Nowadays, attention span is one of the scarcest commodities we have in modern society. Online life can be addictive and endless, with perpetual anticipation of the next big thing and every brands’ reputation on the line. With this in mind, now is the perfect time to start prioritising and shaping your comms, with authentic and captivating PR strategies. Maintaining your company’s reputation, demonstrating your positive culture, and looking after your own workforce will ensure people are tuned in and listening.  

Attention span is defined as the ‘amount of concentrated time on a task without being distracted’. Scientifically, they call it ‘attention failure’, essentially investigating why cognitively we reach for our phones with such ease and frequency at every point in the day. Attention spans are shrinking, with some reports suggesting that humans are 25% less engaged than they were only a few years ago.  

Researchers in Denmark studied a range of media types; from movie ticket purchasing habits, popular books, Tweets, as well as Wikipedia attention time. What they found was that the hotness of topic, time in the public sphere, and desire for a new topic vary greatly and depend on the media type. As an example, Twitter is currently fixated on the recent Elon Musk board scandal but people will quickly move on to the next thing. Those doing a deep dive on Wikipedia are engaged for far longer.  

How can we overcome this attention span deficit? By moving to briefer, personalised, and authentic comms to engage distracted audiences and create content that is evergreen that won’t be caught up in the trend cycle. Not just with audiences, but with your internal comms too. Using engaging internal comms strategies to hold attention will also ensure this is reflected externally.  

Positivity engages audiences, and shines your reputation  

Positive content is more viral. Authentic and original human stories based on relationships will stand out from the crowd.  

Brandon Stanton, the creator of the viral storytelling account Humans of New York, emphasises when writing his personal profiles that he does not describe people in adjectives, but rather describes actions of their life. After all, actions do speak louder than words. Looking across his portfolio of work on social channels (with 20 million followers), he notably gets right to the point, with little explanation or introduction. Your audience is smart enough to get the gist.  

The journey of a good narrative in comms  

Researchers found that people read information on paper vastly differently than online, as the amount of data to absorb on a singular page in a book is far less than a busy webpage. The slow and linear journey of a book is why it is so pleasing to race towards the end (no spoilers, please!). Your online content should follow suit, and always engage in a complimentary, moving narrative journey.  

It seems obvious, but the simplicity of the beginning, middle and end with challenges addressed by solutions, is just the way our brains like to consume. So, when you’re creating content and communicating with your audiences this year, remember to get back to basics. And don’t check your phone whilst writing it- resist the urge, if you can.  

Interested in more on reputation shaping and online reputations? See here for our resources from making the most of content to measuring your PR efforts.  

The pandemic hit some organisations harder than others, and for companies like Airbnb in the hospitality industry, it was a big blow. So, it wasn’t a surprise that Airbnb made the decision to pause all its performance marketing, but what may be a surprise is that the cut is going to be permanent.

Airbnb’s founder, Brian Chesky, explained that despite taking performance marketing down to zero, the company still had 95% of the same traffic from the year before. This lesson has prompted a complete rethink of marketing spend at Airbnb.

Airbnb plan to move spend away from performance marketing and into brand marketing, with a focus on media relations. During the company’s earnings call, Brian Chesky said that this new ‘full funnel’ marketing strategy is “very important to the corporate story”.

Looking at the numbers, it’s not a decision that has been made lightly either – and I should say that they haven’t cut performance marketing altogether, but reduced it significantly.

Now, you may be thinking that it’s alright for them to make such a bold move, they’re already so well known. And you’re right. The Airbnb brand is strong so getting people to the site is not an issue.

The focus now for Airbnb is different – their communications objectives are now centred around broader reputation and helping people to understand the brand better. The company wants potential hosts and guests to understand the benefits and what makes the experience distinctly Airbnb.

This isn’t just a strategy for brands with big reputations, it’s about applying the right marketing mix to support your objectives. What PR allows is more than just eyeballs on your website, it’s a vehicle to educate, inform and shape your company’s reputation.  Those who get it really right create more than just a commercial connection, but an emotional connection to the brand too.

