Earth Day 2022 COP26 comms

Earth Day 2022 – did COP26 comms make a change?

This year’s Earth Day has a lot to live up to. Coming after the highly-anticipated and high-pressure COP26, today brings opportunity for those who made big promises in October 2021 to hold themselves to account. Did the global event make real change to how organisations operate and communicate their purpose to the public?

One impact COP26 made in the minds of those paying attention to its message of climate change was the installation of a growing impatience; a need for accountability from those with the power and influence to drive action.

‘COP26 and many other political events within the last six months have highlighted the public’s growing lack of tolerance for hypocrisy,’ says Propel Technology’s lead communications consultant Claire Dumbreck.

‘For many, COP26 will be remembered for the rich elite jamming up Prestwick Airport with their private jets and then preaching to the masses about how they should give things up for the greater good.’

Perception of the global event – the success of which was predicted by Sir Vince Cable beforehand to be 60:40: ‘my heart is with the 60%; my head with the 40%’ – wasn’t 100% positive. While its failures ultimately fall on political promises that were short of expectations, the PR and comms sector had a part, too:

‘Some businesses and comms teams could have been more considered in their approaches – there were a lot of campaigns with fairly (very) loose connections to COP26!’ believes One Nine Nine managing director Barnaby Patchett.

‘The issue here was that the press was flooded with transparent attempts to ‘cash in’ on COP26 – with no real connection to the goals and aims of the conference. The best campaigns were underpinned with a clear, authentic link to COP26, from organisations making tangible, significant progress on sustainability.’

Consumers and stakeholders increasingly expect integrity from organisations, not greenwashing, and PR and comms teams are being tasked with the practicalities of that responsibility.

‘As an industry, comms was both part of the post-COP26 climate change discussion and has since had to respond to it,’ says senior PR consultant Katy Barney, who heads up Ambitious PR’s ESG & Sustainability PR services.

‘Agency-side, this has meant more clients coming to us and asking for advice on how to communicate around sustainability, meaning an imperative to upskill rapidly and get to grips with the issues.’

Accessibility of language around climate change is a must-have skill for PRs in the wake of COP26, but as an industry we’re not quite there yet, according to research conducted by the Hanover Group Strategy & Insights unit, which targeted the general public in the UK and Ireland, and business leaders across Europe:

‘Only 1 in 4 people (25%) were comfortable defining “net zero” and much less so with terms like “carbon trading” and “climate refugees”,’ says Hanover Group’s strategy & insights director Teodora Coste.

‘23% were uncomfortable defining any of the terms most often used at COP26.’

The obfuscating and grand-standing that reverberated around October’s summit isn’t necessary, or useful, for building climate considerations into campaign work. For Earth Day 2022, here are more practical steps:

‘Wind the sanctimoniousness right down!’ says Claire Dumbreck. ‘Address any perception of “us and them” before more scepticism takes hold. Demonstrate genuine short-term human benefits of acting with the environment in mind (beyond the luxury of just feeling good about it).’

‘Start at home and focus on reducing your own carbon emissions and environmental impacts,’ says Lexington’s director and head of responsible business Andrew Wilson. ‘Do you really need to fly to that client meeting? Second, be critical friends to clients, provide constructive challenge on their own operations. Do agencies have the in-house expertise to advise on Net Zero strategies and approaches to reduce environmental impacts? Third, work with brands to produce communications that help to change consumer attitudes and bring about a shift in behaviour.’

Ultimately, use your skill as a PR; if you’re part of the comms industry, you already have the tools to get the message out there:

‘Zero and environmental change are so much more than a single-issue topic – there are lots of opportunities for PR teams to get creative,’ says Katy Barney.

‘There will always be another story or angle if you’re committed to making change.’

For more on climate change and how the communications sector can help make a difference, check out this post on what PR and comms teams should know about sustainability, a reflection on the success of COP26 from the Vuelio political team, and this guest post from Sir Vince Cable featuring his predictions ahead of the summit. 

 

How to communicate in the metaverse

How to communicate in the metaverse… also, what is the metaverse?

If you’re up on your PR and comms trends for 2022 and the years ahead, you will have read about the metaverse and just how important it is going to be for the industry. But… do you actually know what that word means? Do you understand how you and your team might use it for upcoming campaigns? How to talk about it to clients and other brands?

To help prevent you from any out-of-touch floundering in future stakeholder presentations and competitive pitches, here’s how the industry is already making great use of the metaverse and how you can join, too.

What is the metaverse?
To cut through all the jargon: it’s a virtual space for interacting. With other people, with places, with items.

‘The way I try to explain it to friends is, it’s like a hybrid of The Sims, Rollercoaster Tycoon & GTA (without the crime),’ said The Playbook’s senior sport and brand communications executive Rob Baney.

‘Creating your own The Sims-like dream world, building your entertainment offering Rollercoaster Tycoon-style, and then having you and your mates explore this world in the best clothes and with the coolest car, like your character in GTA.’

If you aren’t a gamer, the concept of a metaverse has long been established in science fiction and regularly features in film (Ready Player One and The Matrix, for some dystopian examples), and even portrayed quite poorly in 90s thrillers you may have seen, like The Lawnmower Man and Disclosure. In the latter, for example, it’s shown as already being a part of work tech. Michael Douglas needs to hack a computer – instead of sitting down to type, he dons a VR headset and gloves for his search and walks through a Virtual Reality Database.

You could say that’s a prediction of how the metaverse may shape up in the next few years – full integration into our lives, even office documents. You could also say ‘why did Michael bother when Ctrl + F is right there – who has the time for that’. But that would be overlooking the allure of realistic interactions with surroundings otherwise closed off, and plenty of us want that.

Why is the metaverse so popular right now?
While a metaverse is not a new concept – not even to the comms industry, who had the opportunity to explore it in ‘Second Life Marketing Safaris’ as far back as 2007 – it’s resonating strongly now, particularly in the wake of Facebook’s widely-publicised rebrand to Meta and new strategy to build ‘the’ metaverse, as we search for new ways to connect in our day-to-day.

When people wanted to be with those they couldn’t see in the flesh in the early days of the pandemic, downloads of applications like Zoom, Teams and Houseparty boomed. Games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons broke records, with advertising from Nintendo showing family members and friends using their Switch consoles to fly out for quality time on each other’s virtual islands.

Conversations while fishing for bass couldn’t happen in reality during lockdown, but it could online. Connection is the value of digital spaces – that’s the value a presence in the metaverse can provide to your audience.

How are brands and businesses already using the metaverse?
Using Animal Crossing: New Horizons as an example, businesses, charities and even US politicians quickly realised its potential for engaging with consumers and integrated their branding and messages into the pre-existing world of the game. But many brands and agencies have since gone further into the metaverse – this isn’t something to get ready for in the future, this is happening now.

Recreating reality: VCCP built virtual offices in gaming and social platform Roblox, using its London Victoria office as a base design, but building in extras impossible in real life, such as an enclosure for meerkats.

Connection in virtual spaces: A Roblox-based ceremony and gig was held as part of the Brit Awards this year, with a virtual version of PinkPantheress booked to perform. Artists including Lil Nas X have also teamed up with the platform for performances.

In-metaverse living: Nike invested in the possibility of virtual footwear with its December 2021 purchase of digital collectable creators RTFKT. ‘This acquisition is another step that accelerates Nike’s digital transformation […] and extend[s] Nike’s digital footprint and capabilities,’ said Nike president and chief executive John Donahoe.

Comms and campaigns: To publicise the new series of I’m A Celebrity… late last year, ITV launched a virtual version of the show’s castle with Fortnite Creative for viewers to explore. In fact, ITV has created a number of new ways for viewers to connect with its programming via the metaverse in this way, including an in-game Fortnite version of its entertainment show The Void.

So, should you care?
In summary – yes. At its most simple, the metaverse can be a recreation of what we know, but it can also be a fantastic version of what we want, or an overlay of extras to make life easier.

While data from We Are Social’s latest Think Forward report found that 90% of social users were ‘clueless’ about the metaverse, its quick adoption across the industry in real ways is meaningful. Current excitement about these virtual spaces may dim, but applications of them will embed into our culture and lives, long-term.

Virtual influencers are already here, and NLP (Natural Language Processing)/virtual avatars are an accepted part of online customer service. For those who need other ways to access events and experiences beyond getting on a train to a crowded gathering at a city centre, the metaverse opens up a whole world of possibility and connection. For business, it offers new ways to engage consumers continuously bombarded with images and messages in ways that will stick.

