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.
It feels like just yesterday that I was wondering what I would be doing as the clock ticked over into the year 2000. I was on high alert, waiting for Y2K to switch off every electronic machine as the clock struck midnight (of course, we all know it didn’t).
19 years later and here we are preparing for the next milestone year 2020, and we’re in a somewhat similar situation with the uncertainty of Brexit. Before we know it, it will be 2050, Greta Thunberg will be 47 and we might not even be living on this planet anymore.
It’s important to have a vision to aim for. A 3-5-year vision should be within a comfort zone, but we should have a clear view and a structured plan of how to manage the imminent months. There will be few agencies and clients looking as far as 2050, many will be imagining as far ahead as 2025, but most should have 2020 buttoned down with a detailed plan.
As we make progress towards our 2020 plans, it’s important to remember that this time of year is busy for the PR industry. Christmas campaigns are well underway, client events and awards season is in motion, not to mention office parties and networking opportunities with clients and prospects and all in the next 60 days or so before we head off for Christmas.
And then, on top of all that, January is a time of ‘new year, new change’ for many organisations with 2020 initiatives bursting forth, not to mention some clients looking for new agencies so we’re also furiously re-pitching or excitedly pitching to keep or win clients.
How do we cope with all these demands crashing down at the same time? With political tension and upheaval, workloads revving up to breaking point, plus year-end accountability and reviews, and 2020 plans poised and ready to ignite and holiday season is looming.
On behalf of our HR tech client, Cornerstone OnDemand, we surveyed British employees about extra workloads during the holiday season finding that 34% of employers do not have a structure in place when someone goes holiday, 85% have to do someone else’s work on top of their own workload, and 34% feel extreme pressure or have anxiety attacks when colleagues are on holiday.
Is there a word for having someone else’s business workload dumped on you, on top of your own workload? How about ‘I’ve been bizumped’?
Bizumped or not, how will your year-end workload impact you? And how will it impact on your colleagues? Well, you usually can’t avoid it; business doesn’t just stop. But here are some top tips for handling heavy workloads during the busy autumn/winter season and how to avoid any nightmares in the run up to 2020:
Originally published in PR Moment.
They say that the secret of success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration – and that’s certainly true for any one campaign – but when you’re facing a new financial year and taking a more strategic view, you can’t keep sweating the same propositions over and over, expecting to achieve great results.
This is particularly tough in the marketing world where it might feel like the industry moves fast, but new developments and channels can be relatively few and far between. So, when you’re considering how to promote existing products and services, how do you choose between existing, tried-and-tested tactics and new, innovative services?
It goes without saying that the first step is to know your audience and understand your micro and macro environments, conducting proven methods like SWOT and PEST (or PESTEL) analyses to learn or re-evaluate where your company and its products sit. This understanding should influence any and all tactics and campaigns you embark upon.
But after this, you’ll still have a mountain of choice. One model we’ve often adapted for strategic planning is the Boston Matrix, which is generally used for product marketing but can nonetheless be used for more general communications and PR.
Cows, Stars, Dogs and Children
The Boston Matrix splits propositions across two axes – growth and market share.
In general, the matrix looks at products – for example, at one stage, the humble iPod was a problem child – new to the market, incapable of using USB, only working with Apple computers. But as it gained ground, it became a star performer, and then a cash cow as the market saturated.
However, we’re going to apply this grid to marketing tactics, from eDM to press releases, webinars to roundtables, as well as using emerging channels like Snapchat and Houseparty.
And of course, your first reaction might be – no doubt conditioned by looking at too many Gartner Magic Quadrants – that you don’t want to be anywhere near the ‘low market share / low market growth’ category, but it’s not necessarily a terrible thing to have some presence there. In our experience, it’s more that everything should be in the right proportions and the right mix. You don’t make a cake with just one ingredient.
So, how should marketers split their time between innovation and perspiration?
Problem Children: It’s usually impossible to chart which tactics will grow like crazy – and everything, even social networks – started somewhere with a low market share. But problem children are risky – they smoke, drink and need firm discipline if they are to grow into mature adults. In the case of marcomms, these may include unusual channels and growth tactics like mixed reality experiments, new social networks like musical.ly and Houseparty (And even, some might say, Snapchat!). However, this kind of experimentation shouldn’t take up more than 10 to 20 percent of your marcomms mix.
