This is a guest post from Niki Hunter Ekins, managing director at Splendid Communications.
2020 has been a year of extremes. The rise in mental health issues, food poverty, job losses and isolation at the hand of COVID-19 has been matched by unprecedented levels of community spirit, empathy, neighbourly connection and better work-life balance thanks to flexible working.
Beyond the pandemic, 2020 was the year where politics became yet more polarised, and Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion went head to head with the establishment to try to drive forward a better future for all.
2021 will be no different. The vaccine rollout will bring hope but not before we are impacted by both Brexit and a new lockdown at the hands of a mutating virus. A deep financial recession and high unemployment seems almost inevitable, so how will brands and agencies continue to improvise, adapt and overcome? Will we remember the lessons learned?
The triple bottom line
2020 has made people stop and think. Like many others, it has given us at Splendid a renewed focus on ensuring we don’t just deliver to the bottom line, but that we’re creating a diverse work environment and reducing our impact on the planet. Reporting on people, profit and planet will keep these goals on track.
Protecting work-life balance and mental health
This year has only intensified the impact that our busy and stressful industry can have on mental health. Agencies that put a focus on solutions and support for their staff will be the ones that successfully attract, retain and grow great people.
Offices as collaboration hubs
Agency life is all about problem solving and being creative and we’ve found methods to maintain excellence in delivery for our clients. When lockdown eases, offices are likely to become spaces for creative collaboration, learning and team building rather than day to day delivery. My expectation is most people will be office based for something like three days per week rather than five as the default.
With a recession imminent and Brexit set to increase the cost of goods for clients, we have to expect that more eyes will be on performance and ROI. Agencies or teams that have already established clear measurement models will be top of the pile for receiving new briefs.
Meetings with purpose
Video conferences aren’t going anywhere. I anticipate only critical meetings will be in-person, saving valuable travel time, money and carbon emissions. But in a creative business where people buy people, we need to make time to find ways to make real connections with both clients and team members.
…and no more kissing
Whether you love it or hate it, cheek kissing won’t return anytime soon. Social distancing will be a hard habit to break and for good reason. Long live the elbow bump!
Product and price isn’t enough anymore
Data from Global Web Index shows that people now care more about brands that support people during COVID-19 and are eco-friendly, and more than 40% say brands should place more focus on social causes and the wellbeing of their employees. ‘Purpose’ has gone mainstream.
Actions > words
For brands wanting to do more than just make a great product, it’s critical that they weave it into the fabric of their business and not just use it as a marketing campaign. People are actively researching the ethics of a brand more than ever so they will be called out and lose customers if they are seen to not deliver. Seeing rival supermarkets come together to stand up against racist comments was a great moment and I hope we’ll see more of this inter-category collaboration in 2021.
Watch where your money goes
If brands aren’t careful, their ad spend can support sites that promote climate denial, anti-vaxxers, white supremacy or hate speech. The Conscious Advertising Network is making strides in bringing this challenge to the front of mind of every brand.
Make money go further
Brands will need to balance satisfying consumer desire for more ‘purposeful’ businesses with the need to deliver better value as we head into a recession. This is no easy task, and we should be revisiting the lessons from the 2008 recession to help guide us. Brands that manage to offer quality alongside value and purpose will thrive. Help people make their money go further by providing tangible, real-world help e.g. recipes that feed the family for £5. Convenience becomes critical, so give people products or services that save both time and money. Lastly, give people some affordable enjoyment, whether that’s staycations, days out or mealtime indulgence. They’re going to need it.
For more 2021 PR and communications trends to prepare for, read our round-up of predictions for next year from 13 industry thought leaders.