Deliveries in lockdown comms

ParcelHero’s coronavirus comms strategy: turning the front door into the front line

This is a guest post from David Jinks, Head of Public Relations at ParcelHero, on the importance of keeping agile in a fast changing environment.

I could start by spinning you a yarn about how ParcelHero had an emergency comms plan already prepared for the impact of a near biblical plague. The truth is we didn’t and, be honest, you wouldn’t enjoy reading a puff piece as much as hearing the gory details about how we learned from our initial comms mistakes.

ParcelHero is an online parcel price comparison site; effectively, we’re ‘Compare the Meerkat’ for parcels. Simples. Of course, being a home-delivery courier company meant we were one of the first to experience the full impact of the coronavirus.

Key to our media strategy as an e-commerce business is building brand awareness and (here’s where I’ll be kicked out of the Monday PR Club) link building. Old skool releases and pitches are at the heart of this plan. Looking back, our first release on the subject was 27 January: ‘Should shoppers question the safety of Chinese parcels?’. In retrospect, it’s an odd release – partly ramping up the scare to attract journalists and partly downplaying it – because some regular users were already experiencing problems with stock coming in from China. It got good traction but, at the time, it felt like an annoying distraction from my beloved 2020 PR plan, which had been so many weeks in gestation.

I clung grimly to that plan throughout early February, in the blind belief that no story could be bigger than Brexit. It wasn’t until 25 February that I smelled the coffee and tearfully chucked it away. Our release that day on ‘Ten steps to reduce the impact of Covid-19 ‘ was lapped up by an increasingly nervous business press. It had lots of prescient tips but still featured a not-in-front-of-the-children intro that soothingly gushed ‘…many health professionals are saying it is unlikely to have a greater effect than many typical global flu outbreaks’.

Let’s spare my blushes and move into the next stage. Without teaching Grandma to suck eggs, bad news sells and big numbers make big headlines. As the epidemic developed, we forecast on 3 March that e-commerce’s market share would double to 40% ‘if the coronavirus becomes an epidemic in the UK’. That secured us a good splash in the Mail and lots of business press. In a social media double-whammy, Facebook even used the prediction in its LinkedIn presentations. Again though, look at that qualifying ‘if’

Just before lockdown, ParcelHero had been booming, as people shipped food to loved ones in isolation and ordered thousands of hand sanitisers. However, when lockdown started on 23 March, bookings fell off a cliff. Stores were closed and even those with websites had little confidence they could distribute orders safely.

We hit the press, emphasising that couriers were still picking up directly from doorsteps and businesses could stay alive selling solely online. By the second week, ParcelHero was experiencing Christmas-level peak volumes and that’s been the case ever since. ‘The front door becomes the front line’ – our key message that was picked up by many journalists – underscored our efforts to standardise rules to replace signatures as proof of delivery.

Increased bookings led to their own complications, however. 50% of international parcels are flown in the belly-hold of passenger flights and, suddenly, they were all grounded. Customers wanted information. Now. Our carefully laid social media plans were swiftly abandoned as Twitter became a key tool for Customer Services.

Nonetheless, by 15 April, our comms was firmly proactive rather than reactive. We caught the public mood with a release stating: ‘It’s no longer a sin to order non-essentials online’. From then on, the thrust was all about looking forwards.

So, what turned the tide from that dreadful Lockdown Monday to us gaining multiple new links and national coverage in the FT, Express, Sun and Mail? Driving our success was our ability to adapt our message to fast-changing circumstances, even if it meant ditching our existing strategies and entire social channels.

Looking forward, we’ll be taking the lead in issuing advice as regulations and market conditions change. We’re currently focused on encouraging all our business users to ‘lock-in your lockdown wins’.  Who knows, one day, not so far in the future, I may be able to return to Brexit. Now, where did I throw that 2020 plan?

David Jinks was a guest on our recent webinar, Moving from Crisis to Recovery, along with Liz Slee, Head of Media at Enterprise Nation and director at the think tank The Enterprise Trust. Listen to the recording here

online wellbeing

WFH: Wellbeing From Home

As we start to get used to the mechanics of long-term working from home it’s easy to neglect both our physical and mental health. We asked our wonderful Wellness Manager, Roxy Danae, for her key advice for staying active and taking care of your mental wellbeing during these challenging times.

Here are Roxy’s top five tips:

  1. Find a routine

Keeping a regular routine will not only give structure to your day but it will help you separate your working day from your downtime. Get up early, have something to eat and get dressed. It might be tempting to stay in your pyjamas all day, but you’ll be more productive if you put on proper clothes. Plus, you won’t get caught out on any improtu video calls!

  1. Be mindful

Meditation can be something that many people find difficult or simply avoid. Now is the perfect time to practice meditation and find time to soothe your stress. There’s plenty of self-guided online meditation apps such as Headspace and Calm, which can help you practice meditation for ten minutes every day. Meditation helps reduce inflammation in the body, forms new neurological pathways in your brain, helps with productivity and creativity and keeps us grounded.

  1. Get creative

We now have more time to take up a new hobby or learn a new skill, and with so much technology at our fingertips the options are endless. You don’t have to be artistic to get creative, try your hand at knitting, tackle a paint by numbers or learn a new language. The benefit of having added time is you can try more than one hobby. Not a fan of cross stich? Try a yoga class for beginners online!

  1. Practice gratitude

Taking time out of your day to remind yourself of the things you’re grateful for can be transformative. Work it into your daily meditation or take a few minutes at the start or end of your day to reflect on what you have. The act of practicing gratitude helps us to reframe a negative situation into a positive.

  1. Stay active

It can be very easy to avoid exercise when working from home but it’s vital for both mental and physical wellbeing. Use this opportunity to train areas of your body you’ve previously neglected, invest in a kettlebell or a pair of dumbbells and add some variety to your workouts. There’s a number of free exercise classes on YouTube so try something different to your normal routine.

To support the industry’s wellbeing, we’re pleased to announce that we will be launching a weekly Virtual Yoga for Comms class. The hour-long classes will for four weeks, every Wednesday at 6pm starting 8 April. Register for your personal wellness and enjoy a yoga class from the comfort of your home.

