By Taylor Burke
In a year where few things were normal and many things were cancelled, the world’s biggest tech show carried on. Last January, shortly before many of us moved to a remote format, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held its 2020 show in Las Vegas’ Convention Center, where brands from coast to coast and from countries all over the world gathered to share their latest innovations. Though it may seem hard to visualise now, Lenovo unveiled its 5G laptop to attendees face-to-face and LG shared its Rollable OLED TV with interested editors and consumers IRL.
This year, CES came back – but this time, virtually. It was the first time since its inception in 1967 that CES put on an all-digital convention. Throughout the January 11-14 show, brands didn’t showcase interactive displays on a convention floor, but effectively featured their latest technology online: for example, they showcased robots who can clean, entertain, educate and so much more (a stark contrast to the first solid-state TV unveiled at the premiere show 54 years ago). Through this new approach, CES proved more than ever that technology has the power to keep us connected no matter the circumstance.
If 2020 taught us anything, to maintain interconnectivity and stay relevant in a new, increasingly fast-paced (and mostly digital) environment, brands must now leverage virtual tools to showcase their latest offerings. This is done most effectively while continuing to tap into evolving consumer and technology trends. Companies who attended this year’s CES showcased smart innovations via online showrooms, live streamed press events and press releases. CES boasts the world’s best technology and most innovative thinking – so what can we glean from a broader consumer perspective regarding the hottest upcoming trends and best-in-class virtual presentations? Here are some of the most noteworthy themes and brand adaptions from this year’s virtual show:
Personalisation is still preferred
The closer to an in-person demo a brand can provide, the better. Hi-res product and lifestyle images are table stakes, but brands should consider internally captured b-roll as a compelling way to simulate a hands-on experience (and make it dynamic, both from a storytelling perspective as well as for use in coverage). From smaller to larger companies, those that did this during the first virtual CES left a lasting impression on editors and overall attendees.
Digitised healthcare is here to stay
The pandemic has highlighted the importance of health-focused innovations now – and in the future. With more of an emphasis on stay-at-home care, people have come to realise the benefit of remote monitoring when it comes to not only COVID-19, but diabetes, heart disease and sleep apnea (among other syndromes). Brands whose offerings enable people to manage their health care remotely fared well at CES: for example, Medwand showcased its tool that connects to a smartphone or tablet so physicians can remotely check vital signs and other health parameters.
Novelty makes headlines
Technology has become such a part of our everyday lives that new advances hardly surprise us anymore. Most of us own and operate a computer, a smart phone, a tablet – and many even a smart microwave or mirror. To stay ahead of competitors and really make a splash, brands in all industries have to be creative and think outside the box. Case-in-point: beauty brand Ninu received notable media coverage for revealing its smart fragrance that connects to cell phones and allows users to mix and match scents.
Technology is one of our most trusted resources
As people have become increasingly reliant on and confident in in-home technologies to support their needs this year, brands tuning into this are meeting with great success. CES participants were excited to experience the positive impact technology can have on their everyday lives (i.e. VOYs’ new glasses and sunglasses that enable wearers to change their prescription with a simple dial twist).
Consumers want - and expect - customisation
Customisable offerings can create compelling storyline opportunities (i.e. an explanation of how a brand determines which styles are offered to consumers) that ultimately bolster awareness. Samsung announced its Bespoke refrigerators at this year’s show, and the line’s range of colors, materials and finishes garnered a lot of traction due to the creative power it provided to shoppers.
As 2021 moves forward, brands can maximise their impact by leveraging these trends in new product launches, service updates, thought leadership narratives, social content and more. Further, businesses will need to prioritise virtual PR and marketing tactics - such as digital, compelling desk sides and livestreamed announcements - to reach consumers where they are today: at home, connected to their devices and eager to hear how companies and their technologies can improve their lives.
To find out more on how Allison+Partners can help your brand leverage the latest trends and virtual events, click here.
The current discourse around social justice is a historic opportunity to create real permanent change, and as business leaders we have a moral responsibility to build diverse organisations where everyone feels empowered to bring their whole self to work. We can also now recite the well-known McKinsey statistic that ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform the competition.
But the challenge is still significant. The updated 2020 Parker Review earlier this year left a stark reminder. Out of the 256 companies with meaningful data, almost 60% had yet to appoint a board director from a BAME background. A similar report by the recruitment consultancy Green Park in 2019 found that the number of BAME board members decreased to 7.4% from 2018’s 9%. Within our own industry the picture is equally challenging, as only 9% of colleagues come from a racially diverse background. On the senior end of our industry, 87% of Chairmen and Managing Directors identify as White British.
As the tragic events around the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and so many others lit the touchpaper for the global growth of the Black Lives Matter movement into the mainstream, we wanted to discuss what was happening and to explore the issue of prejudice as it manifests here in the UK. We checked in with each other, discussing the issues, and sharing as much information, insight, and personal experience as possible. Identity is intensely personal, intersectional, and nuanced. The issues of prejudice are numerous, and they impact us on so many levels that we knew we needed to act.
Our discourse led to the identification of key challenges that we need to tackle to be better, and to evolve our organisation so that we can truly realise the transformative power of diversity and inclusion. To deliver on this mission, we began to explore the following aspects of our business:
How we communicate: Evolve how we communicate internally to ensure we respect and empower identity. Create regular, challenging conversations, explore the topics that enrich us and strengthen our professional relationships, from quarterly discussion groups and external speakers to weekly newsletters, essays and personal accounts. We are also improving our approach to external communications to better convey our agency approach to DE+I and encourage like-minded professionals to come and join our organisation.
Making us more representative: Pivot our approach to hiring to ensure we can field a more diverse set of candidates and manage an evolved interview process to ensure each candidate has an equal opportunity to succeed. We have updated our onboarding programme to ensure all new hires feel empowered to bring their whole self to work, and from the first day, build out our career development programmes to help equip tomorrow’s leaders for long-term careers in our organisation.
Building an ecosystem of like-minded partners: Work closely to develop long-term partnerships with like-minded groups, dedicated to diversity and inclusion. We have already been privileged to create a community around our organisation with others from the non-profit sector, training companies, academic institutions, and pre-competitive relationships in the private sector. Developing this ecosystem of relationships is key to supporting new talent, our colleagues and driving the cultural and social change that is so clearly needed.
Developing advisory capabilities for our clients: Develop capabilities, tools, data and insight to support our clients and the work we do to ensure it sets the very highest bar for diversity. This includes everything from our upstream work on marketing strategy and planning, to identifying diverse voices in the media and influencer space, the work of our industry leading measurement and analytics team, and our new creative review board that assesses ideas to ensure that our work is as diverse and inclusive as possible.
Our work so far gives us confidence for what lies ahead but there is a huge amount to be done. As a group of marketers and communicators, we are committed to real change in our organisation and a future where a diverse and inclusive workplace is the norm, rather than the exception.
The short answer is, no one knows. We’re all navigating blind and learning as we go because this is a situation that no one has ever been in before. This makes 2021 predictions all the more challenging, given the unpredictable nature of the world we currently live in. However, as we reflect on what we have learned this year, we have shared five predictions below of what we expect to trend in the coming year for both Consumer and B2B PR and marketing.
1. Spokespeople with a POV will be more important than ever. A spokesperson that plays it safe or sticks to a branded script will no longer make news. The competition for media presence will be even more fierce. As industries continue to evolve and shift in unprecedented ways, media crave brand representatives who stand for something and aren't afraid to say it, and can offer insightful commentary and content on what the future holds.
2. Bylines are back. While we’ve talked about bylines since the dawn of PR time, there will be a new importance to them in 2021. As media teams continue to shrink, publications are more open to receiving byline content from PR practitioners. Content will still need to be fresh, so it’s worth baking bylines into 2021 PR plans to best prepare the most compelling narratives.
3. Investing in unique ways to make and maintain media relationships will pay off. In 2020, it often felt like walking on eggshells when reaching out to journalists. Is now a smart or sensitive time to pitch? Is my pitch still timely with the current news cycle? Building relationships with the contacts you work regularly with will continue to be critically important. And to do this might range from investing time (allocating time for teams to read journalists’ content and share kind feedback separate to outreach on behalf of a client) to investing in resources (perhaps you Deliveroo the journalist’s favourite meal to chat about your news over a virtual lunch). Taking the time to be thoughtful, appreciative and supportive will continue to pay dividends.
4. Content will be the King of Overwhelming. In the face of the pandemic, the seas of content have turned into oceans, and target audiences are drowning in it. This will continue in 2021. What does this mean for marketing and PR pros? To stand out, you will need to say something different to your competitors. “Quality over quantity” has never been more meaningful. Instead of pushing out loads of content without a unique perspective, it’s critical to invest the time and resources to understand the DNA of your brand, monitoring the competitive set, and thus producing content that shares something different to breakthrough and offers your target something meaningful.
5. Companies will be held accountable for Diversity & Inclusion promises. In 2020, Diversity & Inclusion issues were catapulted to the forefront of conversation as companies and individuals were challenged to recognise biases and injustices, and put an action plan forward to do better. The importance of doing better isn’t going anywhere, and companies and industries will be held accountable. It will be critical for organisations to continue to act upon Diversity & Inclusion initiatives and keep it top of mind to make change-forward decisions and campaigns.
Looking to 2021, one thing is for sure - marketing and PR practitioners will need to stay agile and nimble. The quickly changing landscape will continue to shift and surprise us as we face new challenges. But if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s our resilience. Game on, 2021.
To find out more on how our European teams can help you take forward new PR and marketing strategies and programmes for 2021, click here.
If you go to the front page of Allisonpr.com, you’ll see it says that “Allison+Partners is a global marketing and communications agency driven by a collaborative approach to innovation and creativity.” Having spent the past six and a half years of my career at A+P, I can without a doubt say that this descriptor only scratches the surface.READ MORE
Nearing a decade into my career, I have had the opportunity to call both the US and the UK my home. In 2017, I moved from our New York office over to London. It didn’t take long to fully appreciate the global and collaborative nature that Allison+Partners fosters, and how important that is to being a successful organisation.
Whether you’re from New York, Phoenix, London, Singapore or Mumbai, when you step into your agency’s local office, you should immediately feel as though you are in your own office amongst colleagues you work with every day. With all of the modern technology we have at our fingertips, in theory this is an easy task. However, many of us know all too well the resistance of adopting new technology, particularly as we’re already using quite a few – how many of us can even count on one hand the number of communication platforms we’re on?
The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the importance of technology and pushed us to embrace it with open arms. During this time, communication and collaboration has drastically changed, in my opinion, for the better. Below are three key elements and lessons for working globally in 2020 and beyond.
Over-communicate and actively listen
In public relations, the phrase “communication is key” is thrown around quite a bit. While this is true, how effective is it if we fail to understand the meaning behind what is actually being said? When working in global teams, you have to bridge not just the geographical divide, but the cultural divide as well.
The first step is to never assume anything. This means stepping outside of your own preconceptions and putting yourself in the other person’s shoes to understand their position. Communication is the means by which we express human behaviour. When you tune into the nuances of human behaviour and the motivators behind it, you begin to understand the purpose of that communication – both verbal and non-verbal.
Second, employ active listening skills through non-verbal behavior and reflective statements while checking for understanding throughout conversations. In-person, this would mean closing your laptop and putting your phone down. Virtually, it means closing down other apps and directing your full attention to the meeting at hand - no multitasking!
Third, be descriptive and choose the communication medium most appropriate to the person, task and need at hand. This could be in an email, a chat, phone or video call, or even a voice memo. Because we can no longer just “pop over” to someone’s desk, we need to think through the best way to communicate our needs.
The importance of cross-team collaboration
Since COVID-19 restrictions have left many of us working from home for extended periods of time, I have personally found working with cross office teams much easier. For me, it has felt like the barrier of not being together in-person is broken down and I have refined my remote working style, allowing me to better collaborate with those I’m not around every day.
A few ways to effectively achieve this include making an effort to know who is on your team, actively seeking contributions and views from each of them, and maintaining openness to their opinions and suggestions.
The majority of my teams are global, the largest spanning across nine different markets. I’ve been able to facilitate a collaborative work environment by recognising their local expertise and valuing their strategic insight. Further, I try to make myself as available as possible for one-on-one and group touch bases. This fosters a sense of strong partnership amongst the team.
Strike a balance
Organisations need help navigating this new landscape, balancing human sensitivity with an ever-changing set of guardrails. As technology is bringing us closer together, the idea of a work-life balance has stepped aside in favour of a work-life blend. However, we need to be mindful of our colleagues’ boundaries and how they have adjusted their daily routines to fit the remote working conditions we are currently in, not to mention the added stress on mental health that has come from lockdown, dealing with an ill family member or possibly being ill themselves.
Demonstrating empathy by acting in a caring and supportive manner is probably the most important takeaway here. Dr. Brené Brown explains this quite well in a short animation from The RSA, where she talks about the difference between sympathy and empathy, and argues that to be truly empathetic you have to be vulnerable by connecting with someone's pain in yourself.
Where do we go from here
The PR and marketing landscape is constantly changing, even when it’s not the middle of a pandemic. Adding the uncertainty of COVID-19, the industry shapeshifting is at an all-time high. The remote nature of working has shed light on the value of global thinking and global campaigns, relying on global teams to bring diverse experiences and local expertise.
As we head into 2021, it will be important to remember that just because we are remote, doesn’t mean we can’t still interact and learn. Make the most of knowledge sharing by continuing to utilise your content hubs with professional development lessons, podcasts, newsletters, etc; leaning on your global colleagues for different points of views and ways of working; and taking breaks to avoid burnout.
Communication and workstyles aren’t one-size-fits-all, and this is especially true when working with a global team. When organisations take the time to ensure their employees across borders are taking a collaborative approach to communication and innovation, they will ultimately have a more productive and open line of communication, leading to better overall success.
To learn how our international teams can help you, click here.
As we reach the (official) halfway point of Lockdown 2.0, this time around it’s taken a lot less getting used to. It closes out a year full of ups and downs and twists and turns for us all, plus too many buzzwords to count: plenty of “pivoting”, “adapting” and “evolving”. It also brings with it some time for reflection.
I spoke to A+Pers across the UK team to find out the biggest lessons we’ve learned this year to take forward into 2021.
Dan Whitney, Managing Director, Content Strategies
“Working from home has really brought a renewed sense of personalisation to our working relationships. Before, you only saw clients on the other side of a boardroom table: now we are inside each other’s lounges, bedrooms and studies! While perhaps not our ideal scenario, the insight into our personal lives has removed barriers and allowed for a mutual respect and understanding of what we’re collectively going through. Re-evaluating how we work and where we work is something we can all carry forward to next year.”
George Collins, Account Executive
“I really enjoyed Partner and Co-founder Scott Pansky’s recent advice in a training session on trying our best to avoid using “but” and replacing it with “and…” Encouragement of conversation is something, particularly in 2020, we must carry forward in work and personal life.
I’m proud of how I’ve embedded myself as a member of the London team, considering I only had 1.5 days working out of the Kings Cross office before lockdown started! Despite not being physically present with my colleagues, I’ve been warmly welcomed into the team and feel mutual trust as a colleague to my co-workers.”
