As revealed in Netflix’s new documentary‘White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie and Fitch’today’s company is very different from the brand of the 1990s and early 2000s. For more than a decade, Abercrombie and Fitch have been in the process of rebuilding its reputation; this reveals some interesting lessons that we can take away as PR and comms professionals.

In its heyday, Abercrombie & Fitch (Abercrombie) was worth more than $5 billion and had more than 1000 stores worldwide. During this period, the company was led by Mike Jeffries, who once revealed in that now-famous 2006 interview that the company’s marketing strategy was deliberately exclusionary. He only wanted the ‘attractive’, ‘cool kids’ wearing Abercrombie. If we look a little deeper, we see that this was not merely a surface level PR strategy – you want what you can’t have, right? Instead, racist and exclusionary policies were embedded within the company’s culture. While these policies once appeared to benefit Abercrombie, as attitudes changed, they quickly eroded the company’s reputation, which has had a fundamental impact on the business’s long-term growth.

The question is; what can the demise of Abercrombie teach us about the importance of managing your company’s reputation?

Leadership and reputation

As the company’s figurehead, the CEO will always have a significant impact on the reputation of your company – both positive and negative! The former CEO of Abercrombie, Mike Jeffries, who once led the brand’s revival, would ultimately become its biggest liability. Jeffries was known for his bold ideas and commitment to the brand. However, he was also uncompromising, unorthodox, and did not take criticism well.

While Jeffries has long since left the company, Abercrombie is still working to ameliorate the damage caused by his tenure as CEO. Ultimately, Jeffries should not have been left to manage the company for so long. That being said, the current CEO, Fran Horowitz, has been working hard to ensure that the company is accountable for past mistakes. In a statement to CNN, Horowitz said, “we own and validate that there were exclusionary and inappropriate actions under former leadership,” adding that the company is now “a place of belonging”.

While the company has a long way to go, the importance of leadership accountability is evident here. Suppose a business fails to hold its leader accountable or recognise when it is time for leadership change. In that case, long-term damage will be inflicted upon the company’s reputation.

Company values

As times change, often should a company’s values. Failure to make the necessary changes will eventually impact the reputation of any company. When Jeffries began his tenure as CEO, he built the brand upon racist and discriminatory values. These values quickly began to seep into company culture and policies, hiring practices, and even the designs on the clothes.

In 2003, 8 former employees sued Abercrombie for race and sex discrimination. Without admitting any guilt, the company settled and was required to pay $40 million and sign a decree to change its practices and promote diversity.

For a while, the company continued to get away with its discriminatory practices. However, these days consumers value and expect brands to promote diversity and inclusion. Abercrombie failed to move with the times, which meant that as attitudes changed, the brand became toxic, and their failure to own up to past mistakes came back to haunt them. Companies should continually audit their values and policies to ensure that they are promoting diversity and inclusion and that they are not breaking the law, for that matter!

So, what can we learn from this as communications professionals?

The demise of Abercrombie from a multi-billion dollar brand to a disgraced clothing company can teach us a few things about managing your company’s reputation:

  • The CEO embodies a company’s reputation: the CEO of any company embodies its reputation. Organisations should be willing to let go of a CEO if their actions or personal life begin to distract from the mission of the company – failure to do so can cause irreversible damage 
  • Accountability: organisations that hold themselves accountable for past mistakes will be able to distance themselves from previous damage and begin rebuilding their reputation
  • Values: organisations should constantly review their values, culture and policies to ensure that they reflect the mission of the company. Out of date practices should be scrapped and replaced with policies that promote diversity and inclusion. 

Imagine entering your workplace in a 3D world and heading into a meeting room where you greet your virtual colleagues. It feels like you are together, but in fact, you are at home wearing a VR headset as indeed they are, and perhaps on the other side of the world. We might not be too far off from this scenario.

The increased adoption of VR and augmented reality (AR) are evolving both work and play. In the short space of a few months, AR and VR have become inherently tied to the world of communications. When Facebook underwent a major rebrand and unveiled themselves as Meta last October, widening its reach outside of social media into the virtual reality space, the world took notice. And when Big Tech sets a trend, people follow. Virtual reality has even been touted as the next new way to experience hands-on training and development.

Modern workers are no strangers to communicating remotely. But the substantial impact of these technologies on the comms world will be their power to help us collaborate in ways that were unheard of before, bringing people together who might not otherwise meet, enabling authentic human interactions. From allowing creativity to flourish, to enabling communication (in a virtual space) with people across the globe. Here are my top three ways that VR could enhance your comms efforts:

1. Bolstering Creativity

Your space plays a key role in how creative you are. And for those of us in the comms industry, creativity is our driving force. If you do not feel inspired and comfortable in your surroundings, you will not perform at your best. Virtual spaces have the power to be much more effective than physical spaces in this way – simulating reality and allowing us to work in a virtual world where possibilities are endless.