In a real world that has become increasingly unpredictable, filled with situations we can’t control, it’s unsurprising that the possibility to create others we can is appealing. And at the very least, what’s on the way should be a lot cooler than that scene in Disclosure. The metaverse can be whatever we want to make it.

If you’re ready to enter the metaverse, visit our visit to those brands setting up in Animal Crossing: New Horizons and check out our look at the influence of virtual influencers

Want more on ways to engage the minds of  your audience? Here’s a write-up of our webinar on Neuro PR with Harvey & Hugo PR’s managing director and Leader of the Pack Charlotte Nichols 

Channel 4

Media Response and Controversy Behind Channel 4’s Privatisation

The Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries announced that the Government is privatising Channel 4 in response to increasing pressures from streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon. Dorries believes a change of ownership will grant Channel 4 the ‘freedom to flourish’ and allow it to ‘thrive as a public service broadcaster long into the future’ (via Twitter, 04.04.22).

In the week that followed the announcement on 4 April, we tracked broad, large-scale media coverage as well as a sample of articles from 280 journalists across 356 UK-based publications. 104 international publications also reported on the growing spectrum of controversy arising from this decision.

Mutual Consensus Across UK and international Media

UK and international media reaction

Opinions towards the sale were relatively mutual between the UK and international coverage, with an almost even split between negative and neutral sentiment. As Conservative MPs expressed their shared concerns, The Telegraph commented on the rarity of such widely-shared agreement across the media and political parties, describing it as ‘very odd’ (The Telegraph, 07.04.22). With multiple layers of controversy embedded in the decision, very few have attempted to outline a positive response.

Trending areas of controversy

Trending categories

Among the 4,186 headlines that emerged in the UK in the five days that followed, three focus areas gained significant attention in the media: representation, revenge and job loss.

In a sample taken from the top international, national and business news sources, over half referenced the concerns of ‘cultural vandalism’ that may occur from likely foreign ownership. Dorothy Byrne, former head of news and current affairs at Channel 4, has had a particularly strong voice in this area; 75 journalists across the UK quoted her extensive opinions on the matter.

Byrne exemplified her concerns in stating: ‘We would no longer, for example, hear “gay people in Glasgow” on the channel. Mass [global] audiences don’t want to hear the perspective of the nations and regions of Britain particularly’ (iNews, 05.04.22).

Similarly, Kirstie Allsopp has also held the spotlight for her opinions as an established Channel 4 presenter. Several UK news articles embedded her viral tweet, which concluded that ‘Profit will be king and the passion & inclusion of Channel 4 will be lost’ (BBC News, 06.04.22).

Many journalists have also opted to outline the chronological timeline of Channel 4, referencing Margaret Thatcher’s goals to serve the ‘underrepresented voices’ (The Guardian, 06.04.22). The topic is by far the most popular for reach among the public, with one trending article titled ‘Hands off Channel 4 – it helped me embrace my sexuality’ (The Independent, 06.04.22).

An act of revenge for Brexit bias?

With a strong adoption by US media, 27.5% of the sample focused on speculations that the sale is an act of ‘revenge’ due to Channel 4’s loaded commentary and ‘bias’ in coverage against both Brexit and Boris Johnson (Sky News, 05.04.22). Back in 2019, Channel 4 made the news for replacing Johnson with a melting block of ice during a debate he was unable to attend (referencing his lack of response to the climate emergency). This led to a “threat” from the Conservatives, who said they would review Channel 4’s broadcasting remit if they won the election (The Guardian, 28.11.19).

With this decision now confirmed, 770 publications quoted Conservative MP Julian Knight (also chair of the influential Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee), who initiated the concerns that this could be an act of strategic retaliation. He said the Government’s decision to push ahead represents ‘a big risk” with uncertain benefits (Sky News, 05.04.22).

Impact of privatisation on Scottish production companies

Scottish production companies have also been highlighted as an area of emphasised loss by UK media, particularly in the job sector. Since 2007, Channel 4 has played an ‘important role’ in the ‘growing success of the screen sector in Scotland’, including £200 million for Scottish-based productions and support for 400 jobs (The National, 04.04.22).

Following Armando Iannucci’s opinion piece in The Guardian on April 6th, 557 media outlets across the country reported on his views. He is a prominent Scottish writer and producer with an established relationship to Channel 4. Iannucci tweeted ‘Why do they want to make the UK’s great TV industry worse? Why? It makes no business, economic or even patriotic sense’ (Sky News, 05.04.22).

The ‘Red Meat’ Agenda

In an interview with Times Radio, the aforementioned Dorothy Byrne also accused Boris Johnson of ‘throwing red meat to right-wing voters’ (The Independent, 05.04.22). Since the discussion, this has been a trending phrase in 127 media outlets across the UK and United States.

Huffington Post further added that this will please the PM’s ‘Brexiteer base’, who have expressed a growing displeasure for the ‘pro-Remain, left-of-centre’ news coverage by Channel 4 (Huffington Post, 05.04.22).

Over 300 news sources shared excerpts from Health Secretary Sajid Javid’s interview with LBC Radio, who expressed his joy for the sale. Javid was often quoted saying the sale will ‘set it free’ to ‘compete in what is a fast-changing landscape’ (The Independent, 06.04.22). Additionally, Dan Wootton, the GB News presenter known for his opposition to left-wing views, took to social media to share his optimism for the sale:

Dan Wootton tweet

Valuation and loss

Two days after the announcement, BBC News shared the estimation that Channel 4 is worth between £600m and £1.5bn—which has since been quoted 60 times across several UK sources (BBC News, 05.04.22).

Aside from the impact on Scottish employment, The Guardian reported that analysts believe the company would face 40% to 50% cuts to its £660 million programming budget – which, in turn, could lead to cuts to content (Metro.co.uk, 04.04.22).

Key facts of the study
• Over 4,186 articles were analysed from 3 – 8 April, with a focus on UK media and occasional focus on the international response.
• The analysis was a blend of Vuelio Media Monitoring and Analysis, enriched by the Vuelio Insights team.
• When discussing controversies embedded in the privatisation of Channel 4, a sample of coverage was studied in depth in order to provide reliable and trust-worthy insights from the top international, national and business news sources.

Want to understand more about this story and data, or find out how the Vuelio Insights team can support you? Get in touch.

Email marketing trends

Email marketing: Top industry trends for 2022

This is a guest post from April Mullen, director of brand and content marketing at SparkPost.

There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to marketing, especially in email. In order to keep ahead of fierce competition, it is vital that brands are on top of changes within the industry. Failing to adhere to new practices can damage brand trust and reputation and risk losing subscribers.

Generating more sophisticated email content can help increase customer engagement. This, in turn, leads to better deliverability, more conversions, and a stronger community for your brand.

With these challenges in mind, here are some key trends for this year, and how marketers can stay ahead of the curve.

1) Email design: the balance between engagement and accessibility
On the one hand, emails need to stand out with bold, engaging designs. But at the same time, they need to be easy to engage with. Are these two key email trends compatible? Sure! They just require marketers to be a little more thoughtful about how they construct their communications.

Dark mode: Over the past couple of years more and more marketers have been experimenting with dark mode in their emails. They are responding to consumers who like the option for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it’s easier on the eyes – especially in low light reading environments. Secondly, low brightness means more battery life can be preserved on mobile devices, and lastly some people just prefer it that way.

Dark mode should be treated like an email necessity, not an afterthought. If your designers are worried that it might limit their creativity, they needn’t be. In many ways it has the opposite effect. More thought goes into logos, brand colours, and layouts when considering dark mode.

Accessibility: It’s a golden rule of email marketing that messages should be able to be read by everyone no matter where they are, what device they are using or what their ability level is. But there is still some catching-up for marketers to do to achieve this. Not complying with accessibility can cause brand reputation challenges.

15% of the world’s population experience some form of disability. Why should they be prevented from interacting with your emails for the sake of a few lines of code and thoughtful design? Ensuring that minimum font sizes are used and that the text is properly aligned, among other tweaks, to meet accessibility requirements in 2022.

Emojis: Everyone loves a good emoji and for the most part, they work well in email – adding a sense of fun that is universally understood.
In 2021 more marketers began using emojis in email subject lines and headlines in a rather careless way. Some forgot that if emojis replace actual words, the overall message won’t make sense if images are blocked or won’t load.