Andrew Rogers, Account Director
“It sounds obvious, but actually talking to people is still the best way to get things done. Yes, Zoom can be awkward and weird, but it’s always best to find a way to talk, whether that’s with clients, journalists or other team members. You get more done in a 5-minute video call than in an hour of emails going back and forth.”
Jess Docherty, Senior Account Manager, Integrated Marketing
“I have loved watching communities come together. Where I live in Kentish Town, a local graphic designer Karishma Puri started an incredible photographic project @isolating.together, which shares stories of how my local community has come together to support and uplift each other.
This inspired me to value the small moments and invest time in connecting with neighbours and local projects, and live the project’s motto that “no matter how difficult times get, together we are capable of extraordinary things.“
Jim Selman, Partner + Managing Director, UK + Ireland
“We have made more of a priority to talk to each other about matters not necessarily directly linked to work, and I think that has been extraordinarily enlightening, as well as helping to strengthen relationships, and our culture.”
Jill Coomber, Managing Director, Integrated Marketing Europe
“We could not be prouder of the team than we have been this year. Their agility, passion, energy and commitment through these challenging times has been beyond outstanding.
Best advice? Take a moment, step back, see the bigger picture and think in threes: the now, the near [future] and the long [term].”
And finally, a word from me. I’m so proud of how all of my colleagues at A+P have tackled this year with gusto, exceeding expectations all year round. Nelson Mandela once said, “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” For me, this nails the ethos we’ve all shared this year.
Collaborating with colleagues and clients throughout the uncertainty has led to new projects, scopes and skills across the board. As we look forward to recharging over Christmas and New Year, we will return wiser and stronger, ready for whatever 2021 brings.
To find out more on how our European teams can help you take forward new PR and marketing strategies and programmes for 2021, click here.
Gina Mossey is an Account Director on the All Told Europe team, delivering outstanding integrated client campaigns, and she also leads our A+P Europe in-house marketing team. Her eight years at A+P span both B2B and consumer work, and her specialisms include brand storytelling, content strategy, lead generation and influencer marketing.
By Terrance McDermott
Reactions to the pandemic have all but eliminated in-person contact between B2B sales professionals and prospects, leaving some wondering, “How do I promote my business now?” The looming economic uncertainty also adds the marketing challenge of potentially generating and pursuing prospects who may not even know their true budget authorisation or their organisation’s near-term needs.
One clear pivot is to focus on strengthening relationships with existing customers. In the best case, perhaps it leads to an upgrade, an upsell or new users within an existing customer organisation. At a minimum, it is an effort at customer retention.READ MORE
Unlock the Value of Your CRM Data
All organisations should take another look at their CRM database. No matter the sophistication of the marcom tech stack, the CRM system can yield a gold mine of avenues for marketers to pursue. Minimal contact information, even for key daily contacts? Figure out how to add name and phone number. Ask the sales team, search for the e-mail naming convention. If need be, call the main number! Extensive information about various influencers and decision-makers? Email them your most recent industry information. And if you don’t have something recent, create it! Build an infographic, create a survey and share results. Find a video of an industry thought leader and share the link. And there is a lot of room in between.
Understand Your Customers
In addition to strengthening relationships, marketers can also seek data. Now is the time to become a LinkedIn expert. Is the LinkedIn insight tag loaded on your website? Add it and begin learning more about the visitors to your website, and a small re-marketing campaign will be a quick addition. From there, you can learn more about the content consumed by the industry you market to. That provides direction for the next piece of content you’ll produce.
An organisation with extensive CRM data can use LinkedIn’s matched audience features for an ad campaign that will reach the exact people in the CRM database and others at the company. Then, the current environment presents a perfect opportunity for marketers to declare which other contacts at a current customer can influence upsell or retention. We often work with clients to define the buying group early in the sales cycle, but it is just as relevant for retention or upsell. Determine the title of end-users for your product, understand who may have originally created a vendor search with the assistance of procurement and investigate who within a client organisation helps determine “value.” Small marketing campaigns to reach those individuals at an important client will help make them advocates for you – either in the face of a competitor, or for an add-on that will more fully use your product.
Make a Plan for Growth
Now you have an expanded audience of influencers for whom you can adjust existing content or create something new. By this point, you have built an account-based marketing plan without ever making the declaration. You know the companies who are your current customers, thus similar companies are easier to determine. You know the content those customers consume. You know the titles at those companies who use your product. Now you can fill out your database with added information to strengthen relationships.
Of course, LinkedIn is just a first step, and many marketers already use its capabilities to the fullest. Microsoft, which owns LinkedIn, has slowly expanded opportunities to use LinkedIn profiles outside of LinkedIn itself. You may now be in a position to push further with data vendors who can help build a stronger and updated list, media vendors who can help you target the exact people you want to reach, trade publishers who can burnish your thought-leadership credentials, and other martech providers who can help push you up the learning curve. There’s no shortage of martech vendors.
But the best way to put them to work for you is to first understand your customers, the individual influencers and end-users within customer organisations, and what they need from your product or service. From there, whether you are equipped to go fast or you must go slowly, upgrades and upsells are the clear next steps.
If you'd like to sign up for our weekly COVID-19 updates, click here.
Terry McDermott is a digital evangelist with expertise in turning objectives into strategic plans and developing, executing, and measuring demand generation programs. He leverages his background in direct response techniques, including CRM marketing, to develop insights that build lead gen and customer acquisition campaigns. He also creates account-based marketing programs for key prospects, selecting targets via predictive modeling and creating marketing automation campaigns to nurture and score leads. Additionally, McDermott advocates for investments in emerging digital products, technologies and channels, while building and managing teams to generate leads, boost sales and increase awareness.
Organisations that spent the first half of 2020 adjusting to meet the pandemic’s challenges learned by mid-summer their pivots would be longer and deeper than expected. This became more evident when events and trade shows had to be cancelled, postponed or moved online, particularly CES 2021.READ MORE
The world’s largest trade show, which brings 175,000 people to Las Vegas every year, will be fully virtual for the first time. For brands “exhibiting,” the implications of CES’ move run far and wide. With over 67 UK businesses promoting the UK’s technology sectors at CES this year, how will the industry adapt and change to the new virtual event? Probably more than any other sector the exhibitors and brands attending should be able to adapt and re-image how they sell themselves, but there is still much we can learn and do ahead of the event in January 2021. How can you showcase your technologies in an environment where they can’t be touched? How can you still get media attention when you can’t physically track down reporters to bring them to your booths? What about all the in-person prospecting and deals you expected to make? What new digital opportunities are there for UK challenger brands who may have been unable to attend CES physically before?
The solution is too reimagine, not replace.
We recently ran a webinar that include some insights and best practices shared by our seasoned CES pros to maximise your investments in 2021, click here to learn more.
We’re no longer restricted to the same old formats, which can be an advantage. You can turn a previously physical event into a digital experience and/or reimagine the purpose to drive even more value. But it’s not as simple as just moving the speech, meeting, experience or demo online.
As a brand or marketer, consider – does the presentation, panel or demo really need to be live? Unless you offer the audience a chance to actively engage with the content, the answer is no. If you planned to do a quick product demo or give a speech without audience participation, there’s no reason to go live virtually. Instead, tape in advance with high production values and premiere it, similar to a new song or movie premiere. Present content in a moment in time to build buzz and anticipation.
Marketers also now have the opportunity to use a mix of different platforms to offer a better overall experience. Think about your past in-person speeches or product demos. Most of the audience was likely far away from the stage and struggled to see, while the speaker was likely confined to a podium. But with recorded video, you can change the perspective, use multiple cameras and angles, and showcase products in ways you couldn’t in-person. Bring the audience into settings they haven’t been able to see before. Because you’re no longer confined to a stage, now everyone can have the best seat in the house.
While production values are important, equally so is the presentation itself. During the pandemic, many have learned the hard way that reading scripts on a Zoom camera or self-shot video doesn’t create a quality or engaging experience. The medium is intimate, the camera is close and reading from a script comes off as robotic or wooden.
It’s even more important now to be personable and approachable to convey warmth, emotion and excitement. Words matter. Without being there in person to see, hear or touch the latest product, you must choose the right descriptive words. Delivery also matters. You can’t hide emotions from a camera that’s just inches from your face, so the delivery must have genuine energy and enthusiasm.
Brands and marketers should also factor in the audience’s accessibility and experience in ways they might not have previously. For example, you can use many custom online platforms and interfaces to connect with audiences. But some might require audiences to install new software or set up unusual or new camera configurations. Avoid putting the technological or logistical burdens on your audience.
Also think about what would best serve them. Would it be awkward to put 10 strangers in a virtual room and force them to chat? Do they even want to be on camera? You might need to create ice breakers or only put people together who already have a relationship, just like you would when assigning seating at tables for in-person events.
Likewise, rethink opportunities to personally meet the media. At past CES tradeshows, exhibitors connected with working media at parties, dinners, drinks and other hospitality events to pitch their wares and build relationships. Now, those meetings will migrate to the virtual world. Don’t force a Zoom happy hour on random media members and create awkward moments.
Also reimagine pre-briefings to make them more engaging and relevant. In the past, brands did not reveal everything in the pre-brief, opting instead to announce the big surprises at live, in-person press conferences. The possibility of surprise was a good way to lure media to your stage. Not anymore. Reporters can’t be at all live online press events and may opt to watch a replay instead. And it will be more difficult to get media attention at the last minute. It’s better to give reporters as much information upfront in the pre-brief and not sit on the big surprise. Giving reporters as much information in advance to write a full story is also something they will appreciate and remember.
The fully virtual CES format eliminates the chance to let the media literally get its hands on new products. If or when possible, brands should consider including products in media kits or care packages or arranging one-on-one meetings with the most important media targets to give them a change to get hands-on. Given the pandemic, any one-on-ones should obviously be done under strict protocols to protect everyone’s health.
In addition, Media Day moved a week later than usual to 11 Jan.. As a result, reporters will likely have a long day of online events, so make sure your presentations are as direct and engaging as possible. During the past six months of virtual meetings, we’ve learned the media has not been shy about using social media to complain about terrible online presentations or to praise when they’ve gone well. And don’t hold a standalone online event unless it’s genuinely warranted, especially in a crowded week like CES.
The reality is CES may not have the same attendance or impact this year either as it competes for attention. Focus on your core group of media, prioritising quality over quantity. Paid content distribution will also be essential to replace your impact with media, key opinion leaders and influencers. Consider paid amplification of key media coverage and other brand assets to help boost impressions.
Rethink the hospitality and entertaining format
While the media will be pulled in many different virtual directions, so too will brands, marketers and customers who had expected to prospect and make deals face-to-face. Traditionally, there would have been hospitality suites with a variety of people coming and going, not necessarily having to interact with others unless by choice. Online, there won’t be a chance for them to just watch or participate passively.
Again, make sure their experiences are meaningful and not awkward. Create experiences both online and offline that feel highly curated and special. Make meaningful connections by sending direct mail kits, premium swag and brand assets. They can still come into an online environment, get brand messaging and learn all about the products and things they were supposed to. But they need to also have a fun, highly entertaining experience. Combining online and offline elements will add a much-needed interlude from continuous screen time.
As January quickly approaches, if marketers think about approaching CES in the same manner as past years, they will reap disappointment. Brands must actively reshape their marketing and communications strategies to find new ways to connect and garner attention in a crowded online environment. No more standing in line waiting to get into a press conference or the 2-hour cab queue, you can do and see more than ever as long as the exhibitors are ready.
With better tech solutions tracking who is “virtually” attending, focused digital targeting to really drive engagement and key messages and an on-demand audience that are ready and more than ever to be involved, brands have an opportunity to establish a personal dialogue with the audience and turn what could have been seen as a negative into a positive profitable experience for all.
By Jim Selman
If the events of 2020 have taught us anything, it is that there are times when the state cannot manage alone. Sometimes, the challenge is so big that it requires a truly collective responsibility to find a solution, to keep us safe, to recognise the risks and to run towards the problem rather than expect it to be handled by somebody else.READ MORE
During the first lockdown, COVID seemed to get its unofficial positioning in the UK next to the Second World War. Lots of comparisons were made about the challenges to our civil liberties, the sense of loss that we would need to come to terms with, and ultimately the scale of the effort required to overcome this global pandemic. Together with the subsequent, global, era-defining social justice movement, pushing us to evolve as a society, we face a truly unique set of challenges and a clear expectation to act. The inevitable question then comes… “What did you do during the war?”
The private sector has a renewed sense of responsibility to step forward, and their stakeholders will rightly ask the hard questions to understand whether they are doing so. We have known for years that corporate reputation and purpose are inextricably linked. The days of simply managing the external communication of performance are long gone. Customers, government, media, consumers, suppliers, academia, and others are themselves being judged by the decisions they make and the company they keep. They want to know that the businesses behind the services and brands they choose are active beyond profit and hold themselves to the highest possible standards.
Even before the extraordinary events of 2020, purpose was a term in a perpetual state of evolution. It is often part of a lexicon that includes CSR, social impact, cause, sustainability, beyond profit, and conscious capitalism. Although the label for purpose can differ, the key is how you best deploy it in your organisation:
Creating, nurturing, and sustaining purpose requires a long-term approach. The overly used term, the “new normal” often feels a little nebulous. But ultimately, it is true. The world may never return to life as it was before lockdown. Therefore, the expectation to act is a permanent one and needs to be addressed now.
Click here for more information on how we can help you with brand purpose in the COVID era, or contact us – we’d love to hear from you.
By Andrew Rogers
Diverse teams create better quality work. Particularly in our creative industry, where understanding your audience is so important, homogenous teams are less able to produce the best possible campaigns for our clients.READ MORE
It’s important that we continue improving the ways that we discuss diversity, inclusion and equity within our agency, while also advising our clients on the steps they can take. One key way businesses can help to create more inclusion and advocacy in their organisations is through Employee Resource Groups, or ERGs.
ERGs have been around since the 1960s in some form but have become more common and visible in the past decade. These voluntary employee-led groups create a safe space for the communities they are representing, while also acting as a place to organise and advocate for change within the organisation. ERGs help bring representation to less represented communities, or those who face specific challenges in the workplace.
According to TopMBA, you can find an ERG in 90% of Fortune 500 companies. Not only have they provided an important space for the communities they serve, they have also helped leadership better understand diverse perspectives as they set out their diversity and inclusion goals and initiatives.
Many organisations specifically struggle with the ‘inclusion’ part of diversity and inclusion. They might be able to hire more diverse teams, but that’s only effective if these individuals are included in the decision-making process and are able to build long-term happiness and careers within the company. ERGs ensure people are given a voice and allow them to organise and advocate for change when needed. They also show a company’s commitment to listening to the unique experiences of people from various backgrounds who bring different perspectives to their teams.
Creativity can only flourish when employees feel safe and heard at work. People must feel that they can bring their whole selves to the office (or the virtual office as it stands right now). Whether organised from the grassroots by employees, or created by leadership, ERGs create vital spaces and connection for employees.
