether it’s a genuinely interesting new acquisition or simply a change of office. The press quickly grow tired of exaggerated news of success and so, as PRs, it’s our job to call out when hyperbole might be in play and push back on forcing this news out to sceptical journalists.   

Another area companies can get carried away with is employer branding. With the current employment market the way it is, every company is naturally keen to appeal to candidates. But it’s vital to remember – before launching into any awards, speaker opportunities, or weighing in on any news – that the work actually needs to be done internally first. A company that is 90% male should do tangible work on improving inclusivity before commenting on International Women’s Day, for instance.  

PRs should be ready and willing to point things like this out, helping keep our clients honest and on the straight and narrow. This partnership will lay the foundation for a strong PR and comms strategy, with truth-telling at its core.  

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.

During a mere number of years, many of us have the felt the effects which followed on from the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve been bombarded with constant negative news from the spread of new variants, to reports of impending climate doom and political upheaval. In many ways, the negativity has been almost inescapable. Happy stories have certainly been in short supply, but now that we’re finally starting to see the blue skies shining through, there is no reason to repeat this trend in 2022.

The start of a new year is an opportunity to shift our thinking to that of optimism. Amid the chaos of the pandemic, good news stories have been buried in favour of stories that stoke fear and anxiety. A new term even came to prominence during the pandemic – ‘doomscrolling’ – or the act of continually consuming negative news on social media. Reports have also revealed a steady decline in news interest during this period with many saying they find the constant barrage of negative news repetitive, confusing, and frustrating. Evidence that people prefer to hear good news in the face of such overwhelming information fatigue is mounting.

As communications professionals, we have the power to shift the narrative – both in the stories that we produce and in our own lives. In an industry where we are required to be creative and constantly on the point, harnessing the power of optimism is a requirement to meet our goals as the new year dawns.

Optimism builds resilience

A new year brings with it an opportunity for a fresh start. Naturally, the new year also brings on challenges and the need to adapt to changes in the form of new campaigns, new clients, or new colleagues. During this time, it’s important to remain positive and take advantage of the opportunities that come our way – in both our personal and professional lives. In the face of adversity, a positive mindset can work wonders.

We have to be resilient to work in this industry. If something isn’t going quite right, communications professionals need to keep reinventing the wheel and try new things. If a story isn’t landing, or if the days just seem too short to fit in all our tasks, we need to keep adapting and innovating even in stressful situations.

We have to expect that good things are coming our way. Optimism gives you the power to keep forging ahead even in the sea of constant ‘no’ – the ability to recover from failure, learn from it and move forward stronger than before.  

Optimism leads to creativity

As we search for opportunity in the adversity, we should look to create new ways to get our voices heard in an industry that is evolving as quickly as the news cycle. It’s been proven that when we think positively, it leads to improved motivation, productivity, and wellbeing.

Communications professionals need to constantly learn about different perspectives, view the world from multiple lenses and speak to our audiences in ways that will engage and inspire them. A positive outlook on the world can be the motivational tool needed to truly invent something new and different that will make a lasting impact.

Optimism inspires those around us

Positivity is infectious. Studies show that optimists are more confident, and often have a more positive mood, higher morale, and better physical health. Setting a positive tone in your workplace environment is critical during chaotic times, because if negativity takes over it can be difficult to roll back.

To start off the new year right, promoting positivity in the workplace is one of the most important things we can do. Take the time to recognise the achievements of others and give praise where it’s due. Establishing optimism at the outset will encourage people to express their ideas confidently and motivate them to get the job done even when time is running short. The new year is also the right time to re-evaluate what it is that we want and how to get there. The confidence boost from a positive work environment may empower people to speak up for what they believe in and ask for what they want.

Making a positive impact on the world starts with the small things – believing the glass is half full and sharing that perspective with others even in tough times. If a culture of optimism is established in our organisations, it will permeate into the work that we do as communications professionals. Even in challenging moments, tapping into the power of optimism will ensure the people around you, and those who consume the content that you produce, are also enabled to see that blue sky.