Access Intelligence

Supporting the industry: Vuelio confirms three-month payment pause for freelancers

We’re committed to supporting the industry as we navigate together the disruption caused by COVID-19.  

The challenges faced by the PR industry go hand in hand with the need for businesses to increase communications as they manage multiple stakeholders in this rapidly changing environment. We’re hearing from teams across the country who are under intense pressure and grappling with new ways of remote working.

This is why its vital that we, as a software provider to the industry, can be relied on including by the considerable number of our clients who are NHS, Police or Emergency Service organisations. Whether workflow or stakeholder management, database research or political insights, our clients need our tools to deliver.

We are taking steps to help. Last week, we announced a raft of measures including free online monitoring for frontline organisations and free daily stakeholder analysis to help industry get ahead of COVID policy. This is with free additional product functionalities to support our clients in working remotely.

I can also confirm we will pause any subscription payments for three months by a customer who is freelance and contacts us to confirm they are eligible for the Government COVID-19 relief scheme.  Please speak to your account manager to find out more.

These are exceptional times. We hope by working together with our clients and with the industry to be able to help.

virtual networking

How to network. Virtually.

These are unprecedented times and as we adapt both our professional and personal lives, we need to find a ‘new normal’ for both socialising and networking. Virtual drinks over video chat have replaced meeting up at the pub, with apps like Zoom and Houseparty becoming essential.

As people work remotely and, in some cases, need to self isolate, it is more important than ever that we stay in contact with our peers and colleagues in the industry. Social media was already a fundamental function for PR and comms, but it now plays a vital role in keeping people connected, allowing them to discuss the issues and challenges they’re facing, and offering support and advice to colleagues and clients.

If you’re missing the social aspect of the working world there are several ways to combat the isolation blues and keep you connected.

  1. Twitter chats

Whether you’re an active Twitter user or you prefer to lurk in the threads, following a conversation hashtag is a great way to see who’s talking about a topic and what they think. From mental health to diversity, #PowerAndInfluence is our recommendation for anyone wanting to join an animated and engaging discussion. Lead by Ella Minty every Wednesday at 8pm GMT, people are encouraged to share their thoughts on a particular topic, offering their advice and own experience to fellow practitioners. One thing’s for sure, you can expect these Twitter chats to get more popular as the current situation develops.

  1. LinkedIn Groups

Joining a group on LinkedIn can allow you to discuss the current challenges faced across PR and comms without having to share it with all of your personal connections. Vuelio has set up two LinkedIn groups, the PR and Communication Network and The Monday PR Club. These groups are open for anyone in the industry to join and once we accept your invitation you can use these as a more intimate place for conversation and catching up with past and present colleagues.

  1. Virtual hangouts

Over the coming weeks we’re going to see more virtual event invites in our inbox and as these become the norm, so will virtual hangouts. Networking in person allows for informal discussions and relationships to be built, which is the aim of taking these meet-ups online. PRFest is running free regular catch ups over Zoom so you can chat, vent and share ideas with your industry colleagues, the perfect antidote to remote working.

  1. Virtual yoga

We started our accesswellbeing initiative back in February to address the issue of mental health in the PR industry and we’ve not let social distancing stop us continue to offer yoga to comms professionals. Moving our #YogaForComms class online not only brings wellbeing to the industry but creates an online community, allowing more people to attend from the comfort of their own living room.

Navigating uncertainty

Navigating uncertainty: the Vuelio toolkit for communicators

PR and comms are playing a critical role in delivering information during the COVID-19 outbreak.

From creating and maintaining consistent messaging, which aligns with brand values, to getting used to new working arrangements, teams are stretched and still expected to provide value to all their stakeholders, both internally and externally.

On top of all this, each organisation must keep up with the latest Government guidelines, which are evolving daily.

Navigating uncertainty: The Vuelio toolkit for communicators has been created to support the industry in these challenging times.

The toolkit includes stats and information on the coronavirus outbreak, including its impact on the media landscape, linked resources to help with everything from virtual events and networking to staying focused while working at home, and it also includes our top 10 lessons to keep your comms effective in a crisis.

It also includes links to our COVID-19 daily bulletin and our next yoga session on Thursday, which will hosted virtually. We hope you can join us there.

Download the toolkit and find out more about how Vuelio can support you.

 

Online event

Virtual events and why they’re more important than ever

SXSW and Coachella were first and now with Glastonbury cancelled and the Euros being postponed until 2021, it is clear that no event is impervious to the current situation. Large mass gatherings are no longer part of the calendar and as we all adapt to social distancing, events have had to adapt too.

Over the coming weeks, and possibly months, all in-person events will stop following Government guidelines. For anyone hosting any kind of event there is a decision to be made: cancel, postpone or take the event online. With more people now remote working, holding a virtual event is fast becoming the preferred option.

There’s a wealth of technology that can allow organisations to share their content with audiences across the globe. Webinars have long held an important place in any marketer’s toolkit and now they are even more vital; allowing guests to ask questions and interact with the hosts encourages discussion, which replicates experiences of in-person events.

As museums start to offer virtual tours, so begins the start of virtual expos where delegates can ‘visit’ the different stands, download the relevant collateral and speak directly with the supplier through a messaging app.

While it’s harder (but not impossible – watch this space) to take networking drinks online, small conferences or seminars benefit from this way of working. Livestreaming these events not only helps with keeping costs down (no venue, no catering, etc.) but it also makes it more accessible for both the audience and the speakers. Although you may need to be flexible with time zones, it opens up your list of potential speakers to those who are not just based in your city.

For smaller virtual meetings and seminars, Zoom has a free offering for live streaming meetings of up to 100 participants that last for 40 minutes or less. With a chat function built in, you can easily communicate with your guests and get a lively Q&A going at the end of the session. There’s an option to record your meeting too so if anyone is unable to attend they can still enjoy the content at a time that works for them.

When it comes to promoting, inviting and keeping track of your attendees Eventbrite is an accessible and easy-to-use tool. Plus if you’re hosting a free event, then it’s free to use.

Events may never be the same after this, as budgets get tighter and the need for more accessible events goes from nice-to-have to essential. Expect more virtual event invites over the next few weeks and video catch up content if you miss it. We’ll see you online.