We’re proud of the ERGs at Allison+Partners that cross borders and connect communities from around the world. We actively promote a vibrant ecosystem of ERGs to connect and empower less represented communities at our agency and ensure their voices are heard. Our ERGs include:
Of course, we recognise that ERGs are only one step in the continuous journey to a more diverse and inclusive workplace. However their ability to make a positive impact should not be underestimated.
Online influence and engagement has never been more important for B2B brands. But there’s a wealth of online competition to contend with as companies invest heavily in content to capture mindshare during this unique time for driving sales.READ MORE
The shift we’ve seen from “tech and spec” content to more human, emotive, conversational B2B marketing is something we explored in our “Talk Human to Me” research report. Our surveyed B2B decision makers said they expected humanising their brand to lead to higher sales, more engaged customers and increased customer retention. Influencer marketing emerged as an important tactic to do this: 71% said they considered it more important for brand building than five years ago.
Couple this with McKinsey’s findings that UK sales leaders rate digital channels almost three times as important now as they were before. Collaborating with influencers on podcasts, social Q&As and webinars is critical for your business to thrive in 2020.
But industry influence takes time to build. So how do you prioritise the influencer relationships and opportunities that will really help put your brand on the map? And how do you build your internal influencers into consistent online thought leaders?
Here are our top tips on where to invest for long term success:
Understand where you can play
Your influencer strategy won’t reach its full potential unless you’ve put in the time at the strategy stage. Its important to analyse the storylines and viewpoints already out there in the industry conversation, and where your competitors are strong. Collaboration opportunities with influencers really take off when you have something truly interesting to discuss, not a repetition of what’s already been said. work really well to nail down their passion points and opinions, finding their unique viewpoints to offer.
Discover the right influencers to build long term relationships with
The most successful influencer partnerships are those which go beyond a one-off collaboration. Thorough research to find influencers which align with your brand values is the key to creating relationships which will offer up regular, mutually beneficial content opportunities. You likely know some of the podcasters, analysts, industry speakers, bloggers and journalists that you’d like to engage, so this stage is about ensuring they’re the right ones for your long-term strategy. For example, our Influencer Impact scoring methodology goes beyond reach metrics to also analyse influencers on their authenticity and power to find those who will really help you achieve cut-through in the market.
Variety is the spice of life
A recent study found B2B buyers consume an average of 13 pieces of content from multiple sources on their purchasing journey: eight items from the brand and five from third parties. So varied content across multiple channels is key to achieving an always-on presence across all stages of the marketing funnel. Pairing your spokespeople with industry influencers for discussion on online Q+A panels, podcasts and webinars sparks prospects’ interest at the top of the funnel in the awareness stage. Working with your existing customers as influencers on written and video case studies further down the funnel seals the deal with valuable third party endorsement.
Plan ahead for an integrated Launch
Influencer marketing often straddles both PR and marketing teams. It’s important to make sure everyone is aligned to amplify influencer content across all paid, earned, shared and owned channels to achieve maximum engagement. Set aside budget to invest in “hero” collaborative content with influencers such as webinars and podcasts, but also to create assets for your owned social channels and put spend behind the content. As part of your contract negotiations with your influencer, agree whether they are happy to include earned media interviews, and line up PR and comms teams to work on additional bylines and Q+A pieces to extend the reach of your content.
Analyse and optimise
Consider your goals and align success metrics with these at the beginning of the campaign. Then work with your relevant teams to set up tracking links ahead of time to ensure that content engagements evolve into clicks, conversations and conversions. It’s also important to bear in mind the point we made above on prospects engaging with multiple content pieces before purchasing. With an always-on influencer strategy, your leads will build incrementally over time as prospects see your credibility and strength within the market more often.
By Alexa Hershy
COVID-19 continues to impact the current and future trajectory of the consumer media landscape. It has exposed the vulnerabilities in print media and highlighted the advantages of digital, which has been able to quickly react to current events and pivot to write the timeliest stories for their readers – and of course, effectively reach the masses.
For PR practitioners, this pandemic has changed the way we develop smart media relations programmes. We need to acutely understand the new reality in which journalists live and work in, and how to pitch them in a way that is sensitive, but newsworthy enough to breakthrough.
Because the landscape is changing so quickly, it can feel difficult to keep up. There is nothing quite like hearing from the source, so I sat down with Sophia Panych, content director at PopSugar UK, to learn more about what it is like to be an editor right now and what PR practitioners should know in order to be successful in the current environment.
Here is a summary of my learnings:
The highly irregular news cycle poses unique challenges for editors
Every year, publicists and editors plan programmes and coverage for key holidays and moments in time – from summer travel to back-to-school to Christmas. Editors use year-over-year site data to prepare their stories to ensure they are writing the pieces that best appeal to their readers.
In the current environment, nothing can be planned for and site data is no longer as useful. Every event and holiday is now filtered through the lens of COVID-19 and other timely happenings. For example, PopSugar is currently re-examining their holiday coverage plans, asking themselves questions like, “Does it make sense to publish a luxury holiday gift guide when so many of our readers are struggling financially?” and tweaking plans accordingly.
In addition, with a never-ending flow of breaking news, editors’ priorities can change in a heartbeat. More than ever editors need to be incredibly agile and in tune with current events to draft stories that resonate. From a PR perspective, it means we need to be just as agile, as well as sensitive and flexible, with our planning and outreach.
Feel good and informative stories are breaking through
According to PopSugar UK data and site traffic, pieces showcasing feel good events, products, experiences and stories are doing really well, as consumers are looking for a welcomed distraction to the otherwise daunting news of the day. They’ve also noted that informative articles, specifically in regard to COVID-19 and other current events, are generating higher engagement.
Knowing this, how do we as PR professionals frame our clients’ news and thought leadership to deliver on either of these fronts?
Editors are putting everything through a diversity lens
The BLM movement has propelled this critical topic to the forefront and is demanding companies and industries of all kinds to commit to initiatives that create long lasting change. For media, they are revaluating the brands and celebrities they cover, the experts they feature and the topics they spotlight to support diversity. It is the aspiration that publications become a much more representative space for all different voices across the UK.
For the work we’re doing in PR, it is important that we think this way too – showing how our brands appeal to and represent a wide range of individuals and groups and putting forward spokespeople and experts that offer diverse perspectives.
Keep Zoom briefings to 30 minutes
While there is definitely fatigue, Zoom presentations are still the best way for editors to receive news and connect with spokespeople. Given their hectic schedules (they are busier now than ever), the sweet spot tends to be 30 minutes. Be respectful of media’s time and plan organised and newsworthy meetings and events.
To learn more, listen to the full conversation with Sophia on The Stream, an Allison+Partners podcast.
Welcome to the ''New Normal'' for B2B storytelling.
In the marketing world, it’s commonly said brands must innovate or die. This is truer now than ever before.
As empathy, trust and care become increasingly vital brand currencies, it has never been more critical for B2B brands to connect with customers on a human, emotional level. We surveyed B2B marketers to find out how this trend is evolving.READ MORE
As it turns out, while B2B brands know their goal, many are struggling to progress. Here we explore the challenges to talking ‘human’ and offer our insight and advice on how to move forward.
LISTEN TO OUR FULL REPORT TO LEARN:
By Brooke Fevrier and Todd Sommers
Like most of my colleagues, I frequently worked remotely – in client conference rooms, airport restaurants, hotel lobbies, the middle seat – but spent most of my time in an Allison+Partners office. As the COVID-19 pandemic transformed A+P into a remote work instant adopter, the senior leadership team saw a need to understand the newfound challenges our roughly 500 global team members faced.
To capture these insights, our in-house Research team began fielding short and frequent “pulse surveys” from early March through to the beginning of June. They then shared aggregated results and findings with leadership to inform the agency’s approach to remote work policies and communications.READ MORE
This wasn’t a tool we had available when I worked in-house, and I wanted to see what the Research team learned about this process that could be applied to other companies’ future employee communications. The following are excerpts of a Q&A with A+P Research Analyst Brooke Fevrier, who led the pulse survey process.
The second challenge will be the lack of a shared experience. Every market is different. New York in April was very different to New York today. Working mums with toddlers at home have a completely different experience to recent university graduates living alone. Many parents did their best to balance homeschooling and conference calls, but it was a major adjustment. You really need to think about the human experience, not just the corporate need to communicate.
Third, feelings about personal safety have also shifted throughout the process, and undoubtedly will continue to do so. Flexibility is a must – companies should be prepared to modify policies at a local level as conditions and overall sentiment change, keeping both employers and employees’ needs top of mind.
Our biggest takeaway is that giving employees the opportunity to provide feedback and letting their voices be heard – whether in a pulse survey format or otherwise – has a tremendous ripple effect that results in more engaged employees and, in turn, better client service.
If you’re interested in learning more about how our research team can help you during this time, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brooke is a content analyst on the Allison+Partners Research + Insights team, specialising in turning quantitative data patterns into strategic insights and effective communication tactics for clients across all industries.
Todd Sommers is a senior vice president at Allison+Partners, where he leads a team of integrated marketers and brings together multi-disciplinary campaign elements to create compelling programmes for clients.
And then COVID-19 happened. We thought that we might briefly cocoon in spring and quickly re-emerge to a flat curve and a near-normal life. Yet here we are in the heat of summer, still at home, still social distancing and still unsure what back to school will look like for the upcoming school year. We’ve taken to calling it the “now normal” since it’s clearly here to stay.
As the world copes with unprecedented change, brands must prove they are essential if they are to survive. That means being even more dynamic – bringing the future roadmap into the present, innovating product and service delivery, streamlining operations, and inventing new business models. That means finding faster pathways to customer insights, to stay two steps ahead of emerging customer needs. Throughout these transformations, a brand must also remain true to its core, reaffirming why its customers view it as essential in the first place.
The need to be dynamic creates tension between truth and trajectory. A brand that honours its core truth reinforces its customers’ trust and loyalty. Yet every new product, every new acquisition and every new executive hire hurtle the brand forward along its trajectory. Unchecked, these moves have enough kinetic energy to shift the brand off its centre of gravity.
To keep pace with transformation, we must speed up the process of slowing down. To guide effective innovation, brand leaders must pause and answer the fundamental questions – why will customers give us permission to enter this new market and how will we serve customers consistent with our values. Brand leaders need a finger on the pulse of evolving customer behaviour in order to rapidly respond with effective new strategies. Yet they must also take time to vet those new trajectories through the truth of the brand. A fast insights framework is needed to speed up the process of reconciling trajectory with truth.
A fast insights framework enables brand leaders to quickly analyse emerging customer trends using real-time data, while also providing clear criteria for brand governance around new innovations. Through AI and automation, customer interviews and ethnographic studies can be analysed in minutes. Online discussion boards capture customer needs and preferences in near real time. Millions of digital conversations can be parsed to show motivations and barriers along the buying journey. And a wealth of secondary sources provide macro-trends from ongoing studies. A modern data toolkit must be at the ready, along with a smart strategy team to interpret the signals into actionable insights.
Once empowered with insights, brand leaders must then address the fundamental questions that make an innovation effective. Having an established process to quickly align the organisation around the why and the how are key. It’s easy to chase a flashy new initiative, but it’s much more costly to walk it back. And if COVID-19 has taught us anything, what the market needs today will probably change tomorrow. Using a fast insights framework, the brand can quickly assess emerging customer needs, iterate new expressions of the brand, and align trajectory and truth to ensure long-term success.
As we all wait for a treatment or vaccine, a chorus of analysts, journalists and brand leaders chant “there’s no going back.” Many new consumer behaviours created during COVID-19 are here to stay for the long haul. The pandemic will leave its mark upon the world, making it more important than ever for brands to be dynamic – with a fast insights framework that helps them stay essential and stay alive.
The importance of influencer marketing is nothing new, but its staying power is. At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a lot of chatter about what would happen to the influencer space. Is there influencer fatigue? Are audiences still finding what influencers share relatable? For those not taking a stance on social issues, is their content landing flat amongst the incredibly important global topics at hand? Will influencer marketing survive?READ MORE
While there were certainly some bumps in the road (cue influencers sharing content from their lockdown yachts or mansions – not relatable), it has become undeniably clear that when done right, influencers have a very important role to play in today’s marketing mix.
Unsurprisingly, according to research by Edge Retail Insight, online sales in the UK are now expected to grow 19 percent year-on-year – a significant increase from the pre-pandemic estimates of 11 percent. And now more than ever, consumers are looking to influencers for inspiration – on what to like and what to buy. A report published by Influencer and GlobalWebIndex found that two-thirds of consumers who follow influencers say they’re likely to continue using social media to the same extent once restrictions are lifted – hence the importance of smart programming. Influencers, with their savvy content, can play a critical a role in driving sales through their content with attributable ROI.
So how should a marketer strategically approach an influencer marketing campaign today? Here are a few helpful tips:
At the end of the day, authenticity and relevancy still reign king – and these two attributes have become increasingly more important as people look to connect on a deeper level. We are living in a unique environment where people are paying careful attention to brands and their purpose and also rapidly purchasing at a higher frequency online than ever before. Creating human connection, digitally, is where brands can really shine alongside strategic partners.
By Cameron Davis-Bean
First, take a moment today to thank your social media managers.
The past five months have kept them in constant crisis communications mode. They’ve fielded questions and criticisms about your brand they likely never anticipated, and the content strategies they spent hours carefully crafting have been entirely disrupted. Immersing themselves in a nearly constant swirl of anxiety and outrage, because that’s their job.READ MORE
It’s OK to push pause while you refine your strategy
There is no handbook for social media during a pandemic, and it may be uncomfortable for a brand to address issues like racism, inequality and injustice. In many cases, brands smartly chose to temporarily stop posting on social media while they determined the most helpful role they could play.
I recommend this approach for a few reasons. It shows your brand understands that in times of international crisis, people don’t want to hear your marketing pitch. It also gives you a chance to examine any content you created before the crisis, and ensure it’s reflective of the helpful, supportive role your brand can take in times of cultural challenge and change. Once COVID-19 sparked lockdown, any content mentioning travel, going out, gathering in large groups or any other activities outside the home became temporarily useless. Furthermore, taking a pause allows you to listen to your audience to better understand what they need from you in that moment.
Pivoting your social strategy for the new normal
As we move from crisis communications to a “new normal,” you might struggle with how to adjust your social content strategy to the new reality. That’s OK, and we can help. By following the framework below and revisiting it often, you can plan social content that will drive results for your business while staying sensitive to current events.
Identify and understand your audience
Learn, adapt and repeat
Change is the only constant in social media. By repeating this cycle on a regular basis, you can continue to improve your content with the learnings you generate. Each time you sit down to create new content, do a quick check-in on steps 1-3 above and consider whether you’ve learned anything new that can better inform what you create next. Measure your efforts on a regular basis, and don’t be afraid to make a change when you see something doesn’t work. By leading with listening and consistently crafting content with your audience in mind, you’ll find success over time.
Cameron Davis-Bean leads campaign development and execution for integrated marketing programs as an Account Manager at Allison+Partners. He works to find the perfect blend of earned, owned, paid and shared media to drive business results for clients.
Andrew is joined by Jill Coomber, MD Integrated Marketing and Dan Whitney, MD Content Strategies from our All Told team to explore these challenges and offer advice for B2B brands on how to move forward.
