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PRSA ICON 2020: Navigating a World Disrupted

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The theme of PRSA ICON 2020 was Strategic Communications: Navigating A World Disrupted—  the perfect theme for 2020 with everything that has happened this year to disrupt not only the field of communications, but everything else as well. The COVID-19 pandemic, global social unrest, and this year's U.S. presidential election have been at the forefront of everyone’s mind, including in this year's opening keynote from presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize winning author, John Meacham.  

Meacham gave an unforgettable breakdown of history and how events of the past have influenced current social tensions. While we always feel that we exist in the present under incredibly unique circumstances, Meacham countered with “if our problems are so unprecedented, then it means we leave ourselves without a map of any kind of guide.” History is not a GPS, but a diagnostic guide. He went on to ask listeners the questions of what do we honor? What do we celebrate? What do we commemorate? And added that “we need to celebrate building bridges and not building walls.”

Meacham reminded the audience of what was truly important in society and what we as the people that make up this society need to think of on a daily basis; courage, honesty, and empathy. Most importantly, “we don’t all necessarily need to see each other as friends, but we need to accept each other as neighbors.” He ended his keynote with a thought, “progress is not a given, it's something that we have to work towards,” which was a great kick off to the conference.

Living in a disrupted world means that not only have our day-to-day personal lives been disrupted- by a pandemic and more- but the way we work in our communications industry has also been disrupted. 

We know what is causing the disruption and how all of these factors are often working as an accelerant, but how do we as communicators approach dealing with it? Let's discuss with some ICON 2020 highlights.  

Comms and marketing alignment 

Comms and marketing alignment has always been a pain point between the respective channels in any organization. Different metrics of measurement and different goals between the two teams have been two of the main causes of misalignment. Our PRSA ICON 2020 session Bridging the Integration Gap: How communications and marketing can work together to create a unified brand strategy gave us hope for a roadmap to navigate the new normal and for comms and marketing to finally become one. 

During this session we were joined by Karen Clyne, Head of Global Communications for Blackberry, as she and Joe Rhoton, Cision’s Director of Innovation discussed how different pillars in a single organization can seamlessly integrate and work together for the betterment of the company.

Some key takeaways from this session: 

Post Campaign Planning Will Make You Successful  

The campaign doesn’t end just because the webinar ended. What you have to ask yourself and your team is: how do you capitalize in a post-campaign environment? What can you re-use? The post-planning of a campaign is just as important as pre-campaign planning and monitoring during a campaign's execution. It is possible to build content that addresses the questions of today but can live on through post-event campaigns. 

Stakeholders are Key 

“When all the right players are at the table and looking at different factors you can have a clear line of sight on what needs to be achieved in order to meet goals,” says Clyne. Having different KPI’s doesn’t mean that there needs to be a disconnect between marketing and comms; all it means is that you need to have the correct people in the room who can make alignment happen and lay everything on the table.

Clyne also stated that employees are huge champions of your brand. Bringing your employees with you on your journey- by helping them share content internally and externally, for example- should absolutely be a best practice.  

Metrics Matter 

At the start of any campaign for brand engagement, Clyne mentioned that Blackberry always discusses what goals, objectives, and audience they want to build around, including building in programmatic.

“You need to be able to holistically look at a campaign and point to what product or what initiative is at the center,” says Clyne. “What is the ultimate goal? Measurement needs to be built into the plan in order to have a good line of sight.”  

What COVID-19 has taught us about crisis comms and "brandstanding" 

While brands taking a stand on controversial issues isn't a new phenomenon, COVID-19 and other events of 2020 have definitely acted as an accelerant on this trend (as with so many other things). 

We saw this play out across industries this year as brands put out different communications around their COVID-19 plans for employee, customer and stakeholder safety, as well as their brand values and related actions concerning global social unrest and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Consumers have increasingly high expectations around brands engaging with society and social issues and brands have to take this on in a transparent, authentic way. For those of us behind brands trying to communicate their values and the actions those values may or may not dictate that a brand take, the main question to answer is: What do you want to accomplish? Not only for the brand, but for the social issue itself. 

There must be concrete action behind communications where necessary, or consumers will call out brands (possibly resulting in an entirely avoidable crisis comms situation). And if a brand isn't ready to take a stand? It's time to listen to key stakeholders and communities. Listen, ask, and keep listening; how are these groups responding to and/or becoming engaged with these issues? Map your future plan on this and on your brand's values- where do they overlap?- then decide how best to communicate it. And don't forget to measure the results!