Star Performers: Every brand loves to have a star performer tactic, but it’s vital not to make assumptions about what constitutes one. For example, many brands have seen a resurgence of success by using ‘old’ tactics like physical direct mail. This may be relatively expensive but provides a great brand experience and great returns in select sectors like women’s fashion. However, star performers can also include areas like search marketing, because Google is ubiquitous for finding new products and services. Star performers have usually been tried and tested for a year or more, but can often be cash and effort intensive. We’d recommend that these tactics form around 30 percent of your mix – if you’re lucky enough to have some.
Cash Cows: These are your absolutely tried and tested, guaranteed tactics that reach your audience time and time again. Of course, most marketers would love to invest all their time and effort in star performers, reaching the dizzy heights of success but, in our experience, it’s simply not feasible to do so. Cash cows deliver at an acceptable cost, are comfortable, reliable – but shouldn’t be over-relied on! We usually find that half of marcomms tactics are ‘cash cows’.
Old Dogs: These are old, potentially shrinking tactics delivering smaller and smaller returns. We find that many large tradeshows fit into this bracket – they are sprawling and expensive, with little focus and almost no chance of helping your brand stand out. No more than 10 percent of your marcomms budget and time should be spent with old dogs. In fact, being completely candid, there’s only one thing to do with old dogs: hug them, thank them and let them move on to the great kennel in the sky.
So why not chart out where your marcomms tactics fit in the Boston Matrix? Be warned – if all of your tactics are cash cows and old dogs, your campaigns are probably getting old and dusty. But similarly, if you’re always focusing on innovation – laudable but inherently risky – then you’re probably not delivering enough predictable value for the board to justify your budget.
Like any department in the business, marketing must never put all its eggs in one basket, and must walk the fine tightrope of propositions and innovation if it is to be successful. Simply sitting down and waiting for success won’t get you there, and you also don’t want to be landing on the crash mat with egg on your face! So take the time to run through the matrix now, see where you are, and make a change before the new financial year starts in earnest.
For many brands, the New Year brings new budgets, and with them, new marketing campaigns. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the idea of planning a new campaign, don’t worry – you’re not alone. The sheer volume of channels and tactics available to every single marketer today is daunting by itself, let alone trying to corral them into a coherent, impactful campaign.
And it’s a New Year! Are you worried if you haven’t kicked off an exciting new campaign by the first week of January? Be careful and don’t rush – starting a campaign with rushed objectives can backfire badly.
This confusion and concern about disciplines, channels and tactics doesn’t have an impact on just you. Unless you’re absolutely crystal clear on what you’re looking to achieve, then your marketing or communications team – and any suppliers you work with – could fire off in completely the wrong direction as well. If your remit is broader than our UK shores and you have pan European marketing, communications or PR campaigns kicking off in many countries, how do you give enough guidance in a brief without being overly prescriptive?
We’ve had written briefs that are 180 pages, and briefs that are one page. We’ve had verbal briefs lasting between four hours and sometimes just five minutes. If you’re looking for some agency inspiration, the clue is in the name – be brief – allow them to ask questions, give room for some elasticity and imagination. If a brief is so lengthy and descriptive, it becomes more of an instruction manual rather than an invitation to suggest ideas and solutions to problems.
Metaphorically speaking, it’s times like this that trying to give an appropriate length brief might have you wondering if you need thermal long johns or lightweight tighty-whities, but don’t worry – we’ve got some helpful suggestions to cover all bases.
The three B’s for perfect-sized briefs are: Business, Brevity and Budget.
Regardless of whether you’re the founder of a start-up and handling the marketing yourself, or a senior marketer with a large team and a diktat from the C-level, don’t panic. Take a deep breath and think about your business goals. That is what you should be working towards. That’s the top line of what your brief should specify, and sometimes that’s almost everything an agency needs to know.
Once you’ve got a bit more clarity and a good download from wider stakeholders, you can embark on writing the RFP. Regardless of whether you’re putting pen to paper, or talking an agency through the specifics face-to-face or via Webex, there are a few things that you should remember if you want to get the most back from an ‘elastic’ brief:
Agencies understand that no-one has unlimited funds, and not everyone can go over the budget. Any client should have realistic guidelines as to how much they want to spend. Then you should be able to compare agencies and work out what you can and can’t expect to be achieved.