It's all part of our brand new report Talk Human to Me, available to download now by clicking here.
Read the full report to discover:
Like our podcast? Why not leave us a review? And don't forget you can always find out more about the team here at Allison+Partners at www.allisonpr.co.uk.
By Dan Whitney
Marketing and PR are no longer separate, or even complementary disciplines. They are one and the same.
In agency land it’s comforting to think of marketing agencies as distinct from PR agencies. It balances books, it inflates agency rosters and it maintains the all-important status quo. After all, two specialist marketing and PR agencies are better than one, right?READ MORE
In the agency mix, all too often marketing and PR agencies become embroiled in a roles and responsibilities land grab. Two separate agencies battling it out for the budgetary spoils.
Separate agencies with separate agendas.
Multiple agencies covering distinct marketing and PR functions isn’t just an ROI risk, it’s also a messaging consistency risk, particularly with so many channels to oversee.
In the past decade marketing and PR channels have increased rapidly at a breakneck pace. With more opportunities than ever to reach audiences at every touchpoint of their digital and analogue journeys, it's inevitable that the lines between PR and marketing have become blurred.
The advent of social media management and influencer marketing was arguably the first clue that marketing and PR were beginning to converge. Social offers incredible opportunities for personalised messaging – that’s marketing. But also provides the opportunity to interact with brand advocates and build relationships – which is PR.
Influencer marketing further muddied the waters. Replacing, or at least augmenting, traditional marketing channels, while providing another parallel PR channel to traditional PR/journalist comms.
With disciplines such as online reputation management complicating matters further, and PR and marketing agencies boasting so many complementary and competing skillsets, it’s often difficult to distinguish between them.
But there’s one area that PR agencies excel that marketing agencies – at least up to this point – haven't strayed into. PR in itself is the management of a narrative. That goes beyond mere campaign messaging to seeding a story and ensuring that messaging is on-brand, regardless of which outlet that message emanates from.
That’s distinct from the ’storytelling’ we so often hear about these days from marketing agencies. PR shapes the story for others to tell, rather than disseminating it itself… and if that sounds familiar, it’s the very reason PR agencies are as adept at influencer marketing as they are at journalist outreach.
The clients that question their agency rosters and who make the move to combine these disciplines, will in the short-term see greater alignment of key messages and stories – elevating the brand above the competition.
From a longer-term perspective, there is a real opportunity to plan and activate through the line campaigns that communicate to the audience consistently at every touch point. The brands that start to understand the entire communications and storytelling journey, and join up the dots between PR and marketing, are the ones that will ultimately have a more consistent voice and greater success.
This is all great for the brand – but crucially, by combining these disciplines into one shop, they maximise their budgets and become a leaner, more efficient marketing outfit delivering greater returns on the investment.
So when you consider where your marketing and PR spend is going this year, it’s worth thinking about your agency roster and looking at the economies of both in monetary terms and in simplicity of messaging (not to mention time spent briefing agencies) that could be exploited by bringing marketing and PR functions under one roof.
At Allison + Partners we have an agile planning process that delivers a holistic go to market program across paid, earned, shared and owned media. This allows us to apply a consistent message along the entire customer journey, effectively building the brand narrative and driving measurable results.
If you’d like to learn more, get in touch, we’d love to explore what’s possible.
MD Content strategies Europe
Welcome to the “new normal” for B2B storytelling.
In the marketing world, it’s commonly said brands must innovate or die. This is truer now than ever before.
As empathy, trust and care become increasingly vital brand currencies, it has never been more critical for B2B brands to connect with customers on a human, emotional level. In our new research report,Talk Human to Me, we surveyed B2B marketers to find out how this trend is evolving.READ MORE
We define human storytelling as “Brand storytelling that uses and appeals to human emotion and empathy, as opposed to purely focusing on the practical application of the product or service”.
As it turns out, while B2B brands know their goal, many are struggling to progress. 97% of respondents considered it important to humanise their brand, yet only 26% say they have managed to do so already. Marketers face numerous challenges, including truly understanding their customers’ needs and creating messaging and content that really caters to their pain points on a human level.
Our report explores these challenges to talking ‘human’ and offers insight and advice on how to move forward.
All Told is Allison+Partners’ global marketing team offering research, strategy, storytelling, content creation, lead gen, measurement and analytics. In 2020 the firm has been recognised as Provoke’s #2 Best Agencies to Work For, EMEA, and Fastest Growing Agency in PRWeek UK’s Top 150 Consultancies. For more information, visit All Told in Europe.
Please click here if you would like to subscribe to All Told Europe’s insights service.
If you’d like for us to share more examples and best practices, please contact us at TalkHuman@allisonpr.com.
By Rachel Busch
The COVID-19 pandemic has essentially changed industry events as we know them for the remainder of 2020 and the foreseeable future. From full cancellations to conferences going virtual, there’s an opportunity to embrace alternative platforms to raise awareness for executives as thought leaders. Here are some key tactics to promote impactful thought leadership, without in-person events.READ MORE
Social media is the ideal tool to engage with followers and the larger community. According to new research from the British Heart Foundation, 55% of UK adults say they have spent more time on social media since the start of the lockdown. This highlights the potential influence even one post can make if it's shared with the right audience. Leverage existing thought-provoking blog content with pertinent information to create engaging social posts for your client's followers.
The value of social media is that the conversation doesn't have to end with your followers. Use hashtags to comment on trending news, and join the larger conversation on relevant topics to shape executives as industry leaders on platforms, including LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Social listening tools can help determine who drives the trending topics of online conversation, allowing you to give suggestions to your client about when to partake and add value by sharing thoughts with a strong perspective.
Transform Your Events Strategy
Many large-scale events, including Apple’s WWDC, Infosecurity Europe, and Cannes Lions, have digitally pivoted. Online events allow people to tune in from anywhere across the globe without travel expenses. According to the Web Summit CEO, digital events have been so successful that the future will consist of hybrid events featuring online and in-person elements. You have a unique opportunity to position clients as thought leaders because they can speak directly to a large audience, compared with in-person conferences. Therefore, you should tailor the client's messaging to resonate with a wider net of people who might be interested in broader trends.
Online events can also help maximise your digital strategy. You can use keynote or panel videos to create easily digestible and shareable clips on Instagram stories and TikTok and reach new audiences that may have not tuned into the event. You can apply the same strategies to company-wide events that were planned for the year and create hybrid elements that enforce social distancing but keep everyone engaged. Consider dynamic online tools to bring people together virtually, such as digital reality for immersive experiences, along with these effective strategies to elevate digital events.
Build Relationships with New Reporters
Even though the mainstream news cycle changes rapidly and it’s important to be mindful of pitching sensitive topics, trade reporters are interested in receiving the sector-focused perspective and news updates. Take a look at media covering your client's industry and reassess if there are new reporters to introduce yourself to and offer unique commentary with a sector-focused spin.
It’s also important to consider how your client's brand or executives can add value to the business leaders and media at this point. Resist taking advantage of the global pandemic, and ensure you share helpful thoughts that can positively impact a certain industry. If you have the right expertise, now is the optimal time to distribute it to a world and media hungry for meaningful solutions.
If you'd like to sign up for our weekly COVID-19 updates, click here.
Rachel Busch is a Senior Account Executive in the Corporate and Public Affairs practice at the agency. She focuses on external communications and media relations strategies for global technology accounts.
If you follow any brands on social media, it’s highly likely you’ve noticed them change their logo to one incorporating the rainbow flag. You might have also seen rainbow flags flying outside of government buildings and businesses’ head offices. All of this is to mark Pride month which takes place in June each year to advocate for rights and visibility for the LGBTQ+ community.READ MORE
Although cities globally hold their Pride events at different points in the year, many fall within June so they line up with the anniversary of the start of the Stonewall Riots in New York, which lasted from June 28th until July 3rd. Stonewall is largely credited as the birth of the modern day Pride movement. What started as riots against police brutality in New York (led mainly by black trans members of the community) would evolve into marches around the world demanding acceptance, visibility and legal protections for LGBTQ+ folks.
This year will be different due to COVID-19. Most Pride marches have been called off to prevent further spread of the disease, and while there are plenty of fantastic events taking place online, the absence of Pride as a physical presence this year is very strange indeed. It’s a big loss for the community, particularly at a time when lockdowns have hit LGBTQ+ people particularly hard.
Why Pride still matters today
The biggest misconception people outside (and inside) the LGBTQ+ community have about Pride is that it’s a big party. It’s easy to see why. These days many marches feel more like a carnival than a protest. However this ignores the true history and purpose of Pride. Pride started as a riot and has always existed to protest and push for progress and change (and yes, to celebrate the progress we’ve made).
Pride matters today because the LGBTQ+ community still faces big challenges, at home and abroad. It’s still the norm for LGBTQ+ people to be bullied, and too many people still die by suicide. The rights of the trans* and non-binary community are continuously under attack and far from secure. And there are still 70 countries around the world where homosexuality is illegal, and 12 where homosexuality carries the death penalty. There is lots of work to do, and plenty to still protest.
Pride also does not exist within a vacuum. As a community we need to recognise that some parts of our community have made progress, but left other parts behind. The Black Lives Matter movement is just as important in the LGBTQ+ community as it is within wider society, and this year many Pride marches have evolved into Black Trans Lives Matter marches, with more in common with the first Pride marches in the 1970s than with the Pride parties of the last decade.
How brands can be allies
Most members of the LGBTQ+ community want brands to support us. However what is really needed and appreciated is authentic support, rather than virtue signalling. COVID-19 will lay bare this distinction. This year, it will be clearer than ever which brands genuinely supported the LGBTQ+ community, and which were doing so for some free advertising at Pride.
Being a true ally to the community means supporting LGBTQ+ causes when times are tough. If you’re a brand that usually spends big on sponsoring floats in Pride marches, but then pulls all budget out of Pride because marches are cancelled, it becomes pretty clear that this support wasn’t genuine.
The same goes for those rainbow logos. It’s nice when a brand changes its logo to include a rainbow, but what does it actually mean? If it’s not backed up by actions, it’s an empty gesture, and you’ll be called out pretty quick.
Listen to queer voices
Brands who want to authentically support the LGBTQ+ community need to listen to queer voices. The best place to start is with your own workforce, and this is why company Pride groups are so important. Action should be led by members of the LGBTQ+ community, and brands should then leverage their resources and platform to make these voices heard.
Brands should also put queer creators front and centre. Does your brand want to do something that authentically supports the black trans community, for example? Then write the cheques and pay for black trans content creators to help you create campaigns and shape your actions. Doing the right thing usually isn’t free, but building a brand that fights for causes alongside its customers is worth its weight in gold.
Pride is more than just a month
There’s a running joke on social media that as soon as Pride month ends, brands immediately ditch the LGBTQ+ community. It’s all tied up in the idea that brands never really cared, and it was all to sell a few more rainbow T-shirts.
If your brand truly wants to support its LGBTQ+ workforce, advocates, and customers, it needs to do so all year. As someone who volunteers with an LGBTQ+ network helping with brand partnerships, I can tell you we’re always way too busy in June, and never busy enough during the rest of the year. PR and marketing folks love to link activity to specific days and months, but this is one of those cases where you don’t need to wait for June to do something positive for the queer community.
How to support the LGBTQ+ community all year long
When it comes to your brand, here are some simple ways to make sure your support for the LGBTQ+ community is authentic:
Pride matters deeply to most members of the LGBTQ+ community, which is why it’s so disappointing when brands see it as a sales or marketing tool. Authentic support is hard, but as consumers make it increasingly clear that they want to buy from brands that align with their values, it’s worth getting right. As Pride month draws to a close in this unusual year, brands have an opportunity to step up and show that even without the party, Pride matters all year.
Andrew Rogers is an Account Director at Allison+Partners.
By Jill Coomber
It is too early to know every impact of ‘life after lockdown’ – no event in living memory has had such an abrupt and sudden change on the way we work, play, think, finance and consume. So it is vital to focus on the key influences we as consumer marketers must bear in mind.
According to research by University College London (UCL) its takes 66 days for a new consumer habit to form. Given that many of us have been in lockdown for at least as long as this, which behaviours stay and which disappear?
Kantar’s Nicki Morely recently summarised this very well. People will adopt new behaviours when they are easier to maintain, more convenient, more satisfying and more rewarding than previous behaviours.
So as well as new behaviours we are also yearning to go back to past behaviours to reassure ourselves that life can indeed go back to ‘normal’.
Whilst this situation is unique, we have lived through past disasters and uncovered useful insights.. A good example of this is the BSE crisis in the UK in the 90s which saw beef sales fall by 40%. However, within just six months the industry pivoted adding in sourcing and tracing to reassure consumers, and beef sales were back to normal levels. This highlights how entrenched habits, in this case Brits love for beef, are fundamental to our lives and our culture, and they can be difficult to break.
So what trends are we bearing in mind?
A desire to have more fun
Many trendwatchers have identified a pent-up demand for rewards and special treats after this period of forced abstention. We have witnessed in the last decade a rise in the treat and experience culture. Many major luxury brands, for example, have tapped into this desire with ranges or tasters at lower price points to satisfy this demand. Think Karl Lagerfield vs H&M and Kate Moss vs Top Shop that inspired many a fashion related collaboration.
To ensure fun continues – we are seeing brands across consumer categories get a virtual makeover. Sports, virtual experiences, and creative innovations like ‘cocktails to your door’ as growing markets will continue. With a long-term impact on live events and concerts it will be interesting to see how the industry responds. Certainly, Sony is already predicating a final coming of age for virtual reality.
Thinking forward for trends
Covid has made the consumer pause and think inward – how do I care for myself and my community and what habits do I want to change. Many are rethinking how they travel to work in cities and big towns and how they enhance the quality of life around the home. Not surprisingly perhaps, among the latest trending items are garden furniture, bikes and electric scooters. It will be critical for marketers to not only stay on the pulse, but also anticipate how their products and services can best support the consumer in the near and distant future.
Supporting our local enterprises
We have also become ultra-aware of the fragility of our economy, businesses, and jobs. Many local enterprises that we took for granted are now struggling to create a profitable future in a changed world. Small businesses account for three fifths of employment – they are vital to the economy. We’re seeing a positive, rising trend on social media to call out and support these local businesses and entrepreneurs who literally won’t survive without our support. Britain, our small businesses need us!
A rush to comfort brands
There is a need for familiarity in a crisis – comfort food, recognisable brand advertising, brand communities andknown CSR-friendly brands. Now people will be even more focused on these and will be specifically looking out for brands who are supporting key workers and the environment.
A good example of finding comfort in what’s familiar – the rise of watching out box sets. We’re seeing consumers reach back into the noughties and nineties for gold standards like The Godfather, Friends, Game of Thrones and Big Bang Theory.
The role of online
There is no doubt the Internet has ‘saved’ many in retail through this period. There is data everywhere on the superfast growth in mobile payments, contactless delivery, online health services and ecommerce for non-traditional items like furniture. Online sales at Majestic wine, for example, has increased by over 200% year on year. Whilst it’s clear there is a need to focus on the online offer more than ever before, this will be a high-water mark for online shopping. We will be left with a permanent increase. However, giveniven most consumers already shop omni channel, this is unlikely to change in our new normal.