Podcasts image

The evolution of PR and communications for You are The Media

It was a great pleasure to join Mark Masters for the You are the Media (YATM) podcast to discuss what lies ahead for the communications industry. If you haven’t come across YATM before it’s a treasure trove of inspiration for how to create content that inspires engagement regardless of whether you’re a PR, marketeer or in-house comms pro. It also reinforces one of my guiding principles that building an audience rests on a magic mix of being useful and entertaining.

Understanding the future for PR and communications starts with reflecting on where we were. Ten years ago, I was starting up a PR agency and spending my time trying to meet anyone who could be vaguely relevant for lunch or a drink. Face to face meetings to gossip and spot opportunities took nearly all my time – albeit too often leading to lasting hangovers that definitely reduced productivity the next day.

Fast forward to today, and as I discussed with YATM, one of the biggest shifts I’ve seen is in the evolution of how the industry approaches connections. Relationships remain vital but your network today has to be more diverse. Rather than a black book dominated by journalists at individual titles, the most successful PR and communicators are those who have networks representing the many audiences that engage with any organisation. Beyond knowing print, broadcast and online media, it is now vital to know politicos, influencers and those publishing in a constantly evolving social media landscape.

It isn’t that ‘old’ behaviours such as lunching with a journalist aren’t important, they just have to go with investing time to talk with those who are becoming just as important as the media to reputation build and management. And this shift in focus goes hand in hand with the transformation in how the industry reports on success. Again, just as it is no longer enough to ‘only’ know media it is no longer enough to ‘only’ report on coverage reach or sentiment. We have to understand how to track, analyse and report on the multiple ways the content we create has impact – from web traffic, click throughs or interactions. This is an opportunity to align PR to marketing which, if we get right, will deliver growth by opening new budget streams.

We ended our conversation talking about the biggest mistakes made with PR and communications by senior decision makers. Answering this made me feel every one of the 19 years I had worked in the industry because I can remember discussing the majority of these at the start of my career. That PR too often is seen as a one-off transaction rather than a sustainable investment that adds value over time. That PRs are expected to create compelling, effective content without insight into customer or product needs. And finally, that understanding ROI is vital but too often PR budgets don’t allow for the depth of research needed. If there is good news it is that these themes are now front of centre for nearly every organisation – and that technology, by enabling real time management of vast data, has the potential to at last solve them.

A huge thanks to Mark and YATM for having me on the podcast.

Listen to the podcast here.

Creative Shootout winners 2020

Empathy, estate agents and a homeless epidemic – The Creative Shootout 2020

Last night The Creative Shootout took over Picturehouse Central for the live final, which saw eight agencies take to the stage, pitching for homeless charity Crisis.

Crisis is well-known for its hugely effective Christmas campaign with a mission to end homelessness for good. The brief it brought to the agencies competing in this year’s Creative Shootout set out to challenge their creative minds and shift the perception of Crisis being a Christmas charity to one that works all year round. Focusing on 18-34-year olds, the campaign ideas were required to galvanise the public and shift their belief that ending homelessness is an impossible goal.

At lunchtime, the teams were presented with the brief and given just four hours to come up with a stand-out campaign before pitching their ideas in just 10 minutes to an audience of 350 PR professionals and creatives.

The pitches ranged from renting out doorsteps and sofas on Rightmove to FleishmanHillard Fishburn’s ever increasing bank of real-life stories about homelessness 365 days of the year. Wavemaker and Alpaca came up with campaigns that tapped into the needs of ‘Generation Rent’ utilising popular housing websites such as Zoopla and Spareroom, while Fever PR took it to the next level creating their own estate agents, Fauxtons, with real-life pop-up venues around the UK.

Empathy played a big part in all the campaign pitches with Haygarth using the shocking fact that a family is made homeless every 13 minutes and asking the public to give up just 13 minutes of their time to help those who are homeless, from hairdressers offering free cuts to partnering with footballers to donate 13 minutes of their wage.

TracyLocke came at the brief from a different angle and based its campaign around the idea of treating homelessness as a virus outbreak; they even gave it a Latin medical name, ‘Profugo Populus’.

Asking the audience to observe the flag at the start of their pitch, the team from Grayling took inspiration from a place that has ended homelessness: Helsinki.  With a clever tag of #FinnishTheCrisis and using the Finnish people to share their story of how they got rid of homelessness, they created the idea of the world’s first digital march, spreading the message across media sites, news and partner websites.

Taking home The Creative Shootout crown for its heartfelt and moving pitch was Epoch Design. This was its first time entering the competition but the campaign to give the homeless back their voice won the judges over. Engaging directly with a millennial audience, Epoch Design put the ‘invisible’ to the forefront with open mic nights with only homeless performers and a podcast channel that would give them a voice.

Epoch Design will get to run its winning campaign with Crisis as well as a range of partners and Crisis’s existing agency network.

We are proud to show our continued support for this fantastic event, which encourages creativity across the industry. Well done to everyone who took part and congratulations to Epoch Design!

Fake News Conservatives

How the election was won and lost on social media

Vuelio’s sister company, Pulsar, tracked the general election campaign across social networks and other web sources during the campaign from 6 November, when parliament was dissolved, to polling day on 12 December. 

Pulsar’s analysis of the general election campaign across social media suggests Labour had unlocked the formula for success online. So great was the difference in Labour’s, and specifically Jeremy Corbyn’s, online impact compared to Boris Johnson’s and the Conservatives’, that it was clear the heavy landslide result came as a shock to many on the night.

Further analysis of the results reveals an online campaign of two sides: one clearly focused on Brexit and the other focused on generating support among its engaged following and attacking the current Government over its claims and record.

This is evidenced in three key areas: what the successful party candidates were sharing on social media, how both made claims of ‘fake news’ against their opponents throughout the campaign and how the parties reflected the most-discussed topics in the public sphere.

What candidates shared
The infographics below show the most widely shared links by successful Conservative and Labour candidates. For Conservatives, the party’s manifesto comes out on top and it is closely followed by the party’s alternative Labour manifesto to respond to the opposition document, which was so positively received in 2017. A second alternative Labour manifesto, CostofCorbyn was also widely shared by the Tories.