If in doubt – and if you work with other countries that manage similar marketing, communications or PR agencies – look at what they’re spending and take that as a starter.
Investing the time to create a thoughtful, business-oriented brief that provides transparency about what your business is really looking for in a communications partner is key. This process ensures that you receive quality proposals and pitches that are directly aligned with the business strategy of the organisation, allowing you to handpick the most suitable PR partner going forward, whose strategies will complement and drive your communications programme forward to achieve your desired business outcomes. Read here for more guidance.
In 2007 ‘Silent Discos’ were the next big thing. Really? It seemed ludicrous, silent parties, dancing with headsets on, everyone with different music, throwing different shapes? But roll on 10 years, it’s commonplace. Last week I organised a Silent Disco at home – 75 headsets, 3 tracks, £200. The neighbours were delighted.
So, what are the crazy trends predicted to become lifestyle norms by 2027?
Over 90% of all restaurants will use some form of 3D food printer in their meal preparations. Really? 3D printed cupcake anyone?
Forget googling for your holiday, we will all have an ‘e-agent’ inside a watch or piece of jewellery that will book our flights and accommodation. (Yes please. I want this now).
So, here are four more seemingly-ludicrous trends that will be quite normal activity by 2027, and how these trends can these be woven into your 2018 campaign
Siri, it’s over. I’ve married Alexa
As AI and machine learning develop and evolve, they become more embedded in society. For example, Apple recently began hiring engineers with psychology backgrounds to help Siri have meaningful conversations and by 2020, Gartner has predicted that the average person will have more conversations with bots than with their spouse. It is clear that our smartphone assistants are becoming more like virtual companions and soon, millions of consumers will start having meaningful conversations, or even relationships with these virtual assistants, changing the way we interact with one another.
So, as comms professionals what does this mean for us? Well, instead of planning our campaigns around people, we may have to start thinking about targeting them at bots. People will begin to trust their virtual companion’s opinions, so we will need to start considering algorithms as another audience.
Currently, Google constantly crawls websites in order to update their search results and the more a ‘Google Spider’ crawls your page, the higher you’ll rank in the search results. As marketers, we use SEO tactics to ensure our client’s rank highly in the search results but soon, software programmes like the Google Spiders will be outdated and we’ll be planning our campaigns around more intelligent programmes, like virtual assistants.
It is likely that brands will also develop virtual companions, shaping them to reflect the brand’s culture and values. Marketers must consider how these companions will fit into their campaigns and how they can benefit consumers to stay ahead of the game.
Your bum will never look big if your bot is your stylist
And in retail, this has also had an impact; the Amazon Dash buttons have given us a taste of one-touch automated shopping, but this is only the beginning. The retail industry could soon be fully automated with all of the searching, purchasing, deals and delivery conducted by AI-programmed personal assistants. We are seeing this process already with the app, Finery. This app adds fashion purchases to an online ‘wardrobe’ and organises them by colour, style and designer. The users then get notified about price changes, sales or brand news.
Not only will algorithms become our virtual companions, but they will be involved in every aspect of our lives – planning our wardrobe, deciding which food we should buy and even controlling the media. In 2015, the Associated Press announced that a number of its original news articles were written by AI.
Algorithms can take behavioural data from thousands of consumers and determine what they are buying, at what time, when and how. They can dictate which audiences to target campaigns at and when to place an ad. Soon, marketers will have to design their campaigns around algorithms as well as humans.
Seeking, as hiding is not possible
2017 is the year where we saw a shift when it comes to transparency. Uber came under fire after an employee blog went viral, detailing a culture of sexism. The #Metoo campaign came swiftly after the Weinstein allegations.
Transparency is quickly becoming imperative for all organisations. Last month we wrote a blog discussing the benefits of being transparent and using transparency to make your brand’s voice and message clear. Companies can no longer hide behind a walled garden, consumers expect information from brands and as we look towards 2018, transparency will become even more important for brands, with those that are unable to comply facing huge repercussions.