Will the office as workplace ever recover?
For those of us who normally work from an office, the sudden and prolonged lockdown has shown what can be achieved remote. It is an amazing and powerful argument for many companies to rethink. Twitter, for example, has already announced a permanent shift to homeworking for those who can. With social distancing measures dictating the short-term –many offices cannot go back to the old normal. And with these measures in place, what is the value of a physical presence? A more permanent change is likely on the cards for many companies.
Work-life balance is shifting
For those who can work from home there is a new challenge of creating a good work-life balance.Perhaps the the gain in commute time has allowed some to take on new hobbies. It certainly relieves some of the monotony. We are seeing a visible growth in hobbies on social media like baking, gardening, painting, drawing, photography, dancing, home cooking, fitness, and gaming. Where passions have been ignited, we expect these trends to stay. On the other side, people are finding it difficult to step away from their computers – many working much longer hours and starting to feel a sense of burn out.
A new respect for key workers
We see every day a new respect for key workers. Not just those in the health services, but shop workers, refuse collectors, delivery services –everyone who is supporting the household in these challenging times. We might see a shift in brands starting to tap into these groups as the face of their brand vs celebrity tack. Only time will tell.
A new level of care for the environment
Images showing environmental recovery – clearer skies in Hong Kong and Los Angeles, and sheep wandering around towns – continue to go viral. With everyone at home, the environment has benefited, and it is continuing to spark global conversations around the importance of sustainability measures. Will these images inspire a meaningful change in behaviour? The previous recession nurtured a mass acceptance for less ownership and possession, particularly amongst millennials, and out of that came the sharing culture of Uber, AirBnB, Zipcar and others. Given the complexity of this issue, the jury is out on this one.
The economy will recover and we will get back – we just do not know the timeframe. It will be dictated in large part by events outside of our control, like a vaccine or a resurgence. So for now, uncertainly will remain the new normal. However, based on data from the previous recession, brands that implement a longer-term view, building plans around the right future trends and implementing growth strategies in markets with potential, have the opportunity to come out much stronger than their competitors.
Jill Coomber is Managing Director, Integrated Marketing at Allison+Partners.
By Paul Breton and Lydia Wilbanks
It’s a make-or-break moment for higher education. In the coming months, university leaders, development officers and administrators will need to make complex and potentially unpopular decisions that can affect their long-term brand reputations. That’s why now is the optimal time to pivot their communications strategies and engage stakeholders differently.READ MORE
Students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni and institutional donors each have myriad questions that need to be carefully messaged and addressed, not least of which include:
Institutions that take decisive action to navigate these concerns creatively, empathetically and transparently will emerge stronger. They will build credibility and goodwill, especially when unpopular decisions become necessary. Schools that hesitate or underestimate the importance of their communications will face a long, uphill road to reputational and financial recovery.
Here are four important communications initiatives school officials should focus on now to engage students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni and institutional donors to shore up their long-term brand reputations:
Double down on digital
With in-person events and activities no longer viable options, colleges and universities need to shift resources and maximise the full range of digital capabilities to stay connected to their audiences online. Effective use of virtual events, online campus experiences, emotionally engaging videos, email newsletters, search engine marketing, social media influencer engagement and online conversation mining will give university communities the ability to remain visible and relevant during this prolonged time of social distancing.
Keep employees engaged
Now that everyone is working remotely, it’s even more important for school officials to increase connections with faculty and staff who are on the front lines with students, parents, donors and other stakeholders. While broad, one-way, top-down updates are customary, schools that rely on these types of communications exclusively will miss out on opportunities for valuable community temperature checks. Instead, communicators need to embrace virtual Q&As, department-wide video conferences, real-time employee surveys and other forms of remote social engagement.
During times of high anxiety, people want reassurance and empathy from their leaders. They accept that decisions are being made in real time with incomplete and ever-changing information. While stakeholders don’t expect perfection, they do feel entitled to explanations of how and why important decisions are made and what they mean for the future. And they expect sincere contrition and quick corrections when leaders make the wrong call.
Now more than usual, it’s important to consider how difficult messages are delivered and how they support an overarching brand narrative. Do stakeholders have a reason to trust and believe? Are they inspired? Can they see themselves as valued contributors to how the story gets written – or are they merely pawns in a game over which they have no meaningful control?
Tell stories that inspire
University marketers and fundraisers already appreciate the power of emotional stories about how higher education transforms lives and how researchers make new discoveries. Now is the time to delve even deeper and mine for inspiring stories that showcase the ingenuity and resilience of students, faculty, alumni and staff.
How did professors come up with innovative ways to engage their students online? Which staff members truly went above and beyond the call of duty? How did the school community rally together to support each other or the community at large? How have alumni stepped up to hire students, establish internships and give back in new and inventive ways?
These types of stories yearn to be discovered and disseminated.
While higher education faces an uncertain future, communications decisions that institutions make now will have brand reputation implications that endure long after students return and campuses once again safely open their doors.
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Paul Breton is an executive vice president in the Corporate + Public Affairs practice. He counsels executives to communicate effectively and tell memorable stories that result in positive earned media coverage, stronger brand reputation, greater stakeholder engagement and more revenue. He has 20+ years of PR and marketing communications experience and specialises in executive thought leadership, brand storytelling, crisis and issues management, internal communications and employee engagement. His industry experience spans education, technology, financial and professional services, entertainment and healthcare.
Lydia Wilbanks brings more than three decades of consumer and corporate communications experience to Allison+Partners. She specialises in target market analysis, strategic planning and thought leadership. After owning her own award-winning agency, she now focuses on communication counsel and market development for Southeast based organisations.
By Heike Schubert
Slowly – some say too hastily – European countries including the UK, France and Germany are starting to ease lockdown restrictions.
The ‘Six Phases of the Disruption Life Cycle’ recently outlined by Allison+Partners communications professionals Tom Smith and David Wolf provided a useful guide on the key elements businesses must work through in of a period of crisis. We have just started coming out of the Command Phase (phase three) and are entering into the Recovery Phase (phase four). However, we are doing so tentatively – our governments are closely monitoring infection rates because we realistically cannot know the impact of eased lockdown measures until they are trialled. As we adjust to the ‘new normal’, minimising the spread of the virus, protecting people from it and taking care of those unwell will continue to be of the utmost importance.READ MORE
In the near future, uncertainty will continue to characterise every aspect of our lives. In the UK, France and Germany, one thing is certain – we know society will be forever changed. COVID-19 has forced us all to slow down and reflect on what is working and what can be improved.
So, what does the ‘new normal’ look like? The discussions have already begun. We need to rethink how we live, work and travel. We need to consider how to better acknowledge the high value of people in health and social care, retail, education and more. And we need to better prioritise our personal lives, families and mental well-being. Perhaps, everything will change. Nothing is off the table right now.
From a communications perspective – we need to balance being cautious with being proactive in positive ways. Companies that are thinking innovatively and looking to solve problems that help people will succeed in generating positive brand awareness that they can carry into the future.
To be an effective communicator in the current environment, we recommend implementing three key steps:
1. Stay supportive – the threat isn’t over yet
Right now, it’s all about seeing the bigger picture and how your organisation fits into that. Ultimately, every group represents a small part of a huge and complex system. It’s all about supporting each other to stay functionable as well as working towards one major goal: avoiding the spread of the virus in order to save lives.
So, how can you support this overarching objective? Whether you’re reorganising a manufacturing site to produce life-saving ventilators or you’re pivoting to sew masks instead of making clothes – decide what it is you will do to show you’re committed to playing your part in helping people during the crisis. In doing so, you will be remembered for the responsible role you have taken in society. It is imperative that companies and organisations not only exist to be successful, but also act to do good and develop trust within their community.
2. Don’t brag about success – stay humble
The majority of people, companies and state institutions are currently facing a plethora of challenges, from unemployment, to salary cuts, to failing business operations. The states are struggling to stay ahead of the infection wave on one side and are trying to support individuals, companies and organisations on the other in order to minimise disruption to the economy, avoid widespread bankruptcy and mass poverty.
In many European countries, government loan schemes and the existing social security systems are supporting the people to buffer the worst effects. It’s an incredibly difficult time – many small businesses and jobs are reliant on financial assistance for their survival. Therefore, any communication where a company is highlighting how successful they have been under these circumstances is inappropriate. It’s even counterproductive as it labels the successful players as a kind of ‘war profiteer’ – someone who is capitilising on the pandemic, rather than sharing the burden and supporting others.
No doubt there will be entities that are successful during this time – for instance companies selling food and groceries or important medical devices. However, it is how these companies are offering and communicating their products and services that will make the difference. For instance, reducing prices, services for the elderly and vulnerable, charitable giving and clear ethical programs will help companies be remembered in a positive way. It is critical that these activities and engagements come from the heart and that companies act authentically and transparently to give people confidence in them.
3. Become part of the better tomorrow
To create a better tomorrow, organisations need to think about how their product, strategy and company culture are perceived now. They need to evaluate their role in the new normal, map out a plan and take action.
One organisation cannot solve every issue, but they can be really good at helping overcome one or two specific challenges close to home. Leaders need to review what products and services they sell and how they can do this better for people, the environment and the world.
If you have something to contribute – become a thought leader and have your say on what we can improve upon. Make sure your insights are valuable in the overall conversation and the aim of your communications is to explain how you are working towards a better tomorrow – not profiteering off the crisis.
The global pandemic is an opportunity to truly think and act globally. Together, we can all be a part of a better tomorrow.
Heike Schubert is a General Manager in our German A+P office.
By Courtney Newman
Some businesses will emerge from the COVID-19 crisis with stronger company cultures, while others will see the ties that bind staff weaken under shelter-in-place orders. The difference will be how well businesses engage their employees in a two-way dialogue.
Here are five tips to help you build or maintain a strong company culture, whether employees are working remotely or back in the office.READ MORE
Establish the culture you want to see. Collaborate with staff to identify three to five core values that define a successful employee in your company and use them to recruit, onboard, evaluate and celebrate them. If your company hasn’t developed yours yet, start a conversation with the team about the strengths that help you weather the current crisis and get consensus on the most essential traits to grow the business.
Make time for facetime. Regular interaction between your leadership team and employees – via live, interactive town halls and educational events – not only enhances investment in the company’s vision, but also allows you to find out what is impact personnel. With staff quarantined at home, you can maintain communication by hosting virtual town halls, recording video messages from your leadership team and developing a CEO advisory council of staff from various levels, functions and geographies to share their insights on video chat.
Be transparent about business challenges. During times of crisis, employees crave honest information about business performance and job security, and leaders who deliver this build trust and loyalty even when the news is bad. Solicit “Ask Me Anything” questions anonymously with an online survey tool like SurveyMonkey and have your CEO address them in a company-wide webinar. Given the ever-evolving nature of the global pandemic, biweekly sessions may be necessary.
Ask for feedback and act on it. It’s also essential to assess your team’s wellbeing and needs to tailor your internal communications and support systems accordingly. Conducting anonymous pulse surveys on a weekly basis will allow you to respond in real time as the crisis evolves. You also need to be explicit about how such input is being used. Neglecting this step can break down trust and will make staff less likely to engage.
Offer perks that encourage teambuilding. Job satisfaction is enhanced when employees genuinely like each other, so it’s essential to offer perks that encourage them to have fun with each other and senior colleagues while they’re on the clock. Working remotely makes it harder for people to bond with each other, but there are many ways to boost happiness at work via video calls: group workouts, quizzes, book clubs, Friday night drinks and home tours in the style of “MTV Cribs,” which offers all-access tours of celebrity homes.
An honest, two-way relationship between leadership and employees will not only foster a strong workplace culture but will also help you realise great solutions to meet the challenges of COVID-19 and build a group of motivated volunteers to implement them.
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Partner Courtney Newman leads learning and employee engagement for more than 500 A+Pers in the U.S., Europe and Asia-Pacific. Her A+P career highlight is the agency being a perennial PRWeek Best Places to Work winner.
By Sue Grant
While certain sectors of the tech market continue to be incredibly busy (i.e. health tech, data analytics, AI and security) others are challenged with significant IT projects that have been put on hold while businesses wait to see what happens on the other side.
But it is fair to say that prior to the pandemic, the B2B tech market had been relatively resilient for some time and had been showing no signs of slowing. There are positive signs that the current situation will not have the same impact as previous tech downturns, such as the dotcom crash of 2000/2001, where it took several years to recover and return to growth.READ MORE
Given the industry was robust and strong before we entered this crisis, there is no reason why innovation and tech should not resume once the worst of the pandemic is over, albeit with a pivot in communications and messaging to reflect the “new normal.”
Here are some of our recommendations on navigating the current environment to position your business for success in the “new normal.”
The need for interesting stories is stronger now than ever.
From talking to reporters, though a few are now being furloughed, most titles are carrying on business as usual: it is fundamental that they keep producing interesting content for their audiences. While there is currently less opportunity to get into the national media with so many pages prioritising COVID-19, trade and specialist titles are actively looking for new material. Trade reporters have shared that they are snowed under with pitches on working from home and security challenges, so make sure the story you are pitching something new – or at minimum a new and fresh perspective. Take a look at what has already been written and take time to think about ‘what’s next,’ – what are going to be the next key issues as we evolve from the current situation. Make sure any PR stories about COVID-19 are not self-promotional, but rather how your technology is making a positive impact during these unprecedented times.
B2B marketing needs to reflect what’s happening to customers and prospects alike.
Many B2B organisations are facing new sales challenges; either because their sales have dropped off dramatically or because of a huge volume of increased demand. Using marketing to combat these problems effectively will enable businesses to look to the future, by deploying short-term sales cycle initiatives to address immediate needs, while not ignoring the long-game plans to ensure business continuity. For example, if your business is making their services free or discounted to help others survive, this should be communicated effectively.
As marketers we should position ourselves as a source of vital information. Guidance on what to do in the short-term to cope with the unusual market conditions as well as guidance on the strategy for the longer-term as we come out the other side. This is not the time to retrench from marketing.
Revisit your messaging.
Do you have a clear brand purpose? If so, then relevant, detailed messaging can evolve from that, but you must be explicitly clear to avoid stakeholder confusion. With your workforce most likely spread across the country – or the globe – it is easy for mixed messaging to slip through the cracks.
But messaging is just the first stage. Tonality is equally as important, as is empathy for all those affected. This is the time for brands to engage customers authentically to maintain trust and brand loyalty. No exaggerations, no hype, just sober, transparent facts about what is being done.
Business must continue, the more we do, the more quickly we can begin to economically recover and come out the other side. However, be sensitive to the situation, no one should be capitalising on a pandemic in an exploitive way.
In reality, the tech sector could ultimately grow as we rise to the occasion and innovate quickly to meet the needs and demands that are placed upon us by this unprecedented situation. Innovation is the mother of invention after all.
Sue Grant is a Managing Director for B2B Tech in the UK office.