The key, if you are going to use emojis in your subject line, header or in the main body of the text (which is good for mobile viewers as copy space is often limited), is to test and test again for effectiveness before you press send.

GIFs: A properly executed GIF in a marketing email can be a very powerful way of expressing brand values in a light-hearted way. But they must be used in the right way and within the right context.

Marketers need to ensure that GIFs used:
– Aren’t too flashy or overwhelming by having smooth transitions between each frame
– Include a static fallback just in case the GIF doesn’t load
– Always include ALT text for screen readers

2) Privacy changes continue to rock the boat
Privacy continues to be a hot topic for email senders, especially marketers. As the demand for relevant and personalised email increases in 2022, the barriers to collecting the actionable data necessary to meet that demand will increase as well. The loss of third-party cookies and new features, such as Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection, are likely only the beginnings of a paradigm shift that will continue to drive marketers to rethink data collection and usage practices.

Loss of third-party cookies: Third-party tracking involves data that’s not owned by the website you’re on – and it’s used after you leave. Let’s say you’re on Currys and look at a Camera, and then you go to John Lewis and see that same camera in an ad in your sidebar. That’s a third-party cookie tracking your internet habits. Firefox and Safari no longer support third-party tracking, and Google has announced they’ll follow suit with plans to sunset third-party cookies in 2022. The demise of third-party cookies puts a tailwind behind channels that leverage first-party data – email being the most pervasive channel using first-party data. We should all be gearing up for more investment in email and SMS because owned data is about to be more valuable than ever.

Apple Mail Privacy Protection (MPP): Back in June 2021, Apple announced MMP would be coming to their Mail app on all compatible Apple devices. According to Apple, “Mail Privacy Protection stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user. It prevents senders from knowing when they open an email and masks their IP address, so it can’t be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location.”

At a very high-level, since MPP will prefetch all images in an email, senders will need to be aware of the following:
– Open rates will be inflated
– Open times will be random and unreliable
– Device information will be unavailable
– User location will be approximated

As 2022 progresses, upwards of 50% of open data will become unreliable and no longer useful as a success metric. This means that marketers will need to take a more holistic approach to measuring the success of email programs. Below are some example alternative success metrics that senders can use:
– Clicks
– Conversion
– Engagement from other channels, such as your mobile apps

3) Generating personalised content with limited resources
Creating an engaging, interesting and personalised email can be a challenge especially if a marketer is limited in terms of time and resources. There are however a few shortcuts that they can employ to speed the process up.

Personalisation: Personalised content used to be the icing on the top of the cake in email marketing. In 2022 it is arguably the whole cake. With brands having to contend with privacy changes across the marketing spectrum there is more and more pressure to build personal relationships with customers and delivering bespoke emails is a highly effective way of achieving this.

Ultimately, brands that employ personalisation in a responsible way that truly drives value to customers and isn’t self-serving to the brand, will have happy customers.

Agile content: This is when marketers use feeds to pull in content such as product listings, job advertisements, properties, recent news directly from an organisation’s external source/website, etc.

Images, links, and copy can all be added in a few clicks without the marketer having to resort to additional technology to be able to do this.

4) Email production: the final step
Email production can involve a lot of different people within a company, often working remotely and invariably focusing on their own specific niche. Fortunately, there are tools that simplify the process while simultaneously unlocking the creativity of email teams.
Email Design Systems: The days of constantly creating an email from scratch will soon be gone forever. Email Design Systems are essentially modular templates that have been pre-coded. They enable marketers to deliver marketing emails quickly as automation means that there are fewer elements for them to be concerned about.

Email Design Systems enable:
– Seamless collaboration between everyone involved in email
– Fewer risks – e.g. less typos, more consistent branding, etc.
– Email campaigns that are quicker to produce and get to market
– More time to invest in better quality code, which means better quality email

BIMI: Brand Indicators for Message Identification (BIMI) is an initiative that was launched in 2019 that enables brands to send out emails with their logo appearing next to the email in the inbox.

BIMI is bound to be embraced by more and more companies this year for a number of reasons:
– Design: it helps emails stand out in an inbox
– Authentication: BIMI incentivises brands to adopt proper email authentication – DMARC in particular – when sending mass messages to consumers. Senders who put in the effort to implement DMARC are rewarded with the display of their logo
– Protection Implementing – BIMI protects brands against spoofing and phishing as customers can more easily recognise that the messages are legitimate

In our recent Benchmark survey, we asked which email innovations email marketers are considering adopting this year? BIMI was one of the main responses with 28% saying they are contemplating using it.

It’s never been more important to stay ahead of trends
Design, content and process are year-on-year major focuses for email marketers, but more so this year as privacy updates occur, changes to ways of working continue to take hold and brands fight to retain once loyal customers. If you haven’t got your design, content or process right, you can be sure that your email marketing will see an effect.

Ensure you’re targeting the right people for your campaigns with Vuelio’s Media Database and Monitoring.

Want more on email marketing and trends in PR and comms this year? Read this previous guest post from SparkPost company Taxi for Email on building strong foundations for a successful email campaign and this round-up of insight from industry thought leaders on what you need to plan for in 2022.

Wadds Inc Almanac

Wadds Inc. publishes Almanac to provide guidance on the big issues for PR in 2022

To ready the public relations industry for the big issues ahead, Stephen Waddington has published the Wadds Inc. Almanac: Challenges and opportunities for public relations 2022.

The eight short essays, with links to further reading for more information, provide guidance on topics including strategy, misinformation, inclusion and even office politics.

Among the issues highlighted for PR practitioners to include in strategic plans for next year are investment in artificial intelligence – an area touted by many in the industry, including CIPR’s AIinPR group, as ripe with opportunity as well as the potential for misuse. Upskilling and investment is also recommended for ESG concerns including climate risk and carbon as a metric. The lessons from COP26 this year will reverberate through the work of the comms sector, in-house, agency-level, political and public affairs-side next year – find out more in the essay here.

‘Misinformation: The internet is a sewer’ includes worrying statistics on the continuing spread of incorrect data across social media and the growth of mistrust in the Government and asks whether this can be curtailed by clever comms.

Diversity and inclusion is, finally and rightfully, a big conversation happening in the comms sphere – as mentioned by The Unmistakables’ Asad Dhunna in our accessmatters session in November, many clients are now asking how they should approach inclusivity and do a better job of engaging with every audience going forward. The Almanac’s guidance includes data to remind us all how far the industry is from true parity and highlights the work of initiatives including A Leader Like Me, warning that this will take longer than a generation to fix.

And while shared office working has always been fertile ground for the growth of long-term grudges and hostility, hybrid working may very well provide similar, and new, avenues for work-related anger. How can managers help those working from home? Check out advice and supporting data in ‘Home comforts and office politics’.

Inspired by what Stephen Waddington calls ‘the noisiest conversations in our community of practice’, you can read all eight essays included in the Almanac online, or download in PDF or HTML, here.

Want more on what to plan for in 2022? Check out our round-up of trend predictions from practitioners across the industry, as well as our look back at the challenges and triumphs of 2021.

Challenges and triumphs of 2021 in comms

What were the biggest challenges and triumphs for comms in 2021?

And we thought 2020 in comms, marketing and PR was difficult – 2021 brought yet more challenges, forcing everyone to adapt to the constantly changing environment we found ourselves in.

In this part of our series of features looking back at this year, and forward to the next, seven practitioners from across the industry share what they saw as the biggest challenges of 2021 and some of the organisations, people and brands that did great work in 2021.

Sarah Waddington, Astute.Work and #FuturePRoof
Main challenges of 2021?
‘The biggest challenge for comms practitioners this year has been battling fatigue. Working practices and client expectations have changed throughout the pandemic, in part through people working from home, and it seems to have exacerbated the ‘always on’ culture we’ve been trying to move away from. The biggest challenge for the year ahead will be managing this and re-establishing boundaries so the workplace is a happy and healthy one.’

Comms winners this year?
‘I thought the Don’t Be That Guy video by Police Scotland was particularly well thought out and timed in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard and following the wave of anger up and down the country relating to violence against women. It actually looked at the cause of the problem, rather than place responsibility onto women to stay safe.’

Sudha Singh, The Purpose Room
Main challenges of 2021?
‘The world has changed and like everyone else comms practitioners have had to adapt to the fast-changing world. I think the biggest challenge has been to understand how best we can serve our clients’ needs, help them to stay authentic and relevant. The other big challenge was providing adequate support to the disparate (and ever evolving) needs of team members and employees.’

