The world has thrown a lot at the communications industry in 2020. However, dealing with crisis is one of our specialties and the resilience to overcome anything has been proven this year. Like any industry, there’s still room for improvement and we need to be ready to tackle whatever 2021 has in store for us.
The discussion in our recent webinar 2020 Comms Report: New Reality, New Opportunity highlighted a lot of the challenges the industry has met this year, plus what we still need to tackle.
Adopting technology is a must
It’s no secret that we wouldn’t have been able to survive this year without technology (and I’m not just talking about Zoom meetings). The communications industry has always struggled with how to prove its worth and the reality is that technology has advanced to the point that it can do just that.
“We are learning at the speed of light,” says Maggie Lower, CMO at Cision. “The targets are continually moving and it’s important to have that tech stack and talent structure to keep moving.
Jano Cabrera, CCO at General Mills says that “we are running in the dark, and what data is going to do is give us a nightlight on that night run. It’ll turn a scary situation into one that gives us more confidence in terms of the decisions that we’re making.”
Important in the best of times and absolutely crucial in a year as tumultuous as this one has been.
Content is king
And context for that content is key. Many comms professionals learned to pause, reframe and reschedule planned content calendars and campaigns this year. They also learned to reach out to influencers who could help tell their stories to the audiences they wanted to reach.
“Partners are looking for companies they can align with that have shared values” - Vikki Chowney, Global Head of Content + Publishing at Hill+Knowlton Strategies. “We finally have to ask ourselves what marketing and comms-based content is and what is the appropriateness of launching a new product or announcement when it’s not relevant to people’s day-to-day experiences.”
In an increasingly noisy news cycle it's vital to time the release of information around your brand just right.
Bottom line, that’s it
Again, the comms and PR industry has always struggled to prove its worth, and while we have improved there’s still work to be done. One of the most difficult challenges that one in four comms professionals struggle with is to measure the impact of earned media on business outcomes, with two out of five saying it’s even more difficult to connect to revenue.
“ROI need to be relevant to your business,” says Lower. “Think outside of traditional ROI measures and what works for your industry. It’s possible to connect your work to real revenue outcomes – it just takes a little bit of creativity.”
Budget allocation, earned, owned, paid – which is more important?
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the nose” - Mike Tyson, as quoted by Jano Cabrera. “My focus from paid is much smaller and owned is much bigger – and it’s in response to the reality of today.” (The latter half of that is obviously all Cabrera.)
Another surprising part of your budget most organizations don’t think of is shared media. “Shared is one of the biggest opportunities for PR professionals,” says Chowney. “It’s driven by an earned-first mentality. A big portion of the spend should be allocated to shared partnership spaces (ie: think influencer marketing) because that’s where you’ll see more editorial and engagement production."
Saying nothing is saying something
One last key takeaway that needs to be discussed are the events of this year outside of the pandemic; the wide-scale social unrest following the death of George Floyd this past summer. It’s important for organizations to address this both in their internal and external comms because the seemingly neutral position of saying nothing is actually taking a position: that of supporting the status quo. Even if that is not explicitly true for your brand, it will be read that way by the public who increasingly want brands to take a stand on social issues and prefer to align themselves with brands who share similar values.
“It’s uncomfortable, but silence is taking a position.” - Jano Cabrera