By Karyn Barr
Apple and Google announced a game-changing partnership on April 10, and the world took notice. The long-time rivals became allies in the fight against COVID-19, seemingly putting down their gloves to build large-scale contact tracing using their smartphone networks. Words like “bold,” “innovative” and “unprecedented” dominated the related headlines. Inc. magazine even went as far as hailing the tech giants for “building the only realistic way to get out of this shutdown.”READ MORE
It seems – at least in the immediate wake of the announcement – the partnership is a glimmer of hope emerging in the tech world. Not just in the sense that Apple and Google have provided a potential solution to flatten the curve, but also in the sense that collaboration itself may counteract some of the negativity that plagued large tech companies for much of the past two years.
Could COVID-19 be the unexpected antidote to “techlash”?
Two years ago, the word “techlash” was born, marring reputations within Silicon Valley and beyond. Big Tech’s integrity was called into question as scrutiny over companies’ ethics, social responsibility and intent skyrocketed toward an all-time high. A wave of negative reactions to tech’s power and influence dominated headlines. And the likes of Amazon, Facebook and Google were pushed into the government spotlight with calls for regulation, data responsibility, privacy and so much more.
As we headed into 2020, the world’s trust and patience had begun to disappear. The one-time tech darlings were well on their way to becoming Public Enemy No. 1.
Then COVID-19 hit, changing everything we once knew and forcing us to adjust personally and professionally to a new norm. Technology – whether we consciously think about it – has made all our adjusted lives more palatable. We’ve connected with colleagues, teachers, friends and family on a variety of platforms like never before. We’ve relied on fixed and mobile networks to maintain business continuity, tested bandwidth boundaries and proved a work-from-home life, while not desirable for some, is actually feasible and efficient. And we’ve relied on delivery services, telehealth and social networks to provide creature comforts when we’re all on edge.
We cannot deny technology has become our connective tissue. But great power begs for great responsibility. COVID-19 hasn’t changed that.
Apple and Google took an admirable first step with their collaboration. And, yes, it’s initially helping big tech emerge from the shadows of techlash. However, we must see how the partnership plays out. Promising “privacy, transparency and consent are of utmost importance” was appreciated as both companies look to stop the spread of coronavirus. But maintaining that public, socially responsible commitment well-beyond this critical time will be the most important test.
After all, this pandemic has potentially permanently changed the way we live. As a result, we now have even higher expectations of technology, its reliability and security, and its impact at a global scale.
COVID-19 hasn’t cured the fundamentals of why techlash emerged in the first place. Techlash was never just about a company being “bad” or “capitalistic.” Instead, it was centered on the actual business decisions tech companies made – decisions that called into question and sometimes egregiously compromised our privacy and security. Even after this pandemic, consumers, governments and businesses will still demand transparency and consent, while debates around greater, more serious regulation will continue.
But what COVID-19 has done – and will continue to do – is trigger tech to be accountable. Thus far, tech companies of all sizes have responded. The glimmers of hope are there. Security measures have tightened. “Tech for good” partnerships have emerged. And some techlash-ed reputations have started to mend.
So maybe, just maybe, the tech world gained a little more perspective – a game-changing perspective that will help define how every company needs to operate to regain brand trust today and well into tomorrow.
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Karyn Barr is Head of B2B Technology at Allison+Partners and primarily counselling clients inside and outside of Silicon Valley on global growth strategies, brand positioning and C-Suite thought leadership programs. A long-time agency veteran, she had led award-winning work across numerous industries, including artificial intelligence, data analytics, additive manufacturing, cybersecurity and more. Karyn resides in the Bay Area where she and her family are rehabbing their 110-year-old home.
By Lexi Holden
Once more and more countries began to go into enforced lockdown, and the media coverage focused solely on COVID-19, influencers finally realised the pandemic was real and lasting. They started posting their pre-planned sponsored collaborations earlier than previously agreed upon, worried contracts would terminate and their expected source of income would evaporate. Posting agreed-upon pieces of content meant guaranteed payment – perhaps the last for several months.READ MORE
While there are plenty of opportunities right now for wine and spirits brands, packaged foods, beauty products, home décor and fitness programmes, other companies are not as lucky. Travel brands and goods, clothing meant to be worn outside the home, restaurants, hotels, anything that gets you off your feet and outside your home – they all struggle. Still, other brands find themselves in the middle. For example, food and alcohol delivery services are at a peak and business booms. Yet, they have no marketing budget to put toward influencer programming because consumer demand is too high and the need to have influencers promote no longer exists.
As a blogger who also specialises in influencer relations at Allison+Partners, the influencer landscape seems in flux. Based on conversations I’ve had with fellow influencers, some said their partnerships are quiet, although a handful of brands still reach out to do exchange partnerships instead of paid partnerships. Others said partnerships have been put on hold until further notice. I’ve had a handful of my partnerships put on hold until later months, with the goal to resume as normal once things improve. On a brighter note, I’ve also had a few partnerships that focus on the “at-home” angle, which shows brands still believe in the influencer industry even during this stressful time.
That said, even in this weird flux, the pandemic won’t drastically change things for all influencers. For example, home products brands will continue influencer marketing and might even put more budget behind their programmes as marketing around COVID-19 quickly becomes a saturated space. But once the pandemic is over, where will influencer marketing stand? Will budgets be the same? Will influencers still be able to effectively influence? Where will marketing needs turn?
At first I was hesitant to post content – both content surrounding my daily life and paid content. I polled my audience to see if anyone disagreed with posting branded content, and about 85% of the people who took the poll said they don’t mind #sponsored content. Of course, I wanted to be mindful of everything going on. But it was nice to receive reassuring messages that noted how Instagram is an outlet that gets people away from the negativity going on in the world and provides happy and positive entertainment.
I have lost count of the number of times a kind follower has told me this is “the content we need right now!” So for me, my goal is to bring positive and humorous content to my channel. Because if I feel like I need that, I am certain others do too.
As a micro influencer, I believe business for micro influencers will stay the same and potentially be more fruitful – brands with a decent budget will want to reach a variety of people across the nation and partner with more influencers, as opposed to one macro influencer. It will vary based on programme goals, but micro influencers – those who people feel like they can relate to more on a personal level – will have ample amounts of opportunities in the coming months. Brands will have a chance to build up their content channels too by using unique pieces of content from their influencer partners.
I sense brands are quiet right now because they are planning their comebacks once things improve and normality returns. For brands that move forward business as usual during the pandemic, they try their best to partner with influencers that make the most sense for them while respecting our new norm.
I have taken this time to re-evaluate my brand goals and plan for the year ahead. What do I want to accomplish and what do my followers want to see the most? People still want to relate to something real. So, I will continue to walk through this new norm with a mindset of being relatable and real.
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Lexi Holden is a senior account executive at Allison+Partners and the founder of Lex and the City, a blog focusing on city life and style in Chicago and beyond, with a love for fashion, fitness, beauty and travel. Lexi has partnered with brands such as Swarovski, Madewell, Park City Tourism Board and Lyft, among others.
By Stephanie CinqueCOVID-19 disrupted every aspect of our lives and left many confused and overwhelmed. Companies and organisations have postponed or overhauled conferences and events, employees now work remotely and many businesses that thrive off face-to-face interaction are in crisis mode as social distancing becomes the norm.
Allison+Partners’ measurement and analytics team shared the insight that “with physical distancing recommendations in place, there’s a growing ask from consumers for creative ways to entertain family members at home.” Likewise, employees expect their employers to maintain company culture and engage them in a WFH environment. An online community can be an essential tool to connect with both audiences.
If your business is new to an online community, these best practices will help you create a successful space for your business’s employees, clients or customers to connect.
Consider your audience needs
A community is not only an effective way to push out communications, but it can provide needed support and guidance for team members or customers. Community managers and administrators are responsible for maintaining that safe space while giving individuals the opportunity to manoeuvre together through these unique times.
Fitness class provider Frame launched FRAME ONLINE offering instant access to all of its online classes to help members look after their physical and mental health from home. It is also driving up engagement with its community via social media by running Facebook lives and competitions on Instagram.
Another example of a brand that has adapted to COVID-19 well is Pret a Manger. The coffee and fresh food chain has published the recipes to some of its popular products including its dark chocolate chunk cookies and kale & cauliflower macaroni cheese, much to the excitement of its loyal customers.
Allison+Partners launched an COVID-19 Resources and Updates microsite and internal community to keep employees informed of company-wide announcements and resources related to this evolving situation. An agency priority remains to ensure employees, clients and communities are safe and healthy. We also launched support forums to encourage sharing work-from-home tips and tricks, photos, client best practices and case studies. Employees use the forums to share photos of pets, creative work from home setups and their new school-aged co-workers. It’s become a needed connection as we all navigate uncertainty and prepare to adjust to a new normal.
Put collaboration first
For employees, a community can help keep projects organised and moving forward, especially in a virtual environment. Teams can brainstorm best practices and work together to pivot marketing strategies and manage a crisis in real time.
Try the below tips to manage an effective virtual collaboration group:
Run virtual gatherings
While companies and organisations have cancelled many in-person events, they have created ways to bring their gatherings online. Virtual gatherings are new for many, and an online community can help make the transition easier.
Brand Innovators, an exclusive community of brand marketers from the world's top brands, is known for gathering regularly for thought leadership conferences and social events. As the world has pivoted to the virtual sphere, it had no choice but to pivot as well. To remain a safe haven and resource for the marketing, adtech and media industries amid the chaos, Brand Innovators launched a virtual livecast series that brings online its community the greatest portions of its physical events, such as compelling keynotes, panel discussions and fireside chats with industry leaders.
Netflix extended its party feature, so friends and families can watch the same content in real time while social distancing. Not only does it give viewers a virtual experience of being part of something and connecting with others simultaneously, it also provides the ability to discuss in real time.
We all must continue to adapt to a new normal, which involves creating innovative methods of connecting online. By learning from this pandemic’s threat, we can build lasting opportunities for customers, colleagues and businesses alike to inspire and innovate together online.
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Stephanie Cinque is a Content Marketing Manager at Allison+Partners and specialises in online community management and building successful engagement strategies for clients. With a passion for social media management, influencer marketing, and the beauty industry, Stephanie works on several integrated projects for the agency. Born and raised in New York, Stephanie currently resides in sunny Arizona.
By Paul Sears
In a COVID-19 world, brands face a big question – should we launch that new product now, or wait it out? Uncertainty abounds as marketers must re-evaluate the economics and the optics.
A well-conceived launch can help the bottom line and boost brand reputation, but it must legitimately help. Most importantly, the company must protect the dedicated workers throughout the value chain. During the immediate calamity and the extended recovery that follows, brands have a strategic opportunity to create powerful social innovations to meet new consumer needs in unexpected ways while providing comfort and relief to a world in crisis.READ MORE
Consumer behaviours have changed dramatically in the last few weeks. Instead of movies and restaurant meals, millions of families eat together and play board games at home. Instead of commutes with a stop at Starbucks, professionals make their best efforts to remain productive while home-schooling their children. Many others have been displaced and need support just to meet basic needs.
As the landscape changes rapidly, it will be key for brands to scale up their listening efforts. Not just to better tailor their marketing messages, but to identify new customer needs that can foster rapid innovation. We help our clients in this key area, combining AI and human analytics that extract signal from millions of digital conversations, allowing them to understand how hearts and minds react to an uncertain world.
Rapidly turning insights into solutions is the next step. Peloton quickly created all-new workouts for families. Craft breweries rapidly stood-up digital storefronts and pivoted taproom-focused business models to delivery and pickup. Marketers will have to seize strategic opportunities with the digital infrastructure they already have or use new resources they can quickly add.
Brands will also need to assess if they have credibility to deliver helpful new offerings. For example, Netflix doesn’t have much history in the respiratory mask business. But what if it partnered with Hasbro to deliver virtual board games within the Watch Party environment? Marketing leaders must step back and reassess their product roadmaps to evaluate whether 10-degree shifts, digital extensions or new partnerships can create an unexpected innovation to benefit both society and the business.
A few key questions can prove helpful:
In the midst of a global crisis, it’s easy to overreact and put everything on hold. Yet studies of prior crises and downturns have found the companies that double down on innovation significantly outperform those that make drastic cutbacks. Leaders must assess their portfolios and make immediate pivots. They must ramp up listening to deeply understand changing consumer needs and identify new ways to socially innovate. It’s more important than ever that brands make bold, socially conscious moves to help build a better, stronger and more resilient world.
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Paul Sears is Executive Vice President, Integrated Marketing. With nearly 20 years in advertising, social media, content and brand strategy, Paul spends most of his time helping clients sharpen their strategic focus – at the brand level or for individual products and campaigns.
By Lucy Arnold and Claudia Vargas
Allison + Partners’ recent COVID-19 Trend Report analysed social media chatter and the earned media landscape to extract context from millions of COVID-19-related conversations. We found emotions have shifted over the past two weeks from fear to frustration as uncertainty grows, supplies become scarce and concrete answers are hard to find. Consumers, influencers and journalists all share an overwhelming need for clarity in an age of rampant misinformation.READ MORE
Wouldn’t we all love a little more clarity? So, what’s the right strategy for engaging with brand ambassadors in times like these - from the big names and recognisable faces you’ve hired, to the broad swath of dedicated brand fans who have stood by you through thick and thin? It’s important to recognise there simply isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution – we must examine each brand ambassador program individually. It might be helpful to share some of the best practices we’ve developed for our clients, as we’ve helped them navigate these troubled waters.
Here are some guiding principles to engage with your brand ambassadors in this time of uncertainty:
A great proof point is Nike’s recent use of brand ambassadors for its 'Play Inside' to 'Play for the World' campaign. As athletes, its ambassadors know how to train and stay active. So, the ambassadors helped elevate the brand and its “Just Do It” motto, which has always inspired the community to lead and take action. Frankly, we all need to stay active both mentally and physically. The campaign offered Nike’s key messages while contributing to the broader mission of keeping the public safe. “Play for the World” checked all the boxes.
Striking the right tone is critical. It’s a balance between the brand ambassador's areas of expertise, the brand’s voice and objectives, plus what audiences really need right now. Influencers can continue to help brands, and now more than ever, brands need to give back.
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Lucy Arnold is a Vice President on our Digital team and specialises in creating engaging digital strategies including influencer relations, campaign development and management, community management and paid media.
Claudia Vargas is a Director of integrated marketing and brings a wealth of knowledge in strategy and account management. With experience in paid media, brand ambassador programmes, content development, multicultural campaigns and social media community management, Claudia leads several integrated projects for the agency connecting the dots to drive results for clients.
By Tom Smith and David Wolf
Few things are more terrifying to even the most stout-hearted executive than the prospect of waking up and finding their team, department or company is the focus of a major tragedy or scandal. Fortunately, the craft of managing such crises is so well-established and proven that few companies of any size have failed to take at least rudimentary steps to prepare for that occurrence. Business crises, however regrettable, have become so routine that one of the only significant differences to crisis communications over the past 50 years has been that we now live in an environment of immediacy as digital tools and social channels are a part of the media mix.READ MORE
Not quite as well understood, however, is something we all face today: how to manage a business during a crisis that affects everyone around the world. The unearned existential threat is just as real as with a scandal or tragedy: the difference is resolution lies as far outside your power as the cause. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb pointed out in his farsighted treatise “The Black Swan,” it is just such events that pose the greatest incipient danger.
