The current economic outlook is not what we’ve hoped for. With inflation rising to its highest level in 40 years, many businesses are rightly concerned about the future. Even some of the biggest tech companies are struggling with the current economic headwinds. Meta are slashing their hiring plans, while others are being forced to trim their current workforce.

While tough times lie ahead, managing the reputation of your company is a business imperative. After all, brand loyalty driven by a good reputation will keep your stakeholders in your corner, even when the going gets tough.  

Businesses that have made it through pandemics and economic downturns have all had one thing in common – they’ve placed prominence on their company reputation, internally and externally.  

Here are some key actions to consider when looking to create a recession proof reputation:

Stakeholder engagement

Embed reputation management into your company culture, so that your entire organisation is onboard with its importance. After all, the reputation of your organisation doesn’t just exist in the C-suite, it cuts across the entire organisation. For IT, it’s about protecting a company’s assets, no consumer wants their data leaked by a company. Whereas for HR, it’s important to be viewed as a good employer.

Stand out from the crowd

Not every company can be a Tesla or a Meta, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stand out. Most organisations have something worth shouting about. Find what that uniqueness is and leverage  it and use it to connect with your employees and customers. Having a reputation for innovation, resilience, and agility will help engage your stakeholders and create a ‘halo effect’ with shareholders.

Reputation in the round

As well as engaging internal stakeholders, you should think carefully about your reputation in the round, by considering every avenue of your reputation. Your executives, press coverage, share of conversation, among other things, can have an impact on your reputation. There are multiple touchpoints, and you should be addressing each one.

‘Ensurance’ is the best policy Investing in your employees, suppliers, customers, and third parties is crucial and will pay dividends in the long run. Additionally, you should regularly audit internal policies, as well as those of your partners. While this is a laboursome process, it will ensure you’re covering all your bases. Above all, actions speak louder than words, so don’t be afraid to replace out of date policies or end relationships that no longer align with the values of your company or could be seen as harmful to your reputation.

The world has changed quite a bit recently and, arguably, this difference is most prominent in the working world. Although the amount of people working from home had been rising steadily for some time, homeworking has more than doubled over the past two years compared to pre-pandemic levels. 42% of UK workers now work a mixture of at home and in the office. Clearly, this meteoric shift in such a short space of time has profound implications for working life in general, but especially for the way that organisations communicate.

Maintaining robust internal communications

Internal communication has always been vital to the overall strategy of any firm. Multi-year Gallup research found that employee disengagement costs the UK economy £52-£70 billion per year. In this new working world of ours, with the significant shift towards remote/flexible working, serious questions have arisen as to how to communicate effectively within your team, in multiple locations, via the myriad technological platforms we now have at our disposal.

Critical to this venture is being aware of what personalities you have within your organisation, and subsequently knowing the most effective way to keep them happy, informed and engaged. With people being in the office a lot less, knowing and understanding your colleagues has become a much more complicated task. Video conferencing technology is an incredible tool and without it the last couple of years would have been very rocky indeed, but it can also be stunted. As we lack reading non-verbal cues and body language as well as simply not being around people for extended periods of time, it can be difficult to get a true impression of who someone is. This is particularly challenging for new members of staff who may have joined during periods of lockdown, in many cases not meeting their colleagues in-person for months.

Know thyself

There are many ways we can learn a bit more about each other. The Myers-Briggs® Type Indicator is a great tool to be able to gain this perspective and give valuable insight into the types of people that are working in your team and what makes them tick. It’s like your star sign with a bit of science behind it. There are 16 personalities, split between introvert and extrovert, each with different traits. It is not to say that these are by any means locked in, but more an indicator of the way someone is likely to react to a given circumstance.

Its questions give indications as to whether you sense or use intuition to gather information; whether you make decisions more by feeling or thinking; and whether you judge or perceive the outside world. All of these traits, none of them necessarily good or bad, have an enormous impact on how you communicate and how you like to be communicated with. The awareness that knowing the makeup of your staff gives you when devising internal communication strategies is critical. It allows you to choose the best channels and tone of voice depending on your audience. It can also point out those members of the team that may benefit from a slightly tweaked strategy or a particular focus in order to fully engage them.