Comms winners this year?
‘Brands that were true to their core purpose and were authentic were the winners – Zoom, IKEA, UK Gov Comms (…not politicians), Deliveroo, football campaign against racism, Raheem Sterling’s campaign, and the Aldi Free Cuthbert campaign.’

Gavin Devine, Park Street Partners
Main challenges of 2021?
‘Maintaining focus has been really difficult in 2021. The year has been a rollercoaster of lockdowns and normality, international travel being impossible and then opening up, office working prohibited, frowned upon and then encouraged. It hasn’t always been easy to know how in practice to deliver for clients and to keep colleagues motivated and positive. These challenges are not unique to comms but we perhaps feel them particularly acutely because often we have been called in to help clients shape and communicate their responses to COVID-19. Entering more of a ‘steady state’ of near-normality in the last couple of months has been an enormous relief.’

Comms winners this year?
‘I can think of so many individuals and organisations who had a bad year in terms of comms in 2021. There were few real winners, although it would be hard to argue that Kate Bingham and Nadhim Zahawi didn’t have a great year in terms of their personal ‘brands’.’

Emmanuel Ofosu-Appiah, Mercer
Main challenges of 2021?
‘One clear challenge has been constant news flow and sheer amount of change since the pandemic hit. This has made it harder for clients and stakeholders stories to penetrate into the mainstream. PRs really need to think about what they are sharing externally and what key messages they want to get across. There has also been a shift with organisations focusing more on ESG and sustainability issues which has required practitioners to think outside of the box to get their stories heard.’

Comms winners this year?
‘I was blow away by the FIFA and EA Sports campaign for The Kiyan Prince Foundation and QPR. It was a genius creative idea from Engine Group with such a strong and moving message following such an unfortunate incident. I know many young people will be inspired by the campaign.’

Anne Gregory, University of Huddersfield
Main challenges of 2021?
‘Resilience and stamina, given the relentless nature of the on-going crisis. Working remotely – the watercooler moments are so important to ‘temperature check’ the organisation, particularly what is happening internally. Major flop to digital/online working. Educating senior managers on how to be really competent in genuine communication and not talking in soundbites.’

Comms winners this year?
‘Pfizer, Unilever and health scientists!’

Tolu Rachel Akisanya, Ariatu PR
Main challenges of 2021?
‘Not just this year, but for several years now, is the industry has struggled with the ability – or lack of – to switch off. This has always been an issue, however with the pandemic and working from home, it’s been harder to separate work life and personal life. Especially when both happen in the same room now (my front room is both my office space and leisure space). Additionally, with the growth of new social media platforms and media outlets, it means we’re constantly consuming media, even in our downtime, which often means we never really ever switching off. Whether we consciously or subconsciously realise it, we’re always looking for the next opportunity or connecting with a new contact online or horizon scanning – it can sometimes be information overload.

‘However, this has led to a positive movement and we’ve seen the wider industry acknowledge this issue and work towards raising awareness, providing support and resources, and creating more open and wider discussions about how to improve the mental health and well-being of PR practitioners.’

Comms winners this year?
‘I’ve really enjoyed seeing the work Ariatu PR has done with podcasts, such as Broccoli Content and Coiled. In a market that is oversaturated, being able to ‘cut through the noise’ and deliver impactful campaigns, generate coverage (in the likes of the Financial Times and Stylist magazine) to raise awareness and lead to listeners, for shows that are not celebrity led, has been incredible.’

Stuart Thomson, BDB Pitmans
Main challenges of 2021?
‘In public affairs, we have had to put up with seemingly continuous outrage caused by the behaviour of some serving and former Parliamentarians and their lobbying activities. It has done little to help the reputation of politics or public affairs. The CIPR and PRCA have been very firm in their condemnation of the activities but sadly such behaviour damages us all.

‘A large part of public affairs is the development of relationships and, however good online activity is, there is nothing to really replace face-to-face interaction. The extended lockdown at the start of the year and now worries about another wave has curtailed that. We really do need to get back to normal in-person political activity.’

Comms winners this year?
‘The Beatles. The brand of a band that ceased to exist before even I was born continues to astound. The release of Peter Jackson’s Beatles documentary Get Back has been trailed and tantalised for more than a year building up on the anticipation of its release on Disney+. A great piece of communications.’

Read predictions for the trends PR and comms professionals can expect in 2022 here and start your campaign planning with Vuelio’s media, PR, public affairs and political services – find out more here.

Trends in PR and communications for 2022

10 PR and Communications Trends For 2022

2022 has certainly been… a year. At the start, hopes were high for an easing of the setbacks caused by the pandemic and that the lessons we’d all learned would help us evolve our purpose and ways of working. Did this happen?

In some ways, yes. And despite the challenges we’re all still working through, we can do even better as an industry in 2022.

Here are predictions from nine public relations, communications, marketing and public affairs experts on what the big trends to plan and prepare for will be for the year ahead.

1) Sustainability and purpose
‘It feels to me like purpose is becoming more and more important for organisations, and communicating it is a really important task. A big plank of that is of course sustainability but we have been talking about the environment for years; a big growth area in terms of messaging is likely to be fairness and social inclusion. Particularly in a time of inflation and with the UK Government still trying to define what it means by ‘levelling up’, being able to talk about the impact of clients on less advantaged areas is going to be more important than ever.’
Gavin Devine, Park Street Partners

2) Inclusion
‘There has been an increased focus on diversity and inclusion within the industry with many new initiatives launched. As a Board Member of the PRCA’s Race and Ethnicity Equity Board I am keen to see how firms continue to push for greater equality within our industry. It is important to see leaders from diverse backgrounds and we just do not have enough within the PR industry. A key challenge will be moving from talking about increasing diversity to now making it a reality at more senior levels.’
Emmanuel Ofosu-Appiah, Mercer

4) Net Zero
‘We have hundreds of businesses who are signed up to science-based targets… but there are hundreds who haven’t.
‘We can’t just do this in 2029 when it’s too late – this needs accumulative reduction.’
Luke Herbert, The Climate Group

5) AI + human effort
‘AI will transform the tactical, ‘doing’ bit of our work even more, leaving space for us to be more strategic… are we up to it? We need to regulate the social media platforms and ourselves – the basic business model that drives the social media algorithms needs changing. We have to do something about the polarisation in society. The ESG agenda will become more pressing, too.’
Anne Gregory, University of Huddersfield

3) Hybrid working (for good and bad)
‘Finding, keeping and training more junior colleagues looks set to be a major issue in 2022 and beyond. Working from home and even hybrid working is great for people with comfortable home offices and at a more settled stage of their careers; it is self-evidently less so for those at the start of their careers. And honing your skills is so much less easy if you and your senior colleagues are not in the office every day. At the same time, the pandemic has led many people to question their career choices and think about alternatives. All of this means we are likely to see a shortage of high-quality people with a few years’ experience. That will fuel a race for talent; retention will be an issue.

‘One way that this will manifest itself may well be in pressure on pay. This will be part of an economy-wide challenge, the like of which we haven’t seen for years: inflation. Life is about to become more expensive and this will be true for comms agencies as much as it is for anyone else. We will also have to think of new messages for our clients to use in the media and with stakeholders about why prices are going up.’
Gavin Devine

6) Personal development, with healthy boundaries
‘Working practices and client expectations have changed throughout the pandemic, in part through people working from home, and it seems to have exacerbated the ‘always on’ culture we’ve been trying to move away from. The biggest challenge for the year ahead will be managing this and re-establishing boundaries so the workplace is a happy and healthy one.

‘PR practitioners can help businesses deliver their objectives in terms of articulating purpose, managing change and communicating with stakeholders. With the right skillset, there are plenty of opportunities to be had but personal development is crucial to success.’
Sarah Waddington, Astute.Work and #FuturePRoof

7) Flexibility to new working models
‘Both a challenge and opportunity for the industry will be how we continue to adapt and evolve new working models. A lot has changed in just two years, new social media platforms, media outlets, key stakeholders, and influencers are developing at a rapid pace, the industry is constantly learning, paired with the pandemic and working from home, stricter/looser social distancing restrictions (depending on what the Government feels like that week), we have successfully made it work to our benefit and for our clients. I think we must embrace this and try not to rush or force employees to return back into the office and rigid working conditions. What the last few years have proven is that we as PR practitioners are resourceful and creative. We must continue to adapt and be flexible.’
Tolu Rachel Akisanya, Ariatu PR

8) Realistic risk management
‘We need to be realistic about the economic situation and the potential for growth.  It is likely to be a challenging year and if growth isn’t as high as hoped then that could affect the spending available to government.  The implications would be enormous.