A link to encourage voters to ‘register to vote’ before the deadline was shared over 100 times, which contrasts starkly with the same link being shared over 2,500 times by Labour candidates. This shows that it was far more in the interests of Labour to boost voter turnout through social media and to encourage those who might not be registered to vote to take part in the election.

Labour campaign sites to help voters were also among the top links shared including the party’s ‘polling station finder’, Labour campaign events, Labour’s Fair Tax Calculator and other Labour manifestos covering specific policy areas including Nature, the Green Industrial Revolution and ‘your personal manifesto’.

Fake news
Analysing mentions of the term fake news by Conservative candidates during the election campaign shows several spikes. The biggest, on 27 November, came when the Conservatives used the term to attack Corbyn’s financial plans, claiming they would cost every tax payer rather than just the wealthiest.

Other spikes include 19 November when Corbyn was attacked following the leaders’ debate; 5 and 6 December relates to the dossier Corbyn released which was linked back to Russian sources; and on 9 December, the story about boy on the hospital floor in Leeds was published, which was initially accused of being fake news.

Fake News Conservatives

For Labour the mentions of fake news follow a similar trend following the leaders debate on 19 November, the dossier being released on 5 December and the Leeds hospital story. However, the Leeds story spike among Labour candidates on the 10 December, following the previous day’s accusations that the story was fake news, which itself turned out to be false.

Labour candidates also collectively attacked Boris Johnson’s campaign on 1 December, accusing him of spreading fake news and running a campaign of misinformation.

Most discussed topics
This chart shows the key topics of the general election campaign by topic, which indicates that Brexit and the NHS account for over 50% of general election-related social media posts. The economy is the third most popular topic on 9.9% of posts with 9.3% for racism.

Most discussed topics

Brexit and NHS were two of the biggest topics also being discussed by Conservative and Labour candidates respectively. The question of racism, particularly around antisemitism and islamophobia, featured less heavily in the candidates’ discussions than it did in the public debate.

Conservative Candidates’ word cloud:

Conservative word cloud

Labour Candidates’ word cloud:

Labour Word cloud

Given that the Conservative campaign focused entirely on Brexit and the NHS was a Labour primary policy platform, this is perhaps unsurprising.

The overall strength of Labour’s digital campaign and the number of its members sharing the party’s message and policy pledges show it was clearly able to dominate the social media space during the campaign. However, the Conservatives were able to make up for this with paid digital advertising targeted to the right demographics in their key constituencies, a single clear campaign message and a broader voter base outside of social media users.

As the analysis of the 2019 campaign is now conducted and two parties begin to select new leaders, it is worth reflecting on David Cameron’s 2015 comment ‘Britain and Twitter are not the same thing’. Dominating the social media conversation and ensuring your party’s messaging is loudly and widely shared is not, on its own, sufficient to win.

Find out more about Pulsar, the audience insights and social listening platform. 

New followers by party

Tactical voting spikes on social media in final days of #GE2019 campaigning

Vuelio’s sister company Pulsar has been tracking social media conversations across different platforms and highlighting the most popular policies, as well as what voters are saying and sharing online during the general election campaign.

The latest update of the Pulsar/89up social election index analysis of social media followers and content engagement across the main social networks and online sources reveals over 700,000 mentions of tactical voting on Twitter since the beginning of the general election, with a significant spike in interest from 5 December. The level of conversation on this topic has consistently risen since the start of the general election.

This follows prominent public figures with large social media followings endorsing tactical voting, including Hugh Grant and Deborah Meaden.

Graph 6

The 2019 General Election is primarily a two-horse race on social media with the Conservatives’ higher social media spend going toe-to-toe with the huge personal social media presence of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour campaign organisation Momentum and prominent party supporters like Owen Jones have also been amplifying the Labour campaign messages and directing activists to the most crucial electoral battlegrounds.

Analysis of social media followers and content engagement across the main social networks and online sources (blogs, forums, online news) between 8 November and 10 December 2019 reveals significantly higher volumes of engagement with content from Jeremy Corbyn in comparison to that from Boris Johnson. For both leaders, the engagement levels of their social media posts have dropped in the last week.

Post engagement

Media sources
The social election index also collated information on the media sources that have been shared most widely during the campaign. These point to sources which are arguably more favourable to the Labour campaign and show that the Guardian, the Independent and the Mirror are the three biggest websites shared during the campaign, with the BBC in fourth place.

Media sources

In terms of actual content, the most widely shared links during the campaign includes highly debated photo story of a four-year-old boy sleeping on a hospital floor due to a lack of beds. It also includes the ‘Register to vote’ link which ensured a large boost in voter registration early in the campaign. The impact of this spike in registrations will not be fully known until the results are in but it reveals new levels of engagement with politics.

Most shared links

Corbyn ahead
Jeremy Corbyn has been adding new followers at a much more rapid pace than Boris Johnson across social media platforms, with the Labour leader getting a major uplift in the number of his social media followers after his much-criticised interview with the BBC’s Andrew Neil on 26 November. Conversely Boris Johnson received heavy criticism for not agreeing to an interview with Neil despite all other party leaders doing one. A video clip by Andrew Neil with the topics he wanted to ask the Prime Minister about became one of the most widely shared pieces of content on social media.

New followers by party

Graph 2

The Jeremy Corbyn social media surge has had knock on impact on engagement for the respective political parties with Labour staying ahead of the Conservative party in terms of engagement across Twitter and Facebook. This could make a huge difference on election day itself in terms of boosting voter turnout and ensuring that party activists are campaigning in the constituencies where they can have the most impact on the overall result.

post engagement

The major issues of the campaign

Brexit remains the topic driving the most online conversation during the General Election, followed closely by the NHS. Yet, for arguably the first time in British history, the discussion about racism has driven almost as much conversation as the economy. Social media conversation about racism, whether anti-Semitism or Islamophobia, had 484,360 mentions compared 508,124 of the economy on Twitter in the period up to 10 December. Of the 484,360 mentions of racism, 86,108 are specifically mentions of Islamophobia (18%) and 203,224 mentions of anti-Semitism (42% of total mentions).

top issues in GE

On Monday 16 December, Pulsar will compare social media success with the results of the General Election to determine the impact of social media on the results. Whether Corbyn and the Labour party can use their current social media momentum to boost voter turnout remains to be seen.

