The word ‘OK’ has been around for about 180 years. The phrase is said to have originally been a satirical abbreviation for Oll Korrect (all correct) used by proofreaders in a Boston newspaper during the 1840s, before going viral across the world. One of the reasons ‘OK’ took the world by storm is because almost every language has the letters O, K and A meaning that ‘OK’ is a unique blend of familiar elements. Almost from nowhere, ‘OK’ became one of the best known and understood words across the planet, becoming a part of our everyday conversations.

A similar story can be told for the word ‘coronavirus’, except this word – or at least our current use of it – has only been around for 180 days. Coronavirus has impacted our lives at breathtaking speeds, so much so that even 4-year-old children know what the word means. Just like the etymology of the word ‘OK’, the consonant K is a familiar element – most 4-year-olds know the phonetic K sounds for koronavirus (sic) as well as kangaroo in their A-Z books, and for us adults, K is also the predicted bounce back shape of the economy – we’ve had the vertical drop, a small bounce back and then either an upwards trajectory for some, or the horrors of the opposite downwards trajectory for others.

Few companies have done really well during this period. Aside from Amazon, Microsoft and Google, dog breeders and vets, hot tub salesmen and neighbourhood economies have all had some benefit from us all being at home and no doubt we’ll see them heading for the upwards trajectory. Other businesses and industries may have just about survived unscathed and on the road to recovery but millions of businesses and people have been plunged into darkness, losing their livelihoods and jobs, and for many there will be more distress to follow as the UK’s furlough scheme comes to an end in October.  

As much as we want to think it, the crisis certainly isn’t over and it’s not OK to think we are anywhere near safe or normal.

Ease creates, urgency destroys

Nancy Kline talks about the internal state of mind in her book “Time to Think”, suggesting that the best conditions for thinking are when you’re at ease and free from rush or urgency – and it really struck a chord because it seems we might be doing the opposite.

With the impact of lockdown, there is a sense of urgency to get businesses back on track financially for the sake of the economy and to pay for the bills. But whilst we’re busy rushing to get sales and keep the cash flowing quickly, we could potentially be destroying our need to think creatively about the situation we find ourselves in. To be ‘too busy to really think’ is dangerous and pivoting is not easy. It takes considerable thinking time and a lot of effort to make it a success.

Akin to that urgency is the impact of isolation. Virtual working may have given us the work-life balance we’ve desired for so long, but it has also made us physically insular and less adventurous. You only need to look at London’s tube during weekday rush hour to know that many people are still remaining in their homes for the foreseeable. And due to everyone’s physical containment, our incoming sources of mindful information are also restricted. We are reliant on news outlets, the internet and social media for insights and less on passing conversations with our colleagues, commuters and the people we get our coffee from in the morning. 

Avoiding hibernation 

As we head into Autumn and the wintry days, we must not hibernate our minds, we must give ourselves time to think and expand our horizons. As comms professionals, we must be sensitive with our comms outreach and outbound campaigns, bearing in mind the rise in unemployment figures and the people on the furlough scheme.  

Here are my tips on good ‘reputation enhancing’ for internal and external comms campaigns to assist your recovery and make sure you and your businesses are on the ascending trajectory and not descending.