‘Government will want to continue to be interventionist and any organisation that simply leaves them to it is playing a very dangerous game. Engagement with government should focus on the development of trusted relationships, which needs to be built over time.  For those that choose not to invest in their engagement there could be a lot of emergency public affairs required.  Aside from the obvious failure to manage risk, the success of that approach is much more variable and more expensive.’
Stuart Thomson, BDB Pitmans

9) New metrics and measurements
‘One of the big challenges for measurement is the starting point of any campaign – do we have clear measurable business objectives; do we have data on the starting point or audience insights? In the last year we have definitely moved from impressions/clicks and likes to measuring engagement and that is going to be the direction of travel.’
Sudha Singh, The Purpose Room

10) Listening
‘You can involve everyone in the process of D&I. I’ve learned about navigating my own space, my own bias and what I bring. And really listening. Taking that time to stop my voice and hearing what people are feeling.’
Asad Dhunna, The Unmistakables

Want more from the above thought leaders sharing their predictions?

accessmatters with Asad Dhunna from The Unmistakables

Interview with Sudha Singh and Mark Webb on fairer representations of disability in PR

BDB Pitmans’ Stuart Thomson on public affairs in 2021

The Climate Group’s Luke Herbert on the New Statesman panel Making Sense of Net Zero 

Emmanuel Ofosu-Appiah on PRCA’s Race & Ethnicity Equity Board

Alex Silver

PR Interview: Alex Silver, director of Alex Silver PR

Moving from a career as a Junior Sister in the Casualty Ward to beauty PR extraordinaire probably isn’t the most common way of getting into comms, but it’s led to 25 years of industry success for Alex Silver and her beauty, celebrity and digital agency Alex Silver PR.

Having started her business from her kitchen table, Alex has been at the forefront of many star-studded events, red carpet moments and headline campaigns over the years. Alongside a passion for building start up brands into household names, Alex also happens to be the publicist for some well-known and long-established clients (including Dame Joan Collins, no less).

Read on for the lessons she’s learned on building strong relationships with the media, why inclusivity is so important for success, and what to do if your client hasn’t been behaving quite as they should…

What are the main lessons you’ve learned through your career?
Always have a plan B! Things can change with the drop of a hat so having a backup option and being able to think on your feet is essential in PR.

It’s not a done deal until the papers are signed – contracts and agreements can still fall through, even at the last stages of negotiations.

Credibility is everything – bringing credible experts to a campaign is like gold dust.

Don’t skip the venue recce. Even if you’ve been recommended a venue by a reputable source, I always recommend popping down to map out your event – you don’t want any nasty surprises on the big day.

How do you think the pandemic has changed comms, and are the changes here to stay?
Well, we’ve certainly all mastered the art of zoom-events, but joking aside, I believe the pandemic has helped shape a modern communication approach in many ways. Many companies (including press houses) are still testing the water when it comes to their new hybrid working arrangements, and I don’t think we’ll fully see the outcome of this until the dust from the pandemic settles.

In the meantime, communications should accommodate both in-person and online arrangements across meetings, events, launches, briefings and so on. Journalist contacts have shared that they enjoy online events as they don’t lose precious time travelling to/from venues and a recent influencer poll that we ran showed a 50/50 split in their popularity.

Celebrities are being increasingly held to account for bad behaviour/outdated views – what approach would you take with a high-profile client that runs into trouble with this?
Crisis management is at the core of many PR campaigns, whether you’re working with a celebrity or not. The art of addressing issues in a sensitive, effective and timely manner is an art that takes a carefully thought-out strategy.

It’s a case-by-case issue but sometimes it’s simply best to hold up your hands and apologise. Education and information on the topic at hand is key here – why has this caused upset and how can the talent become informed on this so that this doesn’t happen in the future.

Which high-profile celebrities/politicians/brands do you feel have really great PR teams (apart from your own clients, of course!)?
People change teams often and can make a blunder at any point so it’s hard to say, however I did see something recently that I was impressed by! At the end of October, Chief Exec and Founder of Spanx surprised employees with two first-class plane ticket and $10,000 each to celebrate the company’s $1.2billion deal with Blackstone. The announcement was filmed live on Instagram and showed employees crying with happiness. The news was quickly shared around the word on national news sites such as The Independent, Good Morning America, MSN and the New York Post. I think this was a very clever, effective, and of course, generous communication strategy. It certainly grabbed the headlines!

Which campaigns have you seen from big brands that have made you think ‘I wish I’d worked on that’?
I really loved the recent Dove Self Esteem Project. The campaign aimed to bring light to young people’s self esteem and help to raise awareness of the pressures that social media puts on developing minds. With a 15-year-old daughter, this really resonated with me and I’d loved to have been part of this campaign with Dove’s aim to have helped a quarter of a billion young people with educational courses by 2030.

Over your time in the industry, how have things improved for women practitioners?
Working within the beauty sector, the industry is saturated with women so, luckily, I haven’t felt being female ever held me back. I understand this is a big contrast to other sectors and that while some areas have drastically improved, there is still a lot to be done in order to close the gender equality gap.

What more needs to be done to make the industry more inclusive and welcoming, on gender, race and class?
An inclusive workplace culture is essential for a strong workforce of empowered employees. It needs to come from the top and I think the more people in power address these issues, speaking about them openly, the bigger changes we’re going to see. There’s so much that can and needs to be done. Everything from integrating inclusivity into core company values to building trust by encouraging a culture of frequent check-ins and creating safe spaces. There are small changes that everyone can do, no matter their company structure, and I think smaller companies need to incorporate this as much as larger ones.

How do you maintain good relationships with journalists?
Do your research! Journo friends often share frustrations at being pitched stories and items that would never fit within their column space. Keep up-to date with what your target journos are writing so that you can make your communications relevant and targeted. Building relationships is a hard balance in today’s climate; journalists are under more pressure and time constraints than ever. A catch up over zoom/coffee, carefully curated pitches and developing events/mailers that will attract attention, all go a long way.

It can be hard for people in PR to keep a healthy work/life balance – how do you manage this (If you do…)?
While there’s definitely a work-hard, play-hard culture in PR, I think it’s about striking balance in all areas of your life. I like to get up earlier in the week so that I can have a bit of ‘me’ time, I’ll kick off with a run around Primrose Hill with my puppy Bella or a yoga session. In the evenings you’ll either find me catching up with a friend over a cocktail (or two) or unwinding with my latest book in an aromatherapy bath. My advice? Find what works for you and block out that time for yourself!

What do you think the big trends will be for comms and PR in 2022?
Honesty, transparency and sustainability. Gone are the days when we printed out press releases and posted them out in thick paper packages! Journalists, influencers and celebrities are rightly conscious of the packaging brands are using. It’s the PR’s job to advise on the most sustainable, eco-friendly ways of gifting and sampling products. This is a theme I expect to see become even more prevalent in 2022 with brands delivering what consumers are striving for – products which don’t harm the planet in their making. Online sharing of files and information is here to stay. In the same vein, while gifting can be a super effective way of communicating new launches, USPs and brand values, items should be considered, useful and something that the receiver will actually want or use. We’re increasingly seeing brands choose to give a charitable donation in the receiver’s name and I think this is another trend which might grow in popularity next year.

Authenticity is also a big theme in beauty. Consumers are highly informed on ingredients, ethos and social purpose. PR communications need to be carefully structured to authentically convey what the business stands for. I believe this movement for transparency, equality and positivity will continue to snowball in 2022. Good PR teams will set out guidelines and continue to learn, grow and adapt as the year progresses.

Monitor how your brand or clients are faring in the media with Vuelio Media Monitoring and get deeper analysis from our Insights team – find out more here.

5 tips for creating inclusive PR and communications campaigns

5 tips for creating inclusive campaigns

Our latest accessmatters session focused on inclusivity and featured Asad Dhunna, founder and CEO of The Unmistakables. Recognised as a marketing industry changemaker and thought leader, Asad shared his experiences as someone who ‘didn’t quite fit in’ and decided to help with creating spaces for everyone.

Here is just some of the advice Asad shared for bringing inclusion into organisations and campaigns to represent and engage every audience out there…

1) Make space to make change within your organisation
Asad spoke about the importance of ‘inside-out inclusion’ – ensuring your own team is inclusive will build inclusive-thinking into your work, right from the start. Even the upcoming Christmas party brings opportunities to think about making changes for the better:

‘In my team, we’ve been talking about the Christmas party – the organisation of that can rely on what we’ve done previously – but how and who will feel included?