Pulsar social election index

Corbyn’s winning the social media general election

Vuelio’s sister company Pulsar has been tracking social media conversations across different platforms and highlighting the most popular policies, as well as the most engaging political parties and their leaders during the general election campaign. The influence of social media on campaigning is greater than ever, and this analysis shows who is finding success.

The Pulsar/89up social election index analysis of social media followers and content engagement across the main social networks and online sources reveals significantly higher volumes of engagement with content from Jeremy Corbyn in comparison to that from Boris Johnson.

Pulsar social election index

Corbyn is also picking up new followers at a much faster rate than Johnson, with both finding more success on Twitter over Facebook.

Pulsar social election index

He had a major uplift in the number of his social media followers after his much-criticised interview with the BBC’s Andrew Neil on 26 November, as well as this tweet on 24 November, which was by far the most engaged with piece of content from the period we tracked.

Issues
The index also shows that people are developing and evolving their arguments on social media, with Brexit dominating the general election in terms of the volume of social media conversations, closely followed by the NHS.

The biggest surprise, compared with previous elections, is the dominance of Racism in the social media conversation, on par with the Economy in the discussion. This follows media coverage in recent weeks about anti-Semitism and Islamophobia largely affecting the two main parties.

Pulsar social election index

The comparatively low volume around Crime and Security and Defence, will presumably change in the final two weeks of the campaign leading up to polling day on 12 December, following the tragic terrorist incident in London on 29 November. It has already led to wider questions being asked about resourcing of the UK’s police and security services as well as the prison and probation service.

The breakdown of issues by party show which policy areas are cross-party in terms of the social media conversation and which are dominated by either Labour or the Conservatives.

The Lib Dems and the Brexit Party, who have polarised positions on Brexit, have their biggest share of the conversation around the EU, while the Green Party takes a larger share when it comes to Climate Change and the Environment as expected. Following media reports of the SNP’s position on Trident and the UK’s nuclear deterrent, it is unsurprising to see their highest share of the conversation is around Security and Defence.

Issues such as Housing, Pensions and Nationalisation see Labour dominate the social media conservation, whereas Privatisation, Crime and Immigration are dominated by the Conservatives.

Pulsar social election index

The index is noteworthy given the amount of influence social media is expected to have on the final two weeks of the campaign and the eventual outcome, which is reflected in widely reported party spend on social media advertising. Whether Labour can convert its social media success into votes remains to be seen, but this tracker will give an indication of the public’s behaviour online right up until 12 December.

The party with the greatest social media influence will also have an advantage on election day itself in terms of ensuring members and supporters are amplifying the party’s ‘Get out the vote’ messages and are also directed to the most critical target seats.

The social media analysis in the Pulsar/89up social election index offers insight into the general election campaign across social networks and other web sources, such as Blogs, Forums, Reddit, Online News and YouTube from the 8 November to 2 December. The report tracks mentions of key political issues and UK political parties and their leaders.

Rachel Friend

Weber Shandwick’s Rachel Friend Elected PRCA 2020-2022 Chairman

The Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) has elected Rachel Friend, CEO of UK & Ireland, Weber Shandwick, as its 2020-2022 Chairman, following a vote at the AGM. 

Friend is responsible for Weber Shandwick’s network of offices across the UK. With over 20 years’ experience in the industry, she has spearheaded marketing and communications campaigns some of the world’s leading brands.

Friend will succeed Jim Donaldson when his term as Chairman concludes Autumn 2020.

Francis Ingham, Director-General of the PRCA said: ‘It’s a sign of the PRCA’s strength and size that someone of Rachel’s global standing will become our Chairman in 2020. In following Jim Donaldson, she will oversee the next phase of the PRCA’s story, as we build on our status as by far the world’s largest and most dynamic PR association.’

Rachel Friend said: ‘I am pleased to take on the role of Chairman of the PRCA. We are living through a period of unprecedented change; politics, sustainability, diversity, technology.  Our industry must continue to evolve at a rapid pace to engage audiences.  I’m very much looking forward to working with the PRCA to fuel the change.’

Fielding Communications

How to become an independent consultant: an interview with Kate Fielding, Fielding Communications

Kate Fielding is the founder of Fielding Communications, a new strategic consultancy that helps organisations achieve profile, positioning and impact through effective brand and communications strategies. Formerly head of strategic communications at the Natural History Museum, Kate’s background is in-house at well-known organisations.

We caught up with Kate to find out how she decided to make the switch and go independent, the benefits of freedom and her top advice for anyone thinking of becoming independent.

Kate Fielding Natural History Museum

How did you make the decision to become independent?
It’s a seed that’s been germinating for a long time. I was at a School of Life event seven years ago about finding fulfilling work. The central idea was finding the place where your values and your talents cross – the thing that you do well that makes the most difference to the world around you. When you advance in lots of careers you can end up moving away from a lot of what you enjoy doing and what you’re good at. Becoming independent was about going back to my roots in many ways and finding that sweet spot.

When I started out my plan was to be an actress, then I did two literature degrees and somehow found myself doing comms roles for scientific organisations. I spent a lot of time trying to mould myself to fit what I thought I should be in those roles. But more recently I’ve come to realise that the quirks in my background are actually an excellent combination to help my clients: a bit of drama, great copywriting, knowing how to tell their story and communicate it in an engaging way. The strength I bring is in combining incongruous skills and abilities that can unlock a fresh perspective.

What were the biggest challenges you faced/are facing?
You could always be more prepared and have more plans in place before you make the switch but there may never be a point when it feels like it’s enough. Some of the biggest challenges, especially as I’ve always worked in-house for fairly large organisations, is dealing with a lot of tasks that are business critical but that other teams have always taken care of. Suddenly I’m not just the comms person, but the finance, IT, admin and design person. I’ve been lucky to get loads of help and advice from my network, but it’s also worth thinking about what you can outsource if it’s not your area of expertise.

Time management is a challenge now because I use the Eisenhower matrix, but there’s no one to delegate the ‘not urgent or important’ stuff to! It forces you to be clearer up front about how you’re going to allocate your time – so I’ll spend a certain percentage on contacting my network, on marketing and on writing etc, where in a bigger organisation this all happens at the same time across different teams.