Airbnb really get this.

What’s the takeaway from all this?

Now is the time to reassess your marketing spend. The pandemic has changed everyone’s behaviours, so consider this: Do you have a clear understanding of what these behaviours and beliefs are? How do you adapt your comms with that understanding? The European Journal of Social Psychology states that it can take between 18 and 254 days to form a new habit, and an average of 66 days for that habit to become an automatic behaviour. We can safely say that we have had very long stints with significant government restrictions, meaning our routines have changed. How we all live and work will never go back to the way things were, so your marketing strategy mustn’t either.

And it’s not just about gaining a better understanding of your audiences – it’s about realigning your communications to this ‘next normal’.

But remember that there are always changes around the corner. The beauty of Airbnb’s move is that they’ve allowed for flexibility in their marketing strategy, and have kept a mix of tactics, which can be dialled up and dialled down. 

We’re on the path out of the pandemic – be bold and #reset!

As the nights draw in and Christmas approaches, thoughts of 2019 planning are well underway but instead of looking to the future, we’re going to take a look back over the past year and highlight some of the key trends and events that have taken place in world of communications to give us some inspiration for the year ahead.

A lesson in ethics

Although it began in 2017, the fall of Bell Pottinger shocked the communications industry. The ill-advised campaign that led to a host of troubles in South Africa highlighted the need for proper ethical standards in the comms industry. In response to the Bell Pottinger downfall, the International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) launched the #PowerofEthics campaign this year to encourage comms professionals to promote ethics in PR.


GDPR, the acronym you cannot escape. The General Data Protection Regulation can into force in May of this year and certainly shook up the industry. Despite knowing about the upcoming deadline for two years, businesses were still unprepared for the legislation. GDPR touched every industry and marcomms was no different. To prepare for the changes, we held a session on GDPR and what it meant for marketing data, to ensure industry experts were up to speed and in the know.

The rise (and fall) of the YouTube star

Celebrity YouTuber, Logan Paul, sparked outrage this year after posting a disrespectful video. After the event, the discussion around social media influencers and the monetisation of videos rippled through the industry. Social media influencers are growing and becoming more popular, perhaps in 2019 we’ll start to see some regulations surrounding them and their content?

The pace of growth

The industry is changing at a rapid pace, and the growth of digital channels has profoundly changed the way we work. New technologies, tighter budgets and politics are all major drivers of change and the changing media landscape is just another hurdle that marcomms professionals have to deal with. In 2018, PR professionals said they need new expertise in social media, data and analytics and multi-media content development to ensure they stay relevant in the ever-evolving world of work. It looks like we’ll all need to be comms chameleons.

A big tech crisis

For much of this year, Facebook and its owner Mark Zuckerberg, were in crisis mode. The revelations that Cambridge Analytica gathered the personal data of millions of Facebook users sent the company into a mass PR crisis. Facebook’s reputation was on the line and they suffered some serious damage. However, there was some light at the end of the tunnel, for us at least. Although this was of course, an incredibly serious case, we did enjoy the hilarious memes that were created off the back of the hearing.

The Christmas countdown

And of course, to wrap up how can I forget to mention this year’s Christmas adverts? Here at Firefly, we love an emotional advert and Iceland’s ‘Rang-Tang’ certainly tugged at the heart strings. Although it was pulled from TV for being ‘too political’, it became viral across social media with nearly half a million views on YouTube. Similarly, the long-awaited John Lewis advert returned this year with the legend that is Sir Elton John and the premise of their advert ‘Some gifts are more than just a gift’, captured the hearts of British viewers. If you want to take a look at more of these powerful PR campaigns, check out this roundup of 2018’s festive ads.

There we have it, a look back at the big marcomms industry trends and events that occurred in 2018. As we reflect on the past year, there are certainly some lessons to be learned and, as the pace of change continues to grow in our industry, we as comms professionals need to ensure that we can keep up. So, as the festive season gets into full swing, start looking ahead to next year and see how you can focus and improve your marcomms strategy — who knows what 2019 has in store?

Is it time to shape your reputation?

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