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.

  1. It only concerns crisis management

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.

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!

I don’t think I’m wrong in thinking that many of us are very much looking forward to saying farewell, au revoir and auf wiedersehen to 2020. It has been quite the turbulent year, to say the least, and I’m sure almost people are exhausted and ready for the Christmas break. With vaccines preparing to be rolled out, 2021 is already starting to look more hopeful and ‘normality’ may actually start to return.

Whilst we’ll be quite glad to see the back of this year, we shouldn’t totally forget it. We’ve seen a lot of great things come out of 2020 that had a real impact on lives and society – from the generosity of people and companies offering their money and support to those in need, to finding a better work life balance through remote working –, so it’s not all been doom and gloom.

Here at Firefly, we have had many moments of inspiration throughout the year. If anything, the whirlwind of 2020 got us talking, debating and sharing so much more, with lots of great new ideas and reflections in the comms space. Launching Reputation Shapers was most definitely a highlight for us – more on that below! With every crisis comes creativity, new thinking and differing outlooks on life, and so I wanted to share some of our best pieces of content.

  1. Unrestricted creative thinking in an ever more restricted world. Back in March, when we were all feeling a little uncertain and unmotivated, Charlotte wrote this piece which includes some handy tools to help boost creativity and morale – something we’ll definitely be needing again in January when we come back refreshed from the Christmas holidays!
  2. Communicating in a global crisis. Effectively communicating in a crisis is tough, as some companies have learnt this year (some better than others). Angel’s piece from April discussed this conundrum and how we can navigate a meaningful message in a troubling time.
  3. Europe: How to get multi-country comms right. Did you catch our webinar ran by our European PR experts? Here’s a taster of what they discussed.
  4. It’s time for comms to get serious about ‘cancel culture’. Whilst the pandemic distracted us from many things, it failed to distract us from cancel culture. In fact, the movement seemed even more prevalent this year. Tim delves into more detail in this piece and why it’s important for us comms folk to get our heads around.
  5. The Covid marketing brain: How marketers are thinking and acting in new ways. Marketers have had to shut down some plans, rethink others and completely move away from their usual timeline. The team and I decided to illustrate what the marketers brain might look like in this piece for Just Marketing back in May – this will likely continue to evolve in 2021!
  6. Comic relief: An ode to humour. In darkness, you always try and find the light and in this piece, I shed some light on all things comedy and how it can be used as an effective communicative tool.
  7. Do company values add value? Company values have been particularly tested this year. In this piece from Christian, he explored what they really add to a company and whether they’re worth it or not.
  8. Employee communications after sudden transformation. In this playbook, Charlotte explores the challenges that leadership have faced throughout COVID-19 when it comes to communicating to employees and what organisations can do to unify the workforce following a period of sudden change.A must-read for any internal comms departments!
  9. The COVID-19 casebook. Many companies went to superhuman lengths this year, going above and beyond to help those in need this year. In this casebook, Christian highlights some of the unsung heroes in the B2B world.
  10. The Firefly guide to shaping your reputation. After some serious hard work and brain power, we launched Firefly: The Reputation Shapers, our brand-new proposition. As part of the launch, we put together our guide to reputation management which reflects our proud history and abilities as an agency.  

We look forward to writing more inspiring and thought-provoking content in 2021 and continuing to shape the reputation of tech-driven companies. Bring it on!

The game escape: But it’s not a game, it’s a multibillion industry with reputations at stake

A few years ago, when my son told me he was going to Wembley Arena to watch an esports tournament, I was genuinely shocked. The idea of a stadium selling out tickets for people to sit and watch other people play a video game was so foreign to me at the time. The same stadium where worldwide music artists like Ed Sheeran and Fleetwood Mac had performed was the home of an esports game for the night. And it was that moment I realised just how big gaming was about to get.