‘Take the time to ask yourself and not rush. If an event is centred around alcohol, will everyone be comfortable, will people feel safe? Create some space to think about this – how do we do things differently now?’

2) Market to your leadership team, too
‘If leadership don’t see a problem with inclusion at your business, show and frame it in a way that will be in line with what they’re thinking about.

‘If you work for an agency – you need to win new business. More and more, clients want to know what businesses are doing about this. If you’re taking a stance, this will attract new clients.

‘If you’re selling, how do you reach more people? If it’s a charity, how do you reach more donors. There is always a link between the bottom line and D&I.’

3) Support your organisation with long-term thinking
‘In marketing, we get addicted to the dopamine of “we’ve done something!” But how do you make inclusion a strategic priority?

‘Do a vision-setting exercise – what are the metrics we’d use as part of that? The sceond thing is to set those metrics, what are the KPIs? Ask, when we work with boards, is this a recurring item?

‘Because the change takes time and we live in an attention-deficit world, we want everything tomorrow. But we need to celebrate the small wins – we’re getting there. That helps keep the energy up.’

4) Avoid tokenism by amplifying the right voices
‘One way to avoid tokenism in campaigns is to define what we mean by ‘representation’– representative, of what, of where? If you’re targeting a certain demographic, is what you’re doing representing them, or the people you’d like to buy the product. How do you bring those people into the process?

‘Ask yourself what kind of representation you’re striving for. Is everyone on the team aligned on that? How does casting sit with the brand and who you’re trying to reach?’

5) Tell authentic stories
‘I think sometimes in the campaign development process, people can get attached to trends, and the latest influencers. It’s crucial to strip it all back – what’s the story? Who is telling it, and do they have the right to tell it?’

‘A past HSBC campaign I was involved in centred on transgender and nonbinary people being able to change their account details. They weren’t the first bank to do this, but their campaign told the story of Stuart, the person training employees on this. We didn’t put lots of bells and whistles on it – some people were going to hate it, because they hate the issue, but others would really love it. That’s how you do the authentic bit – tell the story.’

Find out more about our accessmatters here and catch up on some you may have missed this year in our round-up of previous sessions with industry thought leaders including Manifest’s Julian Obubo, The Social Mobility Foundation’s Sarah Atkinson and Taylor Bennett Foundation’s Melissa Lawrence.

ICCO World PR Report

Global PR industry profit expectations are almost 50% higher than last year

The International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO)’s World PR Report for 2021 – 2022 shows expectations of high profitability for the industry as well as great positivity for the future.

Produced in partnership with Opinium, the trends, opportunities and ongoing issues highlighted in the report include the impact of the pandemic, mental health, technology, the decline of AVE as an important metric and the growing importance of reputation and CSR.

Key findings from the report include:

– 79% of practitioners cited the pandemic as having an impact on their agency’s client fee income over the last year
– Agency heads pinpoint corporate reputation, purpose, CSR, and strategic consulting as potential high growth trends over the upcoming five years
– Formal mental health and wellbeing support for staff is only offered by 48% of global firms
– While the industry continues to search for new and meaningful metrics to measure success, global AVE usage is on the decline
– The most important technology for PR organisations in the future is Artificial Intelligence, according to report respondents
– Retaining top talent is the biggest industry challenge, according to 52% of respondents
– PR leaders polled in North America, Eastern Europe and Africa had the highest levels of agreement on the difficulties in differentiating between fake news and accurate information

When it comes to recovery following the devastation of the ongoing pandemic, results revealed in the report are good. Expectations of future profitability are particularly high in the United Kingdom, North America and Asia-Pacific, with 95% of all respondents expecting an increase in client income – a rise of 50% from last year’s report. In terms of optimism for the growth of the public relations market, the global average among PR leaders was 7.3 in a 10-point scale.

Where this growth could be triggered, according to respondents responsible for making the big decisions across our industry – IT and technology, healthcare, and financial and professional services. Among these areas of opportunity, the online needs of clients are a main consideration – three of the top four areas PR firms are planning to invest in are digitally-focused (social media management, multimedia content creation and influencer communications).

‘The numbers within this year’s ICCO World PR Report show a resurgent industry, growing again, and having proved that its fundamentals were absolutely sound,’ said ICCO chief executive Francis Ingham. ‘They also show an industry that continues to have the best of both worlds -old school skills are still heavily in demand, but insight, corporate reputation management, and strategic counsel continue to power ahead.

‘Against the backdrop of such positive news, it is of course important to be realistic. Challenges of ethics, fake news, talent, mental health and diversity remain.

‘While our industry is recruiting again at scale, there will be practitioners reading this report who lost their job and who are yet to find a new one; agency owners and managers whose agencies didn’t make it; people who have been scared mentally by this period. But to them, I would say that I hope the picture painted here provides grounds for optimism about the future.’

Find more information about ICCO’s World PR Report, and download the findings, here on the PRCA website.

Planning for a successful 2022 in comms? Check out how Vuelio’s Insight and Stakeholder Management services can help you.

For more data on this year in PR, and what’s coming up in 2022, read our overview of the latest UK PR and Communications Census from the PRCA.

5 PR webinars and online events to catch up on

5 PR webinars and online events to catch up on

The popularity of webinars and online panels boomed during the early days of the pandemic, and they continue to be extra convenient for those who can’t, or just don’t want to, attend in-person meet-ups and events.

Is that you? Here are five super-useful webinars and online panels for PR and comms pros that are worth a revisit or first-time viewing if you missed them…

Building better relationships between PRs and journalists
While the public relations and journalism sectors rely on each other for the mutually beneficial exchange of information and coverage, it can be a very difficult relationship. Journo Resources’ Jem Collins, national press and freelance journalist Faima Bakar and Freelancing for Journalists’ Lily Canter and Emma Wilkinson offered advice on building useful connections with journos working across a variety of sectors – watch it here or read our summary.

Building better relationships between PRs and journalists

One Step Forward Two Steps Black
UK Black Comms Network partnered with Opinium to conduct the first ever report into the lived experiences, pay and promotion of Black comms professionals – this webinar revealing its findings featured insight and reaction from the network’s founder and CEO Kamiqua Pearce, Opinium Research’s Susan Bello, Black Woman in HR’s Adesse Okojie and Birchwood Knight’s Seri Davies. Sign up to watch it via the UK Black comms Network and check out some of the key findings here.

Statistics on Black communications professionals

Neuro PR: Strengthening the Brain and Brand Connection
Harvey & Hugo PR’s managing director and Leader of the Pack Charlotte Nichols led this webinar on creating lasting impressions on your audience by engaging their minds with neuroscience. No pHd in brain chemistry required – watch and see how you can fire up neuro pathways with your day-to-day PR activities here. You can also read our write-up on the Vuelio blog.

Neuro PR Vuelio webinar

Discovering TikTok and Pinterest data
TikTok and Pinterest – two very different social media platforms filled with useful insight on audience behaviours and preferences. Luckily, there’s one place where you can mine both –the team at our sister brand Pulsar shared analysis of datasets from studies covered by Vogue Business and Elle Décor to demonstrate how to get the most out of data analysis. Sign up to watch here.

Discovering Pinterest & TikTok data

Making Sense of Net Zero – Corporate rewards of being in the climate action driving seat
This New Statesman live event from September featured The Climate Group’s Communications Director Luke Herbert, JLL’s Global Chief Sustainability Officer Richard Batten and Vuelio’s Insights Lead Amy Parry speaking on the risks and rewards for comms and PR teams leading on environmental action. Not only is working towards net zero the right thing to do, it will also future-proof your business. Sign up to watch the full webinar or read our summary of the key points.

Net Zero New Statesman webinar

Find out more about Vuelio’s webinars here.

Ready for more knowledge-sharing? Check out these Vuelio accessmatters sessions covering disability in PR, how to be antiracist and supporting transgender and nonbinary colleagues in this round-up.

Net Zero New Statesman

The rewards of net zero

The relatively short break the climate got from harmful emissions during lockdowns across the world is over – the planning for net zero has to start now. That ‘E’ part of ESG planning – environment – is of even more importance for government, organisations and individuals worldwide as we get closer to November’s COP26.

Both corporate and consumer-focused businesses have big decisions to make on what their role will be on climate change – what are the potential risks, and rewards, of leading on environmental action?