What’s the best thing about being independent?
Freedom. Obviously you’re constrained by the need to make money and you can’t sit on the sofa all day watching Cash in the Attic, but freedom in the sense of being able to steer a course and set my own standards – I’m now the arbiter of that. I have a very clear sense of what I can do and what I can achieve at any time.

I’ve also loved having the opportunity to reconnect with a lot of my network and spend my time in ways I previously wasn’t able. Yes, there’s an element that you’re hoping it will eventually turn into a future project or work somewhere, but these are people I know and like, and they have loads of interesting ideas and perspectives, so it has enormous value in its own right.

What’s the dream long term plan?
I’m not sure I know yet. The short-term plan is to prove I’ve got a viable business within the next 12 months – so it’s very much about hitting my financial targets each month. Beyond that, I’d like to get to the point where I can make choices about what I take on, so that I’m really honing in on that point where I’m using my skills and talents to make the world a better place.

What advice would you give others thinking of going independent?
I got lots of excellent practical and philosophical advice from other people who had made the leap, particularly Paul Sweetman of SweetComms who told me about the ‘rule of 3s’ – so as soon as you finish one task, contact three people you’ve not been in touch with for a while. Otherwise I guess the big piece of advice I’d give is – just do it! You can wait for years for the perfect time, or to get one more job under your belt, but sooner or later you’ve just got to take a leap into the unknown. I’ll let you know how it works out in about 12 months…

Video content

5 steps to stronger video content marketing

This is a guest post by Chris Shields, CCO and Co-founder, Binumi Pro.

From Fake News to Fyre Festival, a growing culture of scepticism has meant PR professionals are under pressure to change the way they create and distribute content. With online video expected to make up more than 82% of all consumer internet traffic by 2022, it is the most effective medium to reach audiences – yet over a quarter of PR and in-house agencies are struggling to make it work.

A recent study from The Pulse Business and PRCA, in partnership with video platform Binumi Pro, showed that 26% of PR agency bosses and in-house comms leaders are aware of the value of video, but have yet to find a way to make it work to their advantage.

Common pain points like high agency fees and a lack of understanding mean that, although 65% of agencies regularly include video in their marcomms activity, they are often disappointed with the results.

With that in mind, we have identified five key elements that will ensure your video content is strong enough to succeed.

1. Be authentic
Consumer trust is at an all time low. Research from Ipsos Connect showed that almost 70% of consumers distrust advertising, while 42% are sceptical of brands. The key to authenticity is letting your story be told by others. And who are the truest ambassadors of your brand? Your employees.

More often than not, these are the people that understand the connection between your message and your audience, and embody your values and ideals in a way that is relatable. Empowering your employees to define a narrative that is open and honest gives consumers a reason to believe in what you have to say.

2. Speak the language
Talk to your audience in a way they understand — and we don’t mean by scraping Urban Dictionary for slang. Identify their concerns, wants and needs, and the topics that spark conversation. When you speak to your audience on an emotional personal level, your message will resonate.

3. Snackable content
Viewers retain 95% of a message when they watch it in a video, compared to 10% when reading it in text. As 45% of consumers stop watching after 45 seconds, keeping video short and sweet is a must.

‘Bitesize’ content between 15-35 seconds is easily digestible, making for a higher view rate, and a more engaged audience. To ensure your video can land its message with or without sound, include responsive subtitles and hard coded text.

4. Stand out creatively
Differentiate yourself from the sea of sameness. With video, visuals are everything; the first three seconds of any video are the most important to capture the attention of your audience.

By employing eye catching visuals, dynamic text and effects, you create a ‘thumbstopper’ moment that elicits active engagement. Don’t underestimate the importance of a great thumbnail image either — autoplay isn’t a given.

5. Be nimble
The 24-hour news cycle means that timing is more important than ever, but the costs associated with using video production companies are still prohibitive for many, and the timeliness means they often miss out on what they set out to achieve.

Be smart about your approach to video content production and streamline your process for faster turnaround. Utilise user and employee generated content, create branded templates and frames, and develop a repository of clips to dip into as and when needed to captialise on trending stories and moments.

If you invest in the process, not just the product, you will find that video can become a high-performing element of any successful content marketing strategy.

 

Binumi Pro offers businesses a scalable way to take control of their video communications – at a fraction of the cost of traditional video production. Their unique offering enables your employees to shoot high-quality video content from a smartphone, edited to professional standard by their in-house team. The cloud-based platform offer comprehensive levels of client administration, and integrations for centralised corporate control to ensure Brand compliance.

CIPR AiinPR

AIinPR: The PR industry is not ready for AI

Public relations needs to get ready for artificial intelligence or risk being left behind according to #AIinPR, the CIPR’s panel on the impact AI will have on the profession.

Its 12-month global research project looked at close to 200 global publications on AI in the industry to date and found that PR is behind in understanding and usage.

‘Public relations is significantly behind the curve,’ said AIinPR panel member and PR academic Anne Gregory. ‘Other professions have already done major work on the shape of their future workforce, reviewing education and training, looking at their future role in organisations and society and at the ethics of AI. We need to get cracking, and get on with some serious work in all these areas.’

To help with this gap between PR and professions already upskilling in AI, machine learning and data, the AIinPR panel is putting together an AI Literature Repository where Government Reports, think tank findings, books and academic literature will be available for those looking to learn.

That this is an area the PR industry needs to catch up with quickly was clear throughout yesterday’s CIPR National Conference: Preparing for the Digital Future. Speakers including Tony Langham, Dr Stephanie Hare and Dr Lawrence Ampofo spoke passionately about the need for those in PR to understand our responsibilities with how the data we use is gathered and the emerging technologies at our disposal. For Government Digital Service’s Joanna Blackburn in her talk ‘Helping government meet the accelerated pace of users’ digital expectations’, the rate of change even within office environments is too slow, with technology advances far outpacing the rate of adoption.

AIinPR panel Chair Kerry Sheehan (taking over from Stephen Waddington’s work with CIPR on AI over the last two years) said the research on the understanding of AI in PR has made for stark reading. She said: ‘If, as a profession, we do not educate ourselves on AI and machine learning we really will risk getting left behind.