  1. Listen to your employees. What do they need to perform at their best, and achieve the most? One of the things that the Employee Comms After Sudden Transformation guide talks about is conducting a cultural diagnosis to see where your employees stand and how they might be feeling. Doing this regularly will assess and identify employees concerns and changes in their feelings which can help you jump on employee issues quicker.
  • Listen to your customers. Ask how their priorities have changed recently, how their businesses are faring now, what still needs to change? Aligning on ideas and thoughts and setting expectations with one another will help make sure that you’re both on the same track. 
  • Appreciate those who have ridden the wave with you. For those who have stuck by you through the crisis, whether it’s your employees, customers, partners or suppliers, make your appreciation for their loyalty regular, meaningful, authentic and clearly understood. Collaboration is a key mechanism when navigating a crisis and you may have made or lost connections along the way but it’s important to keep them close by and show your appreciation for them.  
  • Understand how marketing and comms needs to change to reflect societal shifts. Last month, Charlotte talked about how we must shift our comms techniques to ensure we’re getting the best out of the rest of 2020, and this is important if we’re to be on the ascending trajectory. Back in April and May, a brand might have rushed to create marketing campaigns on TikTok, saw great ROI initially and decided to set aside the majority of next year’s marketing budget on the platform. Who knows where TikTok might be at the end of the year but it’s certainly a risk putting all your eggs in one basket.
  • Make time to freewheel with your colleagues. Explore ways to be creative and innovate. Remember ‘ease creates, urgency destroys’. Create an easy environment for a few hours to come up with new ideas to improve everything you do. If you are still not commuting, use that extra commuting time to read and expand your mind.
  • Make time to see ideas follow through. Even now in times of confusion and more pain yet to come, we need to ensure we are taking the right approach and turning our ideas into action. Whether it’s through experimenting, trying new services or doing things differently, not all ideas and plans are successful but if we make the time to learn from our mistakes we can be better.
  • Do some good for others less fortunate. Give back however you can, personally, professionally, corporately. There are so many people who need help, but whatever help you give doesn’t require a press release.

So back in 1840, when the Boston newspaper office were having a giggle about OK really standing for Oll Korrect, the team probably didn’t think it would eventually become part of the worldwide lexicon and everyone would use it on a daily basis. Sometimes creativity can come from the strangest of places and you never know, your next idea could be the next OK.

Hope we’re all OK on that?

I’ve been judging a couple of PR industry awards competitions over the past few weeks. On the whole, the standard was okay and a few entries were truly inspiring. What struck me was the lack of clarity in the PR objectives – all the judges nodded in agreement. In most entries the objectives section was a few lines of beautifully written prose – no numbers, no timescales, nothing to indicate movement, a shift, an improvement or any progress. This is not a true PR objective, it’s a broad and woolly aim.

How can PR ever prove its value if submissions do not set clear objectives? Any objective should have a minimum of 2 measureable parts – and a timeframe. This is Business 101.

So here’s my objective for the PR industry:

When entering any PR awards competitions over the next 12 months (timeframe), ensure that every entry (zero quality tolerance) has clearly-stated objectives which must include a budget, a timescale, and at least two other forms of measurement (quantity, quality, money, time) which are numbers and which are measured. Even better if PR objectives can be related directly to the client’s overall business objectives.

And here’s tip 1 in this series completing a PR plan, and an overview of how to write a great PR plan.

I’ve sat in a lot of pitches over my career,  possibly over 500! I’ve already suggested how I’d choose an agency if I were a client but maybe try this approach instead, or a mix of both.

I believe there are four key areas you should probe: market knowledge, creativity, strategic approach and the people who will really be on your team.

That means you need to do some homework, look around at the kinds of agencies that might be appropriate and make a shortlist of the most likely candidates. Then you need to ask them lots of  questions. We recommend the following as a minimum:

1. What’s the agency’s experience and expertise? Does it match what you need?

2. Does the agency understand your business’ current situation and future direction?

3. Does the agency team take a creative and intelligent approach? Do you feel they’d give you honest advice?


4. Are its people effective communicators? Are client campaigns efficient, coordinated and targeted?


5. Does the agency have excellent understanding of both traditional PR and also digital PR?


6. Can the agency plan strategically and act tactically? Does it integrate with other marketing disciplines?


7. What’s the agency’s track record? How long do clients and staff stay with the company?


8. Does it have a reputation for integrity and professionalism? Is it a member of the PRCA or the CIPR ?


9. Will its senior people be available to offer value-add consultancy?


10. Would you like to work with them?

I suggest you ask the last question first and perhaps save yourself a lot of time if the answer is ‘no’!

Is it time to shape your reputation?

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