The New Statesman panel ‘Making Sense of Net Zero – Corporate rewards of being in the climate action driving seat’ featured advice from contributors Luke Herbert, Communications Director for The Climate Group, JLL’s Global Chief Sustainability Officer Richard Batten and Vuelio’s Insights Lead Amy Parry on the considerations and consequences for decision makers tasked with making change – here are some of the key takeaways…

Revenues and rewards
JLL is a worldwide real estate organisation with what its Global Chief Sustainability Officer Richard Batten calls a ‘strange footprint’, yet the organisation has already made its 2040 net zero commitment.

‘If you’re thinking of going down this route, take small steps. You need to feel your way in – you have to get the data and analyse it. Start projecting what you can do, then you can start pushing the envelope. It’s a bit like peeling an onion – it takes time to understand your business.

‘There’s no doubt there are financial rewards to aiming for net zero, and it helps with the strategy of your business,’ added Luke Herbert, who works to drive change with The Climate Group.

‘Not long ago, we had Brexit, Trump and the start of COVID-19 hurting comms and PR team abilities to plan for the future – but now there’s a path; we have to go renewable in this decade. That gives a lot of clarity – you’re going to be pretty much future-proof if you do this. If you’re behind, you’re at risk of disturbance.’

‘If the financials are there, you will be able to influence your board members’.

Vuelio’s Insight Lead Amy Parry agreed on the rewards of net zero when it comes to positive influence – for all stakeholders.

‘For internal stakeholders, the rewards are in future proofing and knowing where to invest money. For consumers, it’s that feel-good factor – the more that consumers feel that they’re buying into something, that they’re doing good, it’s going to result in better sales. That’s really important… alongside the goals of climate action itself, of course.’

Reputation
ESG action (or in-action) is already impacting the reputations of companies worldwide and Amy had data for organisations who don’t yet have the right plans and promises in place:

‘Our media and insights team examined case studies around climate action and how that impacts government and organisations – we looked at banking, which is more traditional and institutional. Historically, it’s already seen negativity for supporting areas like coal financing. We also looked at a very different sector – meal delivery services in the UK; a very modern service that’s grown during the pandemic.

Read the Vuelio Insights case study Sustainability Initiatives and the Impact on Businesses.

‘We were surprised by some of the similarities in coverage for the two very different sectors. Around 23% of all banking mentions in the media were linked to sustainability – that’s tens of thousands of articles in a short time. 37% of meal service mentions were linked to those topics. Across both sectors, initiatives and coverage fell into two pools – sustainability as a vehicle for change and as a vehicle for business growth. The first lends itself more to the corporate side; abolition of pollution financing, for example. The second is aimed at consumers – green bonds and business loans. There are reputational opportunities in sustainability topics for both sides of business.

‘We found that organisations that made more press announcements through traditional press releases weren’t necessary getting more coverage, however. Sometimes, maybe, it’s possible to push the message too much. It’s action and delivery on promises that will work.’

The right thing to do
‘We have hundreds of businesses who are signed up to science-based targets… but there are hundreds who haven’t,’ said Luke.

‘We can’t just do this in 2029 when it’s too late – this needs accumulative reduction. Most of our conversations with businesses are constructive, but the challenge is those are that aren’t engaging with the issue.’

‘The biggest argument for working towards net zero, aside from reputation and revenue, is that we have to do it; the world has to do it, else we have a problem,’ said Richard.

‘We can’t tell our clients what to do. But we can make some decisions about which clients we want to work with going forward. Until then, we have to collaborate. If you’re already on top of your own business, you shouldn’t need too much persuading.’

For more insight on how policy impacts your business sector and for tracking your organisation’s own reputation, demo Vuelio’s Political Monitoring and Media Analysis services.

Further information on research from the Vuelio Insights team mentioned during this session can be found in the Vuelio case study Sustainability Initiatives and the Impact on Businesses.  

Christmas in September - Journalist Enquiry Service

Christmas in September: what journalists are requesting for the festive season

While it can feel like the Christmas season comes earlier every year, journalists are already busy putting their festive features for Xmas 2021 together (and it’s not even Halloween yet).

During August, the helpful elves (media researchers) on the ResponseSource Journalist Enquiry Service team received around 150 requests with a mention of the word ‘Christmas’, with the majority focusing on ‘gift guides’, some looking for generic Christmassy stories and case studies, and a handful asking for help with advent calendars, food and drink and competition prizes.

It’s shaping up to get even busier during September – if you haven’t used the service before, book a demo here. In the meantime, here are a taster of themes we’re seeing so far from titles including Pick Me Up!, the Daily Mail, Good Housekeeping, PlantBased and more – could you help the media with any of these topics?

What to put under the tree
– Gifts you can find in garden centres – ornaments, crystals, candles, plant pots
– Prezzies for your pets
– Eco- and vegan-friendly beauty, food and drink
– Books of all genres
– Sustainable or handmade decorations, tableware and craft kits
– Geek-worthy gamer and streamer tech
– Educational stocking stuffers for children
– Slick skateboards for review

Ways to get in the Christmas mood
– Juicy Christmas-related stories involving relationship woes, quirky health anecdotes and love rats (these are not just for Christmas, of course)
– Food, sock, pet, beauty, alcohol and, of course, chocolate advent calendars
– Santa grottos worth a visit this year
– Chutney recipes to pair with wine
– Ethical and sustainable or personalised loungewear for Christmas chill time
– Festively-filled sandwiches for review

Spokespeople or expert commentary*
– Commentary on the pet gifting industry
– Interviews with women who’ll be working over the Christmas
– Business details and stories from black-owned hamper brands
– Uplifting stories from women who’ve experienced something inspiring over the course of the pandemic and would like to share
– Real-life Christmas community stories
– Advice for how to bring Christmas cheer back to events after the UK’s lockdowns
– How to stay calm when things get stressful with the family
– Comment on how the HGV driver shortage and shipping costs could impact Christmas shopping options this year

Could you help with filling up these Christmas features this year? Try out the Journalist Enquiry Service to have enquiries from journalists looking for help delivered straight to your inbox – no sleigh or reindeer set up needed.

*Father Christmas is not available for comment this time of year – very busy

Want to know how to make the most of the ResponseSource Journalist Enquiry Service? Read our tips for responding to journalists.

AMEC logo

Vuelio joins AMEC

The measurement and analysis of communications data is vital for understanding the strength and impact of PR and determining future plans for campaigns and the direction of business, which is why Vuelio is proud to join AMEC as a Full Member.

The International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) is the leading international professional body for media intelligence and insights, and a renowned mark of excellence with a 25-year record of representing specialists in media evaluation and communications research. Vuelio joins AMEC’s membership of over 200 organisations and 1,000 professionals, which spans more than 86 countries worldwide.

AMEC’s ongoing international education outreach, strategic partnerships with associations including PRSA and ICCO, and the sharing of industry-wide best practice includes its ‘Say No to AVEs’ campaign, which advocates a move away from the use of Advertising Value Equivalent (AVEs) in PR and communications work. This commitment to fairer and more accurate measurement within the industry is something Vuelio supports and bolsters with Vuelio Insights, which uses a mix of qualitive metrics, enriched data monitoring and tailored reporting for strategic recommendations.

‘Evaluating key comms activity accurately – making judgements on which parts of your business and strategy are working effectively – is complicated. Gone are the days of meaningless AVEs and vanity metrics; forward-thinking organisations demand communications measurement that directly impact business goals and moves the dial forward’ says Vuelio Insights lead Amy Parry.

‘As advocates for strategic planning based on true performance and actionable insights, we’re truly delighted to be members of a community dedicated to valuable and data-driven research and evaluation.’

AMEC global managing director Johna Burke says: ‘We are delighted to welcome Vuelio into the AMEC Member Community. The team’s expertise and enthusiasm will enrich the discussions and make us all the better as we tackle the challenges of measurement and evaluation of communication.’

For more on Vuelio’s media monitoring and analysis solutions, click here to book a demo/consultation with the Insights team.

Do your customers care about your political affiliations?

Do your customers care about your political affiliations?

While your product in the hand of the right person can do great things for your brand, the grasp of someone you’d rather not be affiliated with can do great harm. In a time where ethics are demanded of companies just as much as they are of our politicians, is the combination of business and politics a good idea?