Fast forward to 2020. Spotify has created an entire genre dedicated to League of Legends, game streaming is overall on the rise, and gaming companies are giving games away for free as millions of users are stuck at home due to lockdown restrictions worldwide. Gaming is absolutely thriving. YouGov has estimated that around 7% of the UK population watch esports regularly. That’s almost 5 million people just in the UK. And overall gaming industry revenue is expected to top $159 billion this year – that’s almost the same as the GDP of Hungary!

We often discuss if esports will be recognised as a sport on the same level as football or tennis, but it’s clear to me that it’s not a case of ‘if’, but ‘when’. A recent report shows that watching gamers play video games online is more popular for 18-25 year olds than watching traditional sports. Almost half (46%) of UK gamers would quit their jobs and become professional gamers if they could support themselves by doing so. And this isn’t even slightly surprising. A teenager in the US became the 2019 Fortnite world champion and earned a prize of £2.4 million from an almost £30 million prize pool shared amongst the winners.

With so many on board with the phenomena that is gaming, it’s no longer a case of getting people to buy in. It’s a case of the big and small brands finding ways to make their mark in the industry – and having a solid reputation is key to this. For a number of companies, it’s not just about having a great product and selling it well; it’s about ensuring that your internal and external communications don’t land you in hot water.

From our work with gaming hardware brand Crucial, we know just how important the gaming market is and that influencers and esports really are the next step for companies to focus on. And the truth is that so many companies are doing brilliant things in the world of esports and gaming! We’ve collated 12 of the best – some big, some small, but all doing extraordinary things within the industry and making a positive reputation for themselves. They are definitely ones to watch!

Twelve players to scope out

The crux of esports is undoubtedly the streaming sites they are hosted on. Twitch is the biggest streaming site worldwide and beyond acting as a tool to keep people connected, it helps get powerful messages across too. We saw this recently with the monumental Among Us stream from member of Congress Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) that encouraged people to go out and vote in the US! 

A potential contender to Twitch has arrived in the form of Caffeine – a live streaming site hosting not only game streams but rap battles too! 

For gamers, connecting with their friends while playing online is crucial – and this is where Discord comes in. Discord is a communication tool that allows players to video and text chat while playing team games, helping gamers stay connected in the critical moments of those games.

Speaking of multiplayer games, Improbable Technology is a software company aiding developers by offering a hybrid cloud server to help save costs and making development easier. Similarly, Unity, a cross platform game engine, is helping bring games to life, offering high-quality creator tools to help with development of console, mobile and even AR and VR games.

For all things gaming hardware, SteelSeries has got you covered. From great quality noise cancelling headsets to limited edition gear for game releases like the long-awaited Cyberpunk 2077, SteelSeries really is the one stop shop for kitting out your set up. And you can also check out HyperX, Razer and Corsair for some equally as excellent hardware!

If psychology and technology had a love child, it would be Affectiva. As a human perception AI technology company, Affectiva uses deep learning to understand emotions from game players to create really engaging games. 

We couldn’t discuss gaming without looking at Epic Games, the creators of Fortnite, one of the world’s largest games with over 350 million accounts worldwide. Epic Games have continued their success with collaboration stunts like Travis Scott’s “astronomical” event. 

Sometimes the biggest surprises aren’t coming from the start-ups. In the case of gaming, it’s the continued success of Microsoft and Sony that wows us. PlayStation and Xbox are the biggest gaming consoles and the competition between the two is really exciting for us to keep an eye on! 

Meanwhile, Amazon has launched Luna and Google has launched Stadia – they are cloud gaming services to help users access their games on the platforms they already own. We’re excited to see how both get on.

There are thousands of companies working toward making gaming an even bigger industry than it is right now. And in such a strongly saturated market, gaming companies could really benefit from external help to ensure they stand out of the crowd, improve overall reputation and prosper. Many people love what gaming offers, be that an escape from reality, a way to connect with friends or just a way to unwind. Especially during the pandemic, gaming is huge – it’s here to stay and it’s about to really dominate the technology industry! 

Is it time to shape your reputation?

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