‘As the ones who provide a strategic management function driving business, profiles, profits and purpose; and, more importantly, the ones who should be best placing and promoting AI to aid the public’s adoption of good AI to realise its benefits, we have a vital role to play – we need to take this seriously. We are determined to encourage our profession, across the globe, to really own the AI agenda.’

Communicators interested in AI are encouraged to contribute to the AlinPR panel by adding academic materials to the Google document. The final repository of information, as well as the AIinPR 2020 plan, will launch on 16 January at The Turing Institute. If you’re ready to get ahead of the curve now, more information AIinPR can be found at cipr.co.uk/ai.

ICCO logo

ICCO World PR Report reveals optimism in the public relations market

PR agency bosses are optimistic about the growth of public relations in 2020 and beyond, according to findings from the International Communications Consultancy Organisation’s World PR Report published in partnership with Opinium.

The overview of the worldwide PR landscape uncovered profitability alongside optimism – on a 10-point scale, overall optimism about the growth of the public relations market hit 7 among surveyed PR leaders (as high as 7.7 in North America). Expectations for profit in 2020 scored 6.7 across all regions surveyed, with confidence in increased profits particularly high in Latin America (7.3) and Eastern Europe (7).

Drilling down further to see where market growth is being triggered and where potential challenges may be, the World PR Report also found that:

  • Increases in investment from Asia Pacific consultancies is expected for the influencer marketing space
  • Creativity skills will be most important for Western European leaders in PR
  • The most popular B2B social media platform for Middle East and Africa is LinkedIn (followed by Twitter and Facebook)
  • Retaining talent is a big industry challenge for agency heads, who cite high salaries as a difficulty for recruiting outside of the industry

ICCO chief executive Francis Ingham said: ‘The global PR industry faces the future in fine shape. However, we must not take our position of strength for granted. At every level of the industry and in every region of the world, we have a talent problem. We simply do not attract and retain enough of it.

‘That is because we do not pay enough. And we do not pay enough because we charge too little. At the heart of this is our failure to adequately measure the effect of our work. The global fall in AVE usage is a welcome sign of our progress on this issue. Along with AMEC, ICCO will continue to champion professional standards on measurement so that our industry can continue its growth with renewed confidence in its value to business and society’.

Will the future be filled with virtual influencers?

When locking in an influencer for your next project, someone with 1.7m followers on Instagram who’s guaranteed not to embarrass or drop your brand could be hard to find – if you’re looking among humanity, that is. The world of virtual influence is where you should be looking, according to the Virtual Influencer Agency’s Dudley Nevill-Spencer who held a session on the opportunities in the sector at this year’s Influencer Marketing Show.

In the virtual space, you can find Lil Miquela (she of the 1.7m followers) or Cade Harper (93K followers). They won’t push back on the artistic direction you’re going for in the campaign you’ve teamed up on, or openly criticise your brand if a collaboration goes wrong.

Virtual influencers could be a good choice for some brands, and they’re also unavoidable. Even if you’re not posting on their timelines on social media yet, you will have communicated with a virtual avatar or NLP (Natural Language Processing) while online shopping or looking for help online. Vuelio’s own virtual Licia is very helpful, for example (but she does have a real-life Licia counterpart).

Virtual help Licia

And there’s a science behind why they work so well, aside from never needing sleep, sustenance or HR intervention – our brains are hardwired to trust things with faces. Or, as the Wikipedia entry for the phenomenon of Pareidolia, puts it ‘cognitive processes are activated by the ‘face-like’ object, which alert the observer to the emotional state of the subject even before the conscious mind begins to process the information’. We have no choice to feel a bond, even for those of us who would never comment on a Cade Harper post to tell him that yes, friendship is so important.

Even when we know for certain that what we’re communicating with isn’t human, but a programme designed to elicit a set reaction, we trust them. And in some cases, more than our fellow humans. Research undertaken by DARPA, and mentioned during Nevill-Spencer’s talk, involving virtual therapists for soldiers showed that the robo-counsellors did better than their human colleagues during sessions, because patients felt no judgement while sharing with them and seeking advice.

Lil Miquela, as an influencer, will reply to her followers’ comments without any sense of judgement. Her recommendations and collaborations can elicit a similar reaction as a human influencer from her followers with no worry. What she, and her fellow virtual celebrities, can’t avoid, however, are the bad choices of those who plan out and license her career – Miquela’s controversial advert for Calvin Klein with Bella Hadid being a prime example. Not all collaborations will be good ideas for them and their creator/owners, or the brands they’re collaborating with.

Other uses of the technology are seen as worse than adverts with supermodels – deepfake technology use in elections could be particularly sinister. And if the uncanny valley smooth skin and designed-by-community personalities of the most popular virtual personalities muffle your automatic trust response at the moment (or trigger thoughts of Skynet, Black Mirror and Ultron), consider the possibilities these types of influencers have and are already demonstrating today. Nevill-Spencer believes that NLP tools can increase influencer/brand engagements from 2% (around where they sit currently) to over 15% in the future.

Paired with personality traits that inspire loyalty, virtual influencers look set to become part of the influence landscape. But they’re not real people, with real emotions, opinions or creativity – they can only respond within the limits of their creator’s coding so far. So while a future of virtual personalities to help and offer advice may be on the way, their real-life human versions are still worth building relationships with now and in the future.

Find the right (human) influencers for your campaign with the Vuelio Media Database.

Video

Over a quarter of PR agencies still haven’t found a way to make video work

Despite its value as a marcomms tool, 26% of PR agency bosses admit that they are yet to find a way to make video work in their communications. This is according to research undertaken by The Pulse Business and PRCA in partnership with video editing platform Binumi Pro.

Outside of the 64% of agencies that do use video regularly for comms, the reasons for those that don’t vary. For Chelgate CEO Liam Herbert, video can be a disappointing experience due to a ‘lack of understanding internally, poor briefing and application of the finished product’. In fact, a big cause of dissatisfaction in agencies was cost – with 38% that have recently used video production companies finding it more expensive than they would have wanted.