Whether political affiliations are welcomed or not, it’s very likely to happen at some point in the lifespan of a big brand. Remember ‘Milkshaking’? Since its inception in May 2019, throwing food and drink stuffs to make a political point has earned its own entry on Wikipedia as well as lots of laughs over social media, and it’s now unavoidably connected with particular makers of milkshake. As a police request to McDonald’s to stop selling the drinks during Nigel Farage’s visit to Scotland that year went viral on Twitter, Burger King countered with a reminder tweet to their Scottish fans that milkshakes would be sold in their stores all weekend.

The reaction towards each of the fast-food giants in relation to the Milkshaking phenomenon was very different. While the signage in McDonald’s was met with ‘urine it is, then’ joke tweets from the public, Burger King’s tweet was branded ‘irresponsible’ by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) and criticised by political figures including Tony Blair. It had also, however, cannily positioned Burger King as politically engaged with the younger portion of its consumer base… and, very importantly, as a restaurant reliably stocked with milkshakes.

Reactions to political movements, campaigns and protest have the potential to lock consumer loyalties in, but we see it go wrong regularly, too. In the US in the 70s, there was the gay community’s boycott of orange juice in reaction to the homophobic stance of Anita Bryant, a figurehead for the Florida Citrus Commission. At the time, Bryant herself claimed that ‘sales are up 15 percent over last year’ due to retaliation from the ‘mothers of America’, but the commission’s PR spokesperson called for her resignation, and the impact of the boycott was felt for years (it also inspired some fantastic OJ-alternative Screwdriver cocktails).

Fast-forward to 2019, and a US brand looking to make a new home in the UK, Chick-Fil-A, was rejected by its new target consumer base due to its political affiliations. The Oracle shopping centre in Reading announced the closure of Chick-Fil-A’s first UK-based branch eight days after its debut following media outrage over the restaurant’s history of donating to anti-LGBTQ organisations, calling it ‘the right thing to do’.

The Chick-Fil-A brand is unavoidably entangled in right-wing politics to this day – as of July this year, Senate member Lindsey Graham even vowed to ‘go to war’ for the chicken restaurant as University of Notre Dame students protested the opening of a branch on their campus. Whether support from those who vote Graham’s way will bring good fortune to the brand, or further protests will cause a dent in its profits, it will be useful to note for brands who have not yet had to tackle unplanned-for political connections.

Just as brands hop on political bandwagons to make their ethics clear to consumers, politicians have been quick to align themselves with certain products to tap into new bases, too. Brands don’t get a choice in this; so is it better to accept it or distance from it? Fred Perry famously backed themselves away from the Proud Boys, and Nintendo updated its guidelines following the pull of Animal Crossing New Horizon’s into the US presidential race with a request to ‘please refrain from bringing politics into the game’ in November of last year.

One thing brands can’t do is ignore their connection to politics when it happens – in 2018, 64% of consumers chose to avoid or boycott brands if their stance on societal issues didn’t match their own, and there’s no doubt that number will be much higher following the last 18 months or so of increased accountability, questioning of big business and ethical consumer decisions.

If your brand becomes connected to a political moment and you’re preparing to lean in closer or break away, ask yourself first – will your customers, and future customers, want to be aligned with you?

Read more about finding the right connections for your brand in our previous piece on picking the right ambassadors and taking an ethical stance.

And make sure your PR strategy is aligned with your public affairs to understand the whole issue. Vuelio provides both in its platform.

Develop your relationships with stakeholders, regulators and government agencies using Vuelio Stakeholder Management.

Inclusion in public relations

Fairer representations of disability in PR: starting the conversation with Mark Webb and Sudha Singh

‘It feels like disability is last to the table at any diversity discussion. If it gets there at all. And yet we’re the biggest minority’ – as the host of the PRCA’s new podcast [email protected], Mark Webb is making sure hidden and visible disability is part of the inclusion discussions happening across the industry.

Launched as part of the PRCA’s recently-rebranded Equity & Inclusion Advisory Council’s new initiatives, [email protected] shares stories and best practice advice to push conversations forward. ‘It’s some peoples’ calling to chain themselves to railings to drive change. And there’s a definite place for that, but I’m hoping to help push the story from another angle,’ says Mark. ‘A happy, positive, “look what you’re missing” tone.’

Including everyone at the table
That PR and comms so often misses out consideration and representation of disability is a severe failing – not just of the audiences we seek to address and engage, but of our workforce and its future. As quoted in this 2016 piece from Ashley Phillips, PRCA’s UK PR Census that year found that just 2% of the 83,000 practitioners working in PR were disabled people. This isn’t representative of society at large and can be incredibly isolating, as InFusion Comms’ founder and managing director Sara Hawthorn shared in an accessmatters session last year about her own experiences as a deaf person in the industry:

‘I worked in the media on and off since I was 17. There was a point before starting InFusion Comms where I had never come across another media or PR professional with a disability or impairment at all, and I’d never spoken to anyone else in the industry who was going through anything similar. I thought; this must be something missing from our organisations. Who’s missing?’

While visibility is slowly increasing in some areas of the media – Channel 4 has promised that disabled people will make up at least 70% of its presenting team for the Paralympics this year (‘lovely,’ says Mark, ‘big, positive gestures can only help nudge the diversity and disability dials’) – there’s far to go.

‘Things are getting better’, says Mark. ‘But way too slowly.’

Authenticity over tokenism
‘The comms industry can only speak from a position of knowledge and authenticity if we stop being tokenistic and become more intentional about our journey to equity and inclusion,’ believes Sudha Singh, co-chair of the PRCA Equity & Inclusion Advisory Council (EIAC).

Rebranded this year, the EIAC’s new name reflects its new, more inclusive, purpose: ‘For the longest time, organisations have been focusing on diversity as a way to correct institutional and historic inequalities,’ says Sudha. ‘Referring to people as diverse actually “others” those who don’t belong to the dominant group/privileged groups. We deliberated on the name change – it now reflects our purpose – who we are and what we are trying to do.

‘We want organisations to focus on the equity inspired designs for bringing about that change – to create equitable workplaces where talented people can thrive, no matter where they come from, what they look like. And this will require organisations to actually identify the problem areas and it is not helpful if you are determined to treat everyone equally. Inclusion of course is an outcome and has diversity at its core – do people feel valued, can they bring their true self to work? What is their experience of the workplace? Do they belong?’

Initiatives and progress
The work to ensure everyone can belong within our industry is well underway – the EIAC recently hosted its first ever #ChangeforGood Conference, supported by APCO, with over 20 speakers covering Gender, Social Mobility, Race and Disability, with more initiatives and partnerships to follow.

For Mark, the [email protected] podcast will be leading the charge:

‘Dream guests that won’t happen? Michael J Fox, the Back to the Future legend, now with Parkinson’s and doing amazing advocacy and fundraising work. And – showing my age, here – Gloria Estefan. I worked with her briefly in the early 90s, just as my Multiple Sclerosis was about to start sneaking up on me. Her family has been impacted by MS too. Both great communicators!

‘Aiming high but vaguely feasible? The likes of Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, Rory Cellan-Jones, Frank Gardner. All of them living a good, positive, public eye life and not defined by their disability.

Booked in already? Talented, brilliant communicators and PR people either living with, or impacted by disability… And I’m hoping I can tease out others.’

While big brands are doing their own long-overdue work on inclusivity, it has to be done properly, something Mark acknowledges is likely to be difficult going for some:

‘It’s a horribly fine line for any brand to be treading,’ says Mark. ‘It’s a strange kind of gold-rush going on in the desperate bid to be inclusive, “politically correct” and all too often, tick-box. I will single out Lego positively, for their work across pretty much all flavours of diversity. And I dine out on stories of how brilliant the senior team at Dixons Retail, then Dixons Carphone, were with me. But listen to our podcasts for that!’

The first thing organisations can do to be more inclusive of disability within their teams, their campaigns and their creative? Join the conversation that’s happening now. ‘Consult with us, engage with us’, says Mark. ‘Don’t just assume job done by slapping a wheelchair into something you’re up to.’

Find out more about the [email protected] podcast and more PRCA Equity & Inclusion Advisory Council initiatives here.

For more experiences from people working across the comms industry, catch up with our accessmatters sessions.

Choosing the right brand ambassador

Seeking: the right brand ambassador for long-term engagement

Is there a public figure you just can’t stand? Or a celebrity you’ll go and see in anything, even if it’s likely to be terrible? Are you more likely to give a new product a go if it’s introduced to you by a face you know and trust?

Parasocial relationships – ‘that feeling of closeness and authenticity’ you can build with a