Not only will you learn about your team, but very likely you will learn something about yourself. The introspection that comes from your result and the nuances in your personality that are revealed will allow you to tweak and improve your own communication style when dealing with other team members or managers.

It can also be a great team bonding exercise as shouts of, ‘that is scarily accurate’ bound around the room. When my wife saw my results, the cry of ‘that’s what I’ve been saying!’ was deafening.

Being in the office 9 to 5 streamlined communications. People had no choice but to be involved in conversation, managers had many different face-to-face tools to keep everybody on the same page, and the informal chats at the coffee machine or on lunch breaks allowed strong emotional bonds to be formed. Now that we are often miles apart in our own little worlds, more effort must be made to understand each other and stay connected. Only with this can we maintain robust and meaningful communications that contribute to our organisations’ success.

Loneliness. A feeling that most people have experienced at some point in their life. Nearly half of England’s adult population, according to Campaign to End Loneliness, a startling 45%, express feeling lonely occasionally and sometimes even often. Needless to say, the crisis of loneliness and social disconnect was only further exacerbated during the height of the pandemic with strict isolation and social-distancing measures being implemented. 

The good news is that from 9th July- 1st August 2022, it is Free Hugs Month. The Free Hugs Campaign began in 2004, founded by an Australian man under the pseudonym Juan Mann, where volunteers offer hugs to complete strangers in public as a random act of kindness. The aim? To spread the love.  

According to scientists, the benefits of hugging go far beyond that warm, fuzzy feeling you get from being in somebody’s arms. Hugs have been shown to reduce stress, protect against illness, boost heart health, release the ‘cuddle hormone’ oxytocin which leads to feelings of contentment, and even reduce pain. In fact, according to family therapist Virginia Satir, humans need four hugs per day for basic survival, eight for maintenance and 12 for growth. So yes, hugs seem like a win-win, if not an absolute necessity. But what does this have to do with leading a successful campaign? Well bear (hug) with me and I’ll explain… 

As a successful B2C campaign, the Free Hugs Campaign has been going strong for nearly two decades. So, from a PR perspective, there’s still a lot we can learn in the B2B space. After all, businesses might be selling to other businesses, but it’s important to note that it’s still humans talking to other humans, The secret behind the campaign’s success is predominantly down to two factors: creating a campaign that encourages a level of ‘shareability’ and evoking an emotional response from potential clients and customers.  

‘Shareability’ 

The Free Hugs Campaign has not shied away from the public gaze and our culture of sharing, capturing, and recording anything attention-grabbing for others to view online.  Instead, the campaign used the way in which the public interact to its advantage. In other words, for a campaign with a minimal budget, the Free Hugs Campaign left the public to share and interact with their simple message themselves.  

But, of course, not all brands fit into this style of campaign ‘shareability’. Fortunately, however, social media has become our biggest ally and can produce incredible traction if a campaign’s message is eye-catching, memorable, and simple to understand. Even a snappy slogan or retweet can go a long way.  

But the question then is, what is it about the Free Hugs Campaign that has made it stand the test of time, and go viral with 78 million views in the Sick Puppies music video alone?  

Human element 

The secret behind this campaign is very clear, yet mystifyingly under-used in many campaigns- understanding and manipulating the power of human psychology, especially that of the buyer. What are most people lacking? Human connection and a feeling of belonging and comfort. What does the Free Hugs Campaign offer? An answer to a societal hug deficiency.  

The campaign isn’t complex, in fact, oftentimes the simpler a campaign, the better. The Free Hugs Campaign, touches its audience in an emotive way, giving them a feeling or emotion that was lacking in their life, whilst also adding an element of joy. After all, who doesn’t secretly like to make someone’s day by being kind and loving? Through evoking this emotion, it taps into our intrinsic nature to share the joy, even if just virtually.  

As such, it’s important to put yourself in the shoes of your buyer, such as the HR Director you are trying to grab the attention of. Perhaps they are feeling overwhelmed with how post-Covid life has completely transformed their workforce, and as a result, are operating at a million miles an hour unable to catch a breath… 


So, what are you waiting for? Get hugging!  