Fortunately, while we are unused to facing the consequences of pandemics, the regular cadence of systemic disruptions over the past century have taught us much about keeping the enterprise afloat in the face of a perfect storm. Our study of systemic disruptions and the patterns of business response to them provides a useful framework for understanding the crisis at hand.
In dealing with the disruptions caused by COVID-19, businesses must work through six phases, which we have termed Shock, Orientation, Command, Recovery, Bump and Equilibrium (or “The New Normal.”) Understanding each of those phases, and how and under what circumstances businesses move between and address each, offers us the beginnings of a charted course through and out of them.
Shock describes the phase when the disruption has happened or is in progress. It is characterised by disorientation, a constant lack of sufficient information and an escalating stream of events that threaten to send a business careening out of control. Panic is barely held at bay. Companies either act for the sake of action or are caught in paralysis, unable to respond.
This is the first step toward a coherent response – the process of understanding the full potential breadth of the disruption and its potential consequences to the business. During this phase, initial responses get considered and discarded, and they eventually lead to the first concrete steps, often tentative, to begin addressing the disruption.
The process of taking charge of the business in the face of the crisis is Command. The situation still evolves, but company responses become quicker and more assured. And gradually, the company is able to move beyond playing catch-up and start thinking ahead, even as the crisis continues to pinch the company, its people and its customers. For the COVID-19 crisis, this phase will last until the numbers of daily infections have begun to taper off, and then for an additional 28 days after the last significant outbreak. Unlike Shock and Orientation, the business no longer controls the timing of the phase: it can only manage through it and begin laying the groundwork for the next three phases.
Recovery is the period during which the actual emergency has passed, but either the company, its customers, its supply chain or all of the above have not yet returned to normal operations. This is when a company will be able to assess the damage or in some cases the positive impact to its operating system and begin to adjust to what is likely the new equilibrium for the business. In some cases, this will mean business will remain diminished for some time, necessitating investments in order to enable or speed the process. Businesses that grew during the crisis will now likely return to normal, and adjustments will need to be made. For both cases, the process will be organic and will show quick progress.
At the completion of the recovery, many businesses that experienced significant disruption in demand during the crisis will face its opposite: a sudden and short-term surge in business that represents pent-up demand for its goods or services. While ostensibly a “good problem,” this is an extraordinarily challenging phase. Keeping customers happy while walking the line between meeting the short-term surge and not over-investing in people, plant and equipment requires almost constant adjustment and superior communications with customers, suppliers, the media and employees - sometimes hourly. Indeed, the Bump is a mini-crisis, a sort of aftershock that will again tax the business.
Equilibrium describes what many refer to as “the new normal,” a tempo of business sustainable over an extended period of time. For some companies, this will be more business and a larger market. Others will find the shock of the crisis leaves them with a smaller market. This period will require the largest adjustment of all – a recognition that while the crisis is over, the business landscape has been indelibly altered and the company will have to go through jarring adjustments to accommodate that change.
Each of the phases above is its own business continuity challenge, each demanding its own response. Start understanding each of those processes now – if you wait until each phase is underway, you are already behind. The optimal time to begin the effort of planning your way through these stages is during the Command phase, during which the nature of the Recovery, the magnitude of the Bump and the outlines of the Equilibrium will become clear. The sooner you are prepared for each of these, the more likely your business will survive it.
Start by ensuring that your organisation is operating as a high-performing team with all the right players on board, including outside advisors. Make sure everyone on that team understands these phases and their inherent dangers and opportunities and that they share your vision of how to emerge stronger than before the coronavirus unleashed itself on our world. Once you have done that start to ask these questions:
Finally, remember your response may begin with, but cannot be limited to, the matter of your company’s survival and future prosperity, or even monetary donations. Organisations and their leaders will be remembered for how they responded to this crisis and how used their full resources to help resolve it. At some point in the future reporters, employees, new hires, prospects, and customers will all ask, at least implicitly, “what did you do to help?”
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David Wolf is the managing director of Allison Advisory at Allison+Partners. He brings three decades of experience to his role counselling clients on managing the unique operational, communications and marketing challenges that arise when companies undertake change or address significant challenges in their operating environment.
Tom Smith is a strategic, highly skilled corporate communications professional with a proven 24-plus-year track record of leading and implementing corporate campaign programs. He has led numerous multi-million-dollar global accounts and as president of Allison+Partners' North American corporate practice, he brings deep capability in numerous industries, including financial services, hospitality, professional services, technology, education, healthcare and industrial supply. His specialties include integrated communications, corporate brand positioning, thought leadership, executive visibility, B2B marketing, influencer management, media relations and investor relations.
By Emily Wilson Sawyer
The future of travel remains unknown. People will travel again, but where, when and how they will travel is a grey area that even fortune tellers can’t predict. But we do know this – the COVID-19 pandemic is not the time for travel brands to sit back and do nothing.
Brands must now lean into their expertise, reinforce the ethos of what they stand for and produce content that provides a warm and comforting hug to the millions of fans and followers stuck at home. For an industry that traditionally relies on its members, loyalty is literally up for grabs with an audience more attentive than ever. And brands that act fast can win in the long haul. Here’s how:READ MORE
Tap into the real people behind the brand to show the challenges when hotels are closed, airlines aren’t flying and attractions aren’t operating to highlight what your brand is doing to help. Show compassion and give viewers a glimpse behind the curtain. Don’t worry about the polish, but use this time to test, learn and create based on the real-time feedback of those following the journey. Work to build an emotional connection with fans and followers beyond destinations and offerings – on the human level. Those that do, will earn loyalty far beyond point value.
At Your Service
While your actual business remains closed, now is the time to encourage fans to take a metaphorical holiday in their own backyard by supporting local business and helping keep the economy alive. Providing consumers with ideas about how to get away in their own homes will pay off in the long run, especially for hotels that once served as living rooms for their communities.
Purpose is Powerful
Before the crisis, numerous studies demonstrated Gen Z’s preference for brands that contribute to social good and show purpose. With more time than ever to evaluate who we are in the world (well hello there, mindfulness!) and what contributions we can make for the future of the planet, this mindset of aligning with brands that have a shared purpose will extend far beyond the young generation. In this new communications landscape, a common purpose will be essential for survival.
Urging fans and followers to #DONTCANCELPOSTPONE is one thing. But when the world does open for travel again, companies will need to put their money where their mouths are with competitive deals to ensure that coveted postponed trip is with them. Every travel brand in the world will battle to put heads in beds and butts in seats, so brands that want to break through will need to get creative with offerings and messaging.
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Emily Wilson Sawyer is a seasoned communications professional with 20 years of experience developing integrated communications strategies and driving creative ideation for clients, including international hotel brands, world-famous chefs, airlines, CPG products, restaurant chains and more. She is known for her creativity and break-through thinking and has been responsible for many large-scale award-winning and results-driving campaigns, including bringing the first food tech product to CES and pairing Hilton Hotels & Resorts with Onion Labs to launch its Hilton Urgent Vacation Care Centre.
By David Richeson
The drastic changes the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to every aspect of our lives are obvious to all. But it remains challenging to know exactly how this crisis will affect each industry and company. Previous market and stakeholder research may no longer apply in this new context, as possibilities and priorities have shifted globally. Companies need to know how to handle this new landscape, weighing emotional IQ with an ever-changing set of social norms to conduct profitable business.READ MORE
Every company, brand or organisation needs to know what they should say — and, importantly, how they should say it.
Companies and organisations also need to know what their stakeholders and audiences expect from them. What questions do these stakeholders have? What are their main concerns?
As global priorities shift, how do you pursue your business and communications objectives without striking the wrong tone with your key stakeholder groups?
More than ever, every company, brand or organisation must know:
Knowledge of the points above is critical to understanding how to move forward within this new global context. Not knowing the key points above is like flying an airplane blind in heavy fog. Data and insight are necessary to navigate safely.
At Allison+Partners, we generate these insights to help our clients effectively and efficiently communicate with their customers and stakeholders.
We helped a national outdoor recreation company understand the most frequently asked COVID-19 related questions and helped them create a Q&A document so they could prepare their hundreds of franchisees with the right answers for local and social media.
We worked with a global communications technology company to help them understand what their customers and stakeholders want from them right now, so they can address the most important topics and make sure they are perceived as a leader in their industry, both internally (with their employees) and externally.
A company, brand or organisation’s reputation can be made or broken during this important time for the world. Clear winners and losers will emerge based upon how they respond to the COVID-19 challenge. But one thing is for sure – Nothing will ever be the same.
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David Richeson has more than 20 years of experience in data and insight-driven integrated communications, business strategy, creative writing and technology. He has developed engagement models on the cutting-edge of influence, focused on real-time communications, influencer strategy, micro-moment based marketing and behavioral economics techniques.
By Owen Clark
We are in the middle of one of the most frightening, complex and important chapters in modern history. It’s not a narrative landscape for the timid. But for brands with the right mix of courage and execution, there has never been a more important time to tell your story.READ MORE
Before we get to the production realities of creating story content in a lockdown environment, it’s important to acknowledge a few key truths. It’s never been more important that everyone in your organisation works off the same proverbial, and sometimes literal, script. And you must take advantage of all the tools at your disposal.
This means being cleared-eyed and diligent about establishing the right tone for your narrative and ensuring you understand what stage of the Disruption Life Cycle we are currently in.
Understanding your audience is also crucial. Quick “pulse surveys” to gauge audience sentiment and an increased reliance on data to inform, measure and adjust your content are critical to avoid coming across as tone deaf within the current landscape.
Finally, everyone needs to be brutally honest about the work required for good storytelling in these times. Minor tweaks to the same brand narrative you’ve used for the past few years probably isn’t enough to reflect how drastically the world has changed in the past few months. Your company’s vision and values, or even your origin story, are more relevant than ever but will also be pressure tested for their authenticity in ways you’ve never seen before, both internally and externally.
At a minimum, crafting a good Story Brief that defines style, tone and content and gets buy-in from all stakeholders is essential to creating effective content right now. Even better, brand and story workshops gain extra importance in this climate and can be done easily over video conference.
Having worked with hundreds of execs on storytelling over the past decade, a huge takeaway for me is we all have the biggest blind spots when it comes to our own narrative. Often a CEO will be so proud of a specific talking point they wrote the night before, but truthfully it just sounds like jargon. Then over a lunch break, they will tell an amazing, off-hand story that ends up being the foundation for a truly powerful presentation. We all need feedback and collective discussion to uncover, refine and point ourselves down the right road for effective storytelling – whether that’s personal thought leadership or at a brand level.
Since I’d argue another key element in good content is brevity, I will try to keep the following short. But I think it’s valuable to share a few key insights our team has uncovered in the content projects we’ve undertaken since the pandemic began:
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Owen Clark is a senior director who leads the Allison+Partners Storytelling Studio and agency Media and Speaker Training offering. A former TV journalist, Owen has been with Allison+Partners for a decade and in that time has coached everyone from global CEOs, to regional non-profit directors (and a couple of rappers) on how to uncover and deliver an impactful story.
By Richard Kendall
The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted most, if not every industry over the past few months, creating a scenario of rising financial stress, retracting employment and diminishing market confidence for companies around the globe. The UK and European property industry hasn’t been immune from the pandemic’s downward pressure on the economy. Many commercial property owners and investors, and the service-based companies supporting these organisations, have found themselves in a wait-and-see mode before making decisions about projects and other business initiatives.
To that end, according to economic research consultancy Capital Economics’s March 2020 update, UK commercial property values are expected to fall about 10% this year. Real estate company CBRE’s Potential Impacts of COVID-19 on EMEA Real Estate report remarked that the hotel and retail sectors will be primarily impacted.
Moreover, a recent Investors Chronicle story pointed out that the COVID-19 crisis has put the UK housing market into stasis following the government’s advice to buyers and sellers to delay transactions so as to protect people from the virus. In fact Bloomberg and The Real Deal have noted property sales are on hold across Europe.
By no means is all lost for the real estate industry. First, it’s important to note there are marked differences between today’s economic crisis and the global financial crisis that forever changed the real estate industry some 12 years ago. What we’re experiencing now wasn’t initiated by a real estate event like the housing bubble in 2008. Rather, COVID-19 is a healthcare event that has largely put the global economy on hold until the Coronavirus “curve” can be flattened and significant progress can be made on a working vaccine. Economic fundamentals have recently been strong — for example, EU unemployment was at a record low of 6.5% in February 2020 according to Eurostat data the month before the widespread introduction of COVID-19 containment directives. Many industry experts believe that bodes well for a faster market recovery once COVID-19 is brought under control.
Secondly, market uncertainty always creates opportunities for smart, savvy and proactive companies to take a leadership stake in their markets, whether it’s communicating with their various stakeholders or marketing their brands in an authentic way to strategically position their companies for when the market fully returns.
Over the past several weeks, we’ve worked with our commercial property clients to navigate these unprecedented times with a wide range of communications strategies proving beneficial to their brands:
Crisis Planning + Response – When any crisis hits, the hope is that there’s been some planning in advance to anticipate the potentially negative impacts it will cause a company’s reputation and put in place some strategies that can offset brand risk among key audiences. Our property team has collaborated with companies of every size and type over the past several weeks to help them develop a suite of crisis-related materials, including:
Creative Earned Media – Engaging with the media during times of crisis carries a certain risk-reward element, and it’s not always beneficial to proactively pitch media on typical news stories, especially given their all-hands-on-deck approach to the COVID-19 pandemic. That said, real estate trades and business media have increasingly requested non-crisis-related articles about companies with unique stories to tell. There’s a growing sentiment among trade and financial outlets that readers want more coverage of business-as-usual transactions, like this story on a 12 property-strong portfolio acquisition deal in Germany or this article about Belgium-based office developer Immobel which hired JLL and CBRE for its new office tower in Poland.
Strategic Thought Leadership – Crisis situations can often present golden opportunities for companies and their executive leadership to take an authoritative position in their communities on a wide range of issues – helping to build stronger brand loyalty and trust among their key publics. Architect and engineers from BDP achieved coverage in BBC Online for its role helping to convert London’s ExCel exhibition centre into Nightingale Hospital. Its Principal Engineer James Hepburn described how the construction required a unique approach and design to achieve project completion for the scale and in the timeframe required.
One way in which Allison+Partners helps its property clients in this capacity is through surveys and other data collection initiatives. Currently, one international firm has instituted a multi-phased “Work from Home Survey” to gather insights from employees about how their workday has changed during the coronavirus pandemic – information it will share periodically with key target media.
Stakeholder + Community Engagement – The COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting economic retraction, has created a host of problems in the commercial tenant market, with retailers, small businesses, nonprofits and many other users finding it difficult to pay their monthly rents. Many owners have responded positively by establishing rent-deferral programs to ease the pain. This includes Landsec, which is agreeing rent deferrals with many retail and leisure occupiers in the UK, and Hammerson, which has deferred April rental payment for all brands in the Hammerson France flagship portfolio.
If you lead a property company in Europe and are looking for help building a stronger communications message during these uncertain times, please contact the Allison+Partners London office at email@example.com or sign up for our weekly COVID-19 updates.