Brands must understand their core values for PRs to work on promoting their message. Taking action and being honest and open with customers will ensure your brand will elicit a positive response amongst consumers.
The cheapest gap yah, without leaving your home
With the rise of virtual and augmented reality, the boundaries between the physical and real world are becoming blurred. In 2027, our houses could include virtual projections, or we could be holidaying from the comfort of our own living room. The possibilities are endless, and brands will need to adapt accordingly – marketers just need to consider where people consume their content and how. Our living rooms weren’t designed for mixed reality, our sofas are static, and furniture is placed so we’re sat comfortably. Mixed reality may need us to move or look around and we need to be mindful of this. Marketers also need to consider how consumers will view mixed reality, will it be on a smartphone or via a headset? Or, will we be living surrounded by projections?
Whilst the technology is still at its early stages, brands and comms professionals need to work together and start thinking about how they can use mixed reality to their advantage.
I’m a trendjacker extraordinaire
There is a term for brands using trends to create buzz – trendjacking. My view is that it’s important to stay informed on trends, but hijack them wisely. Jumping on the back of any trend isn’t strategic, it is opportunistic. Instead, it’s better to carefully watch trends that are relevant to your business development, and get the PR timing right. Trends can grow quickly, change shape and meaning or simply fizzle out – the key is to use it to your advantage before your competitors, but not when it is so farfetched you seem like a “crazee” or a luddite.
As August draws to a close, it’s time to bid farewell to the holiday season and hope that the sun shines just a little bit longer before the winter chill sets in. September is looming, and that means it’s back to school and time to get planning for 2018. Although 2018 seems a fair way away, you do only have around 100 days left to think, research, plan, budget, negotiate and get the team revved up for a cracking start to the New Year – and you have to do all of this on top of your normal day-to-day tasks. So, it’s never too early to get your 2018 communications plan sorted.
Feeling overwhelmed? Here’s some help. I’ve put together a few starting questions to ask yourself that will help you shape up your 2018 communications plan. As you may know, Firefly likes to work in four phases: insight, planning, delivery, and evaluation. These questions address five things to consider at each phase, and their answers will give you a skeleton communications plan to build on.
Sometimes an outside perspective can go a long way into creating a fresh and effective PR plan – from insights you may not have spotted to new creative ideas. You can use these other blogs our Firefly team have previously penned for our website as more inspiration:
If after that you are still unsure, please call in the experts. We can help with planning requirements on a project basis, and there’s no obligation whatsoever to engage us for the delivery of that plan. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You’ve got a great PR campaign idea and it’s very tempting to jump straight into the execution phase – the exciting bit. But, be careful. Failing to allow time for detailed PR planning may be costly in the long run. This is a conundrum for lots of our clients, and even agencies – do you put aside enough time (and budget!) for planning before PR execution kicks off? Or do you want to see all of your budget and resources go directly into activities meant to generate results?
I’ve always been particularly keen to push through the importance of planning. I’ve jumped up at many a white board and flip chart to create the ‘planning vs. activity’ conundrum for numerous colleagues and clients over the years, in order to emphasise why planning is key is any PR strategy
This is a crude test, but in principle, what is the best approach – A, B or C?
A is tempting with a bit of thinking and lots of doing! It’s easy to feel like you’re achieving something when lots is ‘getting done’, but are you absolutely sure you’re doing the right things? This is classically when the plan says something vague and the team take off in their own directions.
B is balanced – equal thinking and doing. But the plan and the team efforts may not work together and may even conflict. There’s not enough pull back to the plan and goals, analyse best actions or a focus on what absolutely needs to be achieved.
The right answer is C. You should spend more time thinking and planning than doing. If you only do what you absolutely know will be successful, then you are guaranteed to achieve your goal (without wasting precious resources) – and you’ll spend less time doing all those irrelevant things. You might even get to go home on time!
A basic PR plan structure should include these key components:
The last word of caution. Too often we pile into writing a PR plan without any clarity and insight on the above basic points. Push and question to get clarity and leave no stone unturned when looking to understand the communication playing field. We have a thorough approach to exploring the wealth of information out there on you, your industry and your competitors. To read more about this, go to our Exhaustive insights = informed PR page.
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