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:

  1. Website content: This encapsulates a lot – resources such as blogs, customer case studies and testimonials, and the quality of the copy across a company’s site. Websites should showcase a brand and its purpose, as well as be a source of information – both for the service/product being offered and the wider market the organisation operates within.
  2. SEO: Tying into the above point, nailing search engine optimisation (SEO) is crucial. It’s all well and good having strong, informative content on a website, but if it’s never actually seen its value is somewhat lost. Perfecting an SEO strategy to give a company’s website the right exposure completes the formula.
  3. Social media: It’s near impossible to have a strong brand reputation in today’s world without some form of social media presence. Cultivating this presence through a strategy that involves consistent, on-message posting is key. Social media offers a way to showcase almost everything about a company – from its offering and resources, to its purpose, company culture and even job openings.
  4. Internal communications: A company can be offering the best service ever, but if it has eye-wateringly high employee turnover, low workplace satisfaction, and poor reviews on Glassdoor, its reputation is going to be impacted. Working on effective communication with employees with the goal of improving workplace happiness and culture, is at the heart of internal comms.

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.

Happy Pride Month! No doubt we’ve all seen a flurry of rainbow flags hit our social media feeds this month, along with several hit inclusive campaigns in the media. Some of my personal favourites include the gender-neutral shaving campaign from Harry’s and Flamingo, and Absolut Vodka’s out and open campaign.

What do these excellent campaigns have in common? To put it simply, they engage in brand reputation shaping, rather than so-called ‘rainbow washing’ – using rainbow colours and imagery to suggest to consumers that a brand supports LGBTQ+ equality, without backing these campaigns up with concrete action.

When done right, Pride Month can be a special time to uplift the actions your organisation is doing for the LGBTQ+ community all year round, contributing to an overall inclusive reputation. But when done poorly, Pride campaigns can at best look cheap, and at worst, reflect tokenism.

Why leverage Pride Month for inclusive campaigns?

It’s easy to see why brands choose to jump on the Pride bandwagon for their campaigns. Globally, the LGBTQ+ community possesses a whopping $3.7 trillion in purchasing power. Brands looking to increase their revenue want to market to LGBTQ+ consumers and can be led to believe that Pride Month is the appropriate time to do so.

This isn’t a million miles away from the truth. Events like Pride seek to uncover the stories of marginalised communities, which is evidently a noble cause. And as is the case with Pride, often such dates have historical relevance, marking events that may otherwise fly under the radar.

The issue therefore isn’t that brands are honouring Pride Month. On the contrary, the more people that celebrate Pride, the more effective the month becomes. Marking Pride becomes an issue when it’s done only to drive sales in one specific month, and when LGBTQ+ inclusivity is not part of an organisation’s longer-term reputation programme.  

How can organisations do better this Pride Month and beyond?

It’s clear that a one-off, tokenistic Pride Month campaign isn’t the right way to go when it comes to building an inclusive company reputation. Instead, businesses should focus on implementing genuine, year-round strategies to support marginalised communities, and match these efforts with appropriate PR campaigns. Here are some concrete examples for organisations to consider:

  • Do work with the LGBTQ+ community to create inclusive campaigns. PR and comms professionals may be the ones strategizing and writing, but it’s your LGBTQ+ colleagues who are most qualified to speak about LGBTQ+ topics.
  • Don’t stick a Pride flag on your website and call it a day. Not only does it appear tokenistic but can be seen as co-opting the deeply symbolic and personal meaning behind LGBTQ+ symbols.
  • Do consider donating a portion of your profits to LGBTQ+ non-profits. This especially goes for those introducing Pride or otherwise LGBTQ+-themed products.
  • Don’t release Pride campaigns without building an inclusive company first. Offer training on diversity and inclusion or create a staff LGBTQ+ network and ensure that any marketing efforts are backed up with concrete action.

Crucially, building an inclusive reputation begins within. It’s all well and good talking about your support of the LGBTQ+ community externally during Pride Month, but if your LGBTQ+ employees and customers do not receive your support all year round, it doesn’t appear authentic. Ultimately, shaping and managing a reputation involves taking accountability for actions and demonstrating strong company values, consistently.  

Want to learn more about shaping a brand’s reputation? Check out The Firefly Guide to Shaping Your Reputation.

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.

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