VR meetings are also a powerful tool. Unlike Zoom calls, VR meetings enable you to see the physical presence of colleagues, making it much more like an in-person meeting. Understanding body language and the dynamics in the room are a valuable tool for gauging the feelings of your colleagues and making decisions accordingly. Plus, we can break free of the traditional office setting – who wouldn’t like to conduct meetings or draft an article, from the beach, or an inspiring historical landmark if that were possible one day?

2. Enabling human connections

As comms professionals, it is crucial to meet our audience where they are. Emotional connections are important, particularly for brands that are seeking to bolster authenticity in their interactions with potential customers. In fact, this is the heart of our business. People need to feel seen and heard in order to engage – and VR has the immense power to help with this, by leveraging technology that enables human connections regardless of location. Authenticity is also important when communicating with customers and clients – it’s crucial that we don’t underestimate the importance of a virtual hug during a time when many have been distanced.

3. Taking collaboration to new heights

How virtual reality could influence our daily lives has been a hot topic , described as the future of work, and for good reason. At the moment, the technology almost seems too good to be true – because it has the power to create a new level of seamless collaboration that was unheard of a few years ago. Brainstorming sessions are more powerful in person, and when physical location is no longer a factor, it is limitless what could be achieved.

VR has the power to make our day-to-day business easier, more productive, and more authentic – which is crucial for organisations to flourish. And while this technology is still developing, it could change everything that we know about human interaction and collaboration in the space of a few short years.

Other than losing an hour in bed, April has had a lot to offer: longer days, better weather, and chocolate moulded in perfectly shaped ovals! It’s also when it really begins to look and feel like summer; as the eternally optimistic people of Britain begin to emerge from their long hibernation in the hopes of experiencing the elusive phenomena known as sunshine. Time for this month’s tech news roundup!

The less optimistic folk have decided to flee the country in search of the sun. However, not every passenger has been successful in their pursuit of Vitamin D. Indeed, the news has been filled with travel horror stories as recovering airlines struggle to deal with chronic staff shortages. Those travelling to outer galaxies seem to have had an easier journey. April saw the first paying civilians blast off to the International Space Station as part of Elon Musk’s private space exploration service, SpaceX.

But, what if I told you that you could escape to another country or indeed a different planet without leaving your home? This could soon be possible, as some of the largest tech companies, including Meta and Epic Games, share more details of their vision of the metaverse.

While the infamous billionaire is primarily known for his adventures into space and the (slow) production of his high-performance electric vehicle, the Tesla, Musk has once again been the centre of attention in the media for his involvement in Twitter. This month it was revealed that he was the majority stakeholder in the social media platform, and is now even trying to buy it. I wonder if it was his idea to introduce a new ‘edit button’? Some of his tweets certainly need it…cough, cough…perhaps his tweet declaring that he wanted to take Tesla, private? Breaking SEC rules, and ultimately costing him his position as chairman of Tesla and millions of dollars in fines.

Twitter has largely managed to avoid controversy this month. However, the same can’t be said for some other social media giants or, indeed, Will Smith – talk about awkward! Facebook has been marred with a string of failures this month, which has included claims of failing to protect younger users, and accusations of spreading misinformation.

Once again, there has been little good news for the climate. Although, there have been some exciting advancements in the electric vehicle market. Honda is set to ramp up its production of electric cars with a $64billion budget and NASA has designed an electric car battery that can be charged in 15 minutes. When it comes to saving the planet, every little bit helps!

Enjoy the monthly weather chat, and of course the Elon Musk commentary? Sign up for our daily Firewire newsletter to get updates on top stories in the world of tech. 

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.  

It is estimated that there are between 3.2 and 37.8 million social media influencers. That’s millions of individuals relying on their personal brand to gain followers, secure brand deals and increase engagement on their relative platforms. Although many choose to turn their nose up at those who label themselves as ‘influencers’ and ‘content creators’, we can’t deny that those who are doing it right are reaping the rewards.

Logan Paul, for example, started making YouTube videos from the age of 10. His success on YouTube and Vine has since catapulted him into fame and he is now worth $35 million at the age of 26. Not too shabby for a few videos and a strong personal brand, right?

With the age of digitalisation upon us (any one fancy a virtual beer after work?), perhaps companies could learn a thing or two from those that have had such success with their online personal branding. Personal brand upkeep isn’t so dissimilar to maintaining a strong company brand after all; it’s about keeping up with trends, keeping content relevant, and appealing to your target audience.