Cost is a factor global CEO and co-founder of M&C Saatchi Public Relations Molly Aldridge also considers: ‘I still think production houses are expensive. We have an in-house producer that creates them but we do outsource on occasion and those costs seem to rack up and quickly’. Yet it’s still a worthwhile investment for her work – ‘film is a super powerful way to convey creative platforms and ideas and we create a lot of videos to deliver client ideas and then as part of the media outreach to engage customers too’.

For those already utilising video, it’s a vital part of the comms tool box; ‘an important and persuasive part of our comms mix’ for managing director Elin de Zoete at PLMR; and ‘used frequently and will be used even more’ by Milk and Honey founder Kirsty Leighton’s agency.

‘PR and communications leaders on every side of the industry recognise that video is a hugely important element of their comms arsenal,’ Bimuni Pro CCO and co-founder Christopher Bo Shields commented. ‘The costs associated with using video production companies are still prohibitive for many, and the lack of speed means that videos often miss out on what they set out to achieve. Professional-standard video needs to be democratised out of the hands of video production companies and into the hands of the people that are actually using it.’

A breakfast roundtable discussion of this research into how video is being used in marcomms will be held by Binumi Pro and the PRCA in January 2020.

Online Influence Awards 2019

Lights, camera, action! The Online Influence Awards 2019

There’s just two weeks to go until the Online Influence Awards 2019. Celebrating the hottest talent from the world of influencer marketing, the Online Influence Awards will have top guests, critically-acclaimed host Jen Brister, fine food and entertainment into the very early hours.

The most influential night of the year is at The Bloomsbury Ballroom on Friday 22 November. We’re currently finalising a number of surprises for our guests, which this year will include the all-important photo booth from London-based Showtime Photo Booth. This special GIF photo booth is perfect for influencers as it will allow our superstar guests to create their very own GIFs live, which can then be easily shared across social media.

Unlike the traditional photo booth there’s no limit to the number of photos, or in this case, GIFs, you can create plus as soon as it’s made, you can get it sent directly to you through Twitter. Good news for our groups of guests, unlike traditional booths, this is not contained in a small room, so you can grab your whole table and all your friends, and make a GIF memory of the evening (dad bloggers, that means you).

Congratulations again to all our finalists, the Online Influence Awards is a night where we celebrate the best in blogging, vlogging, podcasting and Instagramming alongside agencies and brands who have collaborated with influencers to set the agenda and lead the conversation.

It’s not possible without the continued support from both influencers and brands, and the excellence they display in their work. We’re proud to work with and recognise the finest names in the industry.

The final available tickets are available for the awards here. If you’re not able to attend you can still keep up with all the excitement of the evening on social media by following our hashtag #OIAwards19.

A Question of Ethics

Keeping the influencer industry responsible

Despite growing pains and continuing flux, the influencer industry continues to expand into mainstream culture and creep its way further into marketing and PR budgets. According to a Markets and Markets report cited in the #FuturePRoof guide We’re All Influencers Now, the international influencer marketing sector is predicted to grow 30% by 2024 – that’s £4.5 billion to £18.4 billion.

Big money means big responsibility for an industry still catching up with the accountability that comes with success, and ethics and regulation is what many speakers at this year’s Influencer Marketing Show were advocating for.

Speakers across the breadth of agency, creator, brand and tech brought up the issue of how to keep the industry accountable and ethical. For influencer marketing guru Scott Guthrie, influencers themselves have a moral obligation, as well as a legal requirement, to do the right thing by their audience.

Some obviously poor choices from those making a living from social media were highlighted by Scott – the hijacking of California wildfire hashtags by some Instagram influencers being one particularly unfortunate example. That influencers should make more ethical choices was also urged by artist and activist Alice Skinner. Fully aware of the responsibility she has to the young girls who make up a large portion of her following, she works to stay true to them as well as her own values: ‘It’s hard, but I want to be able to live with myself. I’m learning not to work with brands that don’t align with what I make, that don’t align with my beliefs and ethics’.

Working with those brands that align with their values doesn’t just help influencers avoid a guilty conscience, it also helps with keeping that authentic voice necessary for holding on to an engaged following.

During the panel with Alice Skinner on re-defining influence, fellow creator Rob Eades mentioned the dwindling effectiveness of product review posts, an early mainstay of the industry that don’t work as well in a post-sponcon world. In Rob’s experience, ‘people see through that stuff now’. After missteps like the Kardashians using their influence to advertise weight-loss teas, followers are smarter and are less likely to engage with inauthentic brand alignment or unethical promotions (which the slimming tea controversy most definitely was).

But what of the brands and agencies that work with influencers? Industry professionals certainly don’t escape the blame. Being an ethical industry extends to finding influencers and high-profile voices that match with what’s being promoted – actress and vocal feminist Maisie Williams working with The Body Shop on its #ForeverAgainstAnimalTesting campaign being a good example of a natural fit. A bad example was Mystery Brand working with Jake Paul, whose young audience shouldn’t, ideally, be visiting gambling websites.

Agencies have a responsibility to choose the right influencers, and that includes making sure their choices and reach are diverse. Stephanie Yeboah (interviewed in Vuelio’s Women of Colour series), on noticing brands choosing to only work with white influencers, spoke up about it on Twitter and wrote a Metro piece that got a lot of attention in the industry. ‘Brands are actually trying’, said creator Adanna David during the panel with Alice and Rob, but they need to go beyond tokenism, ‘Sometimes I have been a token. But maybe it’s a sign that things are changing’.

Where individual sense and conscience checking won’t do it, future regulations on the influencer industry will. For Gary Csiszar, CEO and Founder of Post for Rent, speaking during a panel on creators and branded content at IMS, the future is going to bring restrictions: ‘Regulation will be more strict on influencer marketing – that’s what I’ve started to experience in different countries.’ It’s unavoidable, and bound to bring positive change, but self-regulation for individuals and companies working in the sphere is a good foundation. Asking: is this authentic? Is this ethical? Is this inclusive?

And not promoting gambling sites and slimming teas to children – that’s a given.

For more on ethics in influence and influencer marketing governance in public relations, sign up for our upcoming webinar ‘We’re all influencers now with Stephen Waddington, Sarah Waddington and Andrew Terry. The guide from FuturePRoof can be read here.