Business conditions under COVID-19 continue to evolve rapidly. With more attention focused on business continuity, it’s easy to forget about internal communications. While employees, partners and customers understand you won’t have all the answers, it’s important to show you’re thinking about them.
The new twist in today’s environment, compared with previous crises, was the rapid transition to WFH for most workers. Your organisation’s stakeholders are isolated, distracted and stressed.READ MORE
This situation will test many companies’ cultures, missions and values as employees lose the kinetic energy the physical office generates. Employers need to provide immediate, frequent and ongoing communications from leadership, and the existing content distribution strategy deserves re-examination as stand-ups and company meetings get cancelled and email volume increases.
As we move from the immediate shock of our current situation, consider communications in the longer-term period of isolation and the eventual return to a new normal. Each chapter of this story needs a fresh approach.
Here are steps to consider as the story evolves:
J.W. Marriott said, “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers and your business will take care of itself.” The hospitality legend knew who had the biggest impact on his organisation – the people on the front lines.
In this difficult situation, take some time out of your day to care for them.
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Todd is a senior vice president at Allison+Partners, where he leads a team of integrated marketers and brings together multi-disciplinary campaign elements to create compelling programs for clients.
By Brent Diggins
Prepare now for a strong post-pandemic marketing and communications strategy.
In this tumultuous time, we can agree on two things; there are knowns, and there are unknowns.
In both the pandemic itself and in a post-pandemic business world, unknowns cause panic and anxiety. While the best and brightest minds in medicine throughout the world will solve the healthcare challenge, the best and brightest minds in marketing should work to solve the marketing challenge.READ MORE
The questions loom large: Will my funnel dry up? How will customers react? Will we have to reduce spend now and increase it later? What are my quickest times to impact? How can I accelerate deals? How is my brand or company going to rise above the noise? What are my competitors doing?
The questions are endless, but they don't have to remain unanswered. At this time, marketers and communicators should immediately rely on research, insights and optimisation to fuel a strong post-pandemic marketing and communications strategy.
Here are four easy-to-implement, quick-to-conclusion steps marketers can take to formulate a winning post-pandemic plan in what will likely be a hyper-competitive marketplace:
Run a quick marketing mix model (MMM), including time lag, to optimise spend. Once a costly, long-to-insight function, MMM can now produce results in days or weeks. If you haven't run an MMM exercise in a while or never, now is the time. They allow you to discover the channels that produce the most impact so you can allocate funds properly. Brands that know which channels move the needle and move it the quickest will win.
Survey your customers. The pandemic may have permanently or temporarily changed how your customers see your business. Now is the time to learn how they think about your brand, how their purchasing mood may have changed and other insights that can help you formulate a post-pandemic strategy.
Post-pandemic messaging, content and creative testing. Your customer's attitude about your brand, and its place in the world, could very well change in a post-pandemic world. Based on informed insights like customer surveys, you may have to change messaging, content and creative to meet how your customers now think about your industry, brand or product.
Are you going to do it in a bubble? If not, you need to implement testing to ensure you don't miss the mark. Some brands will miss it hard. Don't be one of them.
Improve your industry and competitor insights. Your competitors are up to something and your industry may change, possibly forever. Marketers or communicators that don't monitor their industry and competitors in multiple channels are likely doing their entire organisation a disservice, at best.
A post-pandemic world may be the same, or it may be different. You can't assume either. Therefore, the brands that invest in research, insights and optimisation today will be the ones that accelerate the fastest in a post-pandemic world.
Brent Diggins is managing director of measurement and analytics and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Scott Pansky
Sometimes it takes a crisis to bring people together. I can’t think of one bigger than COVID-19. It impacts everyone, whether you represent a company, cause or university. We have not seen anything like this in a century, and its effect on the economy is staggering.
Yet, brands continue to step up. They donate cash and supplies to numerous organisations, such as The Trussell Trust and Shelter , as well as to their local food banks and support networks. We have even seen brands change their business models, like Dyson, which is now pivoting to make ventilators.
However, many companies are unable to help. They need to help themselves. They need ways to reach their customers when the media is focused on the current news. They need to reach their employees, many of whom are working from home for the first time. They need new ways to keep their teams engaged and motivated.
Charity partnerships can help make a difference. These cause-related relationships are more than transactional – they are about making an authentic difference, positively impacting both consumers and donors. Here are ways that charities can help support a company:
Indirect access to donors and volunteers – Charities have strong and loyal donors and volunteer databases of individuals who support them. Newsletters and emails can be tapped to recognise a company and share its news as a partner.
Webinars, online content, events and conference calls - Charities are using new ways to communicate and reach their supporters. Whether through Zoom and Skype or social media channels, this is an opportunity for brands to provide thought leadership, guidance and support.
Employee engagement – Companies can build partnership with many different types of charities, whether in the arts, youth activities, health and wellness, etc. Most causes have employee engagement programmes. Traditional walks, runs, golf tournaments and raffles are on hold. However, charities can still host virtual events, post video content and provide tips for exercise, mental health and online projects.
Volunteer projects – Employees can still volunteer their time, even if they do so from home. Companies can work with charity partners to create a call to action, empower team members to make a difference… whether that is through a fundraising campaign, sending get well cards to social care homes and youth organisations, or donating gift cards. Brainstorm fun, easy-to-implement things.
Influencer relations – Don’t forget the power of influencers. Many charities, like brands, have celebrity and social influencers who support their causes. They can create campaigns that offer followers and donors positive tips, activities or a fundraising call to action during this critical time. Through a past A+P whitepaper, Powerful Connections, we found those who followed influencers authentically linked to a brand would either donate or volunteer at a much higher rate (33%) than direct mail.
Remember, your charities are your partners – they are here for you in times of duress just as your companies are there for them!
Scott is a co-founder of the agency and leads Allison+Partners’ Social Impact group. Scott has extensive experience providing communications and crisis counsel to nonprofit organizations and developing board + ambassador training programs.
Supermarket shelves have been in the news a lot lately. They’ve become the star of countless COVID-19 headlines for good reason. They’re a source of comfort and relief as consumers stock their cupboards and fridges with their favourite foods and drinks to prepare for self-isolation and quarantines. They’re also a source of stress and anxiety when found empty, in disarray and out of fan-favourites or other essentials.
As a result, the brands and companies behind the products on shelf are in a paramount position. They have a unique and fleeting opportunity to connect with consumers in a way that helps settle and bring them comfort – something much needed during a time when there are more questions than answers.
As brands take advantage of this opportunity to connect with consumers in a new way, it’s critical they tread lightly. There is heightened awareness about how to communicate – and there is a right and wrong way to do it. Following are a few guidelines for brands and communicators to consider as they decide how to engage with consumers during this time.
Food + beverage brands that have experienced a surge in sales as consumers stock their cupboards can use funds and resources to support those who struggle. Brands that can do their part to give back, must do so with no strings attached. Whether consciously or not, consumers want brands to step up, and being a good corporate citizen during this global pandemic will have a lasting impact on how consumers think about and support brands in the future.
Continue to Share Brand News, But Be Authentic.
As food + beverage brands rethink their social media tone and content strategy to respect sensitivities, many use these channels to highlight scheduled product launches and find ways to relay their messages in an appropriate manner that is careful, considerate and relevant in today’s challenging environment. Brands looking to introduce new products or SKUs can still do so by leaning into a tone focused on bringing more lightness and brightness to the world, while also responding more directly to the pandemic and acknowledging the current issues the public faces.
Encourage At-Home Brand Engagement.
There is a tremendous uptick in sharing creative food dishes families make at home due to widespread social distancing recommendations. This introduces opportunities for food and drink brands to source creative recipes that tap into ingredients many already have at home and can test, create and enjoy. Consider leveraging a network of friendly social influencers who still develop unique content for their channels to help co-create these recipes and push out widely. Or consider taking it a step further and use social listening to identify consumers using your product and send out surprise-and-delight mailers with product to deepen the relationship.
Consider leveraging social media to keep consumers up to date on product availability to combat disappointment at the shelf. Use this channel to share where and when product can be found. Or if possible, consider pivoting to direct-to-consumer product deliveries as needed, even if in a limited capacity.
While the COVID-19 situation evolves, consumers will continue to look to the brands they know and love to find comfort during a trying time. If done with a tone of empathy, humanity and understanding, brands can not only strengthen the bonds they have with current brand advocates, they can also connect with new consumers and make them customers for life.
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Cheryl Weissman brings 15 years of experience to Allison+Partners’ Consumer Brands practice and leads the agency’s food and beverage specialty. She is responsible for the strategic management of account teams within the category across the agency, supervising client activities, providing counsel and helping some of the world's leading food and beverage brands navigate the ever-changing world of public relations.
By Barbara Laidlaw
Businesses in the UK and around the world are implementing continuity plans that involve employees working remotely. Regardless of how well prepared your business is in making this transition, there are steps you can take to ensure that the day-to-day activities of your company remain as undisrupted as possible.
Set Clear Expectations and Engage Regularly.
Once the decision has been made to direct your employees to work remotely, increased and effective communication between managers and their employees will be critical to keeping your business running and your employees confident. Make sure to set clear expectations with your team on how you will work together remotely on projects. One way to immediately bolster your internal communications is to require more frequent check-ins. If an employee usually provides a daily report or in-person meeting with their manager, increasing that to two or even three touchpoints can keep everyone on track without adding undue stress to the system. Putting a premium on video conferencing or internal communications programs like Slack or Microsoft Teams is an effective way to make productive remote work more feasible.
Along with circulating business-specific communications materials, companies should also provide their employees with up-to-date information regarding COVID-19, gov.uk and WHO guidelines and company policies. This will improve internal processes because it ensures everyone has access to the same materials. This will also serve to reassure a remote workforce during uncertain times.
Assess Your Current Internal Communication Strategy.
Your leadership team will also need to make changes in how they perform their day-to-day tasks. During a situation like this, leadership teams may need to communicate with each other, their direct reports and all employees more frequently. This can be done through company-wide emails, conference calls, newsletters or other forms of mass communication. Whatever the platform is for this communication, making sure that employees do not feel like they are in the dark or at risk is key. Leaders should also be aware that this type of sudden change will often times not go smoothly. Some employees will require different accommodations than others, such as technical assistance or special schedules. Working with your employees to develop a work from home plan that actually works for them will reduce disruptions in your business operations.
Identify Key Metrics to Track for Success.
Leadership teams are already reviewing and updating crisis plans that address an employee, a member of the leadership team or their family members testing positive for COVID-19. This will require increased communication between members of the leadership team and key stakeholders. Ideally, the C-Suite has already reviewed and put in place business continuity plans should an executive fall ill and will be planning messaging for both internal and external stakeholders. Financial impact is no less a consideration during a pandemic than protecting a company’s most important asset – their employees.
In order to ensure success, the leadership team as well as employees will need unfettered access to the tools they use daily in an office setting, including access to all internal databases, customer delivery systems and Human Resources tracking programs. It may be necessary initially to check performance by a group or single employee on a more frequent basis to be able to assess issues before they become ongoing problems. Regular utilisation and performance check-ins must be maintained, and frequent customer and stakeholder check-ins will help measure productivity and ensure success.
There is still much we do not know about the extent of the spread of COVID-19, both in numbers and in timeline. The best practice any businesses’ leadership team can take is to ensure constant and clear communication from the top-down, create contingencies for identified risks and focus on maintaining as normal day-to-day as possible given the fluidity of this situation.
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Barbara Laidlaw brings 25 years of experience developing and running programmes that help companies prepare, protect, and defend their brand reputation through global and national events, recalls, litigation, data breaches, regulatory issues and labour disputes
As the sheer volume of data creation reaches unmanageable levels, the need for data skills has never been more crucial for businesses. Forrester calculates that between 60 to 73% of all data within an enterprise goes unused for analytics. In its ‘Dynamics of data science skills’ report, The Royal Society revealed demand for UK workers with specialist data skills has more than tripled over the last five years.READ MORE
And marketing departments are not immune to this problem. In fact, our latest piece of research found one of the largest obstacles for marketing departments to become more data-driven was the lack of in-house talent with the correct skill set. But with marketing teams’ spending on data and analytics topping the list of investment priorities, according to the Gartner CMO Spend Survey 2019-2020, how can these departments be sure they have the right people in place to actually use this technology to its full potential? Companies must match any investment in technology and data tools with people who have the necessary skills to get the most value from it.
Since marketers often traditionally do not come from a data science background, this can be tricky. But a combination of in-house training and external support can set them on the path to success.
Training the entire team
When investing in any data analytics tool, thorough and ongoing training on its capabilities is imperative. But using and understanding the role of data cannot be left up to one single individual: the entire team must train to get up to speed on the tools the organisation has invested in. The power of data analytics shines through in collaboration. Everyone needs to have at least a basic level of data literacy so they can understand the data they encounter day to day and how it ladders up to the bigger story.
If budget is an issue, one way around it is to identify an individual who is truly enthusiastic about data, effectively an evangelist, who can lead and educate the rest of the team. They can act as the point of call for any questions or difficulties their peers may encounter when getting to grips with new tools. Of course, it is important to reward this person for their contribution, whether that be financially or through company-wide recognition.
That said, companies cannot neglect the soft skills. Setting aside time to educate creatives on the data being collected and what it means will pay dividends when they need to interpret the data to come up with first-rate campaigns driven by insight rather than gut feel.
Attracting the right talent
When seeking the right skills from outside the organisation, many companies fail to hire the right talent because they don’t have a comprehensive understanding of the mix of technical skills and data expertise they need. As a result, they do not use analytics professionals and data scientists to their full potential, wasting their time on activities they are overqualified for.
To avoid this problem, companies need to take more effort when hiring new employees and give additional thought to exactly what skills the role requires. This step is critical and should not be rushed. A company needs to be clear about where and how it can benefit from analytics professionals and data scientists and then be explicit about how it defines success with potential candidates. The first step is to include required data skills in every job description. Secondly, during the interview process, they must thoroughly question candidates about their ability to use data directly linked to the company’s data objectives. This way, every new hire will serve to help cultivate a cohort of data experts, whose knowledge can percolate throughout the organisation and help boost their peers’ skills.
Leverage your partners
Unfortunately, it can take hefty investment in training new talent and acquiring tools to make any impact on improving data and analytics utilisation. When in a pinch, seeking a third party with the right experience can act as a quick and easy source of expertise to get your data analytics function off the ground. Laying the foundations for great insight and analytics is something our dedicated research and measurement teams do day in, day out.
Ultimately, unused data is a valuable untapped resource that organisations cannot fail to take advantage of. Yet without the right individuals in their midst to make sense of this information, businesses are at risk of pouring money down the drain when investing in cutting-edge data analytics technology. As the volume of data worth analysing multiplies every day, companies simply don’t have time to sit back and wait for a solution. Technology must work hand in hand with talent to ensure the best return on investment, whether it be in-house or through great agency-client collaboration.
To understand other ways your marketing team can get the most value from their data, check out our Turning Data into Marketing Gold research report or drop us an email at DataDetectives@allisonpr.com.
Lizzy Chesters is an Account Director in Allison+Partners' London Office.