In fact, if we take a look at some of Forbes’ golden rules for personal branding:

  1. Have a focus
  2. Be genuine
  3. Be consistent

It’s clear that there are many similarities  between those individuals trying to monetise their online presence, and a company seeking to establish a strong online brand. Although technology has revolutionised marketing, companies must be aware of how they sell themselves online and what their messaging is truly saying.

Influencers have always seized the opportunity to glamourise their realities, editing photos and posts to make their lives seem perfect and unattainable. While these posts may be nice to look at, they can actually alienate your following into a sense of ‘me’ and ‘them’. If what you’re posting is entirely unrelatable, you can only really achieve a surface-level connection with your following.

Recently, we have seen an influx of influencers who are doing away with filters and photoshop, and instead portraying an honest representation of their lives, good and bad. These more genuine posts create instead a notion of ‘us’. Followers are able to relate to the posts, inspiring open discussions and driving engagement.

So, what can brands learn from this?

That honesty is the best policy. If a brand is not transparent, customers will be hesitant to take the risk that comes with giving the benefit of the doubt to an unfamiliar company. As much as aesthetic and image hold a great deal of importance, companies shouldn’t rely solely on looks to engage their customers.

As we transition into this digital future, it seems that companies could have a lot to learn from influencers and content creators. Companies and individuals alike must keep their brands focused, genuine and consistent – you need to know who your target audience is and how to appeal to them. So, why not hold a mirror up to your brand and see what it is you’re really saying? And if you’re falling short, it might be worth heading to the wonderful world of influencers for some creative inspiration!

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.  

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.

The Great British Bake Off is back in full swing, but it isn’t just the bakers preparing for their all-important showstoppers, it’s also PR pitching season and the time to pull out all the stops to win over organisations looking for a new PR partner.

However, much like baking, one wrong move can be the deciding factor between being star baker or being sent home! If you’re on the receiving end of pitches from new PR partners – here are three key things to look out for.

Favour the flavour

Making a cake look attractive is only part of the challenge – you can have the most aesthetically pleasing cake packed with handcrafted edible flowers and light-up geodes but if it doesn’t deliver on taste, it’s unlikely that you will be progressing to the next round of the competition. And the same can happen in the pitch process. It can be tempting to load pitches full of glitz, glam, wild promises and high expectations, but the cracks will soon begin to show the closer you get to the finished product which can leave a bitter aftertaste.

Creative campaigns and ideas are only one side of the coin. A balanced PR programme must be packed with realistic and attainable goals, promises that can be fulfilled and transparency about what is offered. Like creating the perfect croissant, it can brown beautifully but if the layers aren’t defined, you simply aren’t getting what you expected.

Stick to the recipe

Adding those extra chocolate buttons or another spoonful of golden syrup is all part of the baking experience but ultimately, you need to stick to the basic recipe and routine in order to create the perfect bake.

The same can happen in pitching. Whilst changing up some of the slides and adding extra information and ideas as you go along is good, you want to stick to answering the needs of the organisation. And the same goes with team members and who should be presenting in the room too. The team in the pitch should be the team the organisation works with. No pitch and switch.

Try to give each team member a chance to personally introduce themselves, their expertise and what they can personally bring to the table. Transparency is your key ingredient and whilst your best presenters might come across well, look out for sugar coating.

The technical challenge

The Bake Off technical challenge is one that really puts the pressure on the bakers, putting their skills and techniques to the test so why not do the same in the pitching process? Try coming up with a few genuine real-life scenarios and get the team to explain how they would tackle it. You could use a recent crisis you have been involved in and get the team to feedback how they would’ve approached it and why.

Let each team member take a turn to rise to the challenge and prove what they would do and why to really challenge the skills of each person individually as well as the team as a whole. This will work especially well if you have never worked with PR professionals as it shows what you can expect. It will test how well they work under pressure, how they work individually, and also how they work as a team.

Just like a Bake Off showstopper, PR pitches can be baked to perfection to create a delicious and nutritious treat if enough time and practice is invested in them. As long as you evaluate individuality, flavour and professionalism, you’ll be well on your way to finding your star partner.

How do I run the perfect brainstorm?

As my fellow Fireflies have written, coming up with new ideas when you’re not in the same room as your colleagues can be a challenge. In this piece, we’ll revisit a timeless topic – how to run the perfect brainstorm*.

Surprisingly, modern thinking about brainstorms has changed considerably in the last decade. According to the Harvard Business Review in 2015, “There is very little evidence for the idea that brainstorming produces more or better ideas than the same number of individuals would produce working independently. In fact, a great deal of evidence indicates that brainstorming actually harms creative performance, resulting in a collective performance loss that is the very opposite of synergy.

This is exactly why we should use a dual-stream approach to brainstorming. As Alexander Graham Bell said, ‘Preparation is the key to everything’, so here’s our timeless approach to getting new ideas, whether together in person or remote, and making sure that you don’t harm the ‘creative performance’ of your team when the pressure is on.

Preparing to Win

The best brainstorms begin long before everyone gets on the phone or in the same room, pandemic permitting. First and foremost, it’s important to understand what your goal is – what are you looking to generate an idea for? Similarly, before you restrict your mind with other people’s ideas (in this case, within your research), it’s important to think about the kinds of thing you’d like to do based on prior experience. For example, by thinking about:

Personal Preferences: What would I like to do more of in this area?

Past Experiences: When we did this kind of thing before, was there anything that we wanted to explore further?

Timeliness: Given the times of year or other circumstances, is there anything that springs to mind?

Once you’ve done that, then you should start your solo research in earnest, looking at things like:

Sector Rivals: What things have competitors or companies in other sectors done that we could take a step further or take inspiration from?

Broad Industry Context: Have you seen anything in professional press, analyst reports or from influencers that looked interesting and could be inspiring? 

Much like a brainstorm, it’s important to jot everything down that springs into your head. Don’t worry if it initially sounds terrible or weird – it might be inspiring to someone else! If you have the time, it’s also good to let these ideas simmer; leave them for a day or so and then come back to your thinking, jotting down anything else that you think of in the interim.

This pre-work is also key because there are several pitfalls to avoid in group sessions.

Creative Performance Limiters

When you’re in any kind of group session, politics and power come into play. There are three main effects that we’ve seen:

Conformity: People don’t like to stand out. So, if most of the group focuses on one particular area during the session, the minority is less likely to speak out. Preparation minimises this because the process of preparing and ‘simmering’ helps to convince you that your own ideas are valid.

Power Imbalances: If there are very senior or very junior people in the session, the very senior people are likely to speak more and the very junior speak less. A good facilitator can help to overcome this, encouraging everyone to speak, regardless of their level.

Self-consciousness: It’s perfectly natural to feel slightly stupid on a remote brainstorm, particularly when there might be a delay on the line. Again, preparation and the desire to discuss all the ideas you’ve put down can help with this. Similarly, there’s no harm in following up with the brainstorm leader if you can’t squeeze an idea into the conversation – sometimes there are just too many good ideas!

Brainstorm Roles

In a perfect world, you’d also have three support staff in your brainstorm: a chairperson, a facilitator and a scribe. Here’s why:

Chairperson: This person keeps things moving along. They also make sure that good ideas get the attention they deserve and stop discussions that aren’t adding anything.

Facilitator: Encourages people to talk, offers praise and helps to develop ideas.

Scribe: Writes down all the ideas!

Different Models of Brainstorming

We’ve seen a few different models of brainstorming used over our time in communications, three of which we’ve listed below. Admittedly, the first two are our favourites. Despite the limiting factors we’ve discussed above, the importance of getting other people’s perspectives on your ideas is incredibly valuable.

The Classic: Everyone comes together and throws ideas around. Make sure to bring sweet treats or caffeine!

Facilitated: Uses a set of prompts – for example, images – and each participant offers an idea inspired by those images relating to the brief.

Separately but Together: The Covid brainstorm! A time slot is set, and everyone brainstorms separately then shares their ideas digitally. This model isn’t vulnerable to power dynamics, but it doesn’t allow participants to riff off each other’s ideas as well as the other two.

Other Considerations

Above all, remember that brainstorming is a team sport. Most good ideas aren’t just from one person, they’re from someone else (or lots of people) and involve everyone contributing to an idea and evolving it. So, do listen, evolve ideas, or just reinforce them if you think they’re great! At the same time, do develop other people’s ideas, but also push new ones; keep the quantity going and there may be common themes that emerge between ideas.

It’s also important to remember that the perfect idea may not come up straight away. In fact, there’s usually a lot of dud ideas to get through first. For this reason, don’t hold back, however daft your idea seems; unusual ideas may prompt different ways of thinking and new directions. Even if they don’t work, they might inspire something else. In the same breath, hold back your criticism in a brainstorm, because you might inhibit other ideas from coming out from other team members.

Finally, if you can, be somewhere else – don’t brainstorm where you work. It can be useful to have a laptop or phone with you to search for things online as you talk, but taking yourself into a new setting and avoiding distractions is always helpful.

So, there we go; our top tips for running a brainstorm during (or after) the pandemic. Clearly, you don’t have to take all of our advice to run a good session, but it is important to be aware of the limiting factors, and that there are alternatives to the ‘classic’ model of getting ideas. Above all, the old adage is true: fail to prepare, prepare to fail! 

*As almost everyone knows, the word ‘brainstorm’ has historically been seen as offensive. However, according to Epilepsy.org, Epilepsy Action and the National Society for Epilepsy, it’s no longer seen this way. We’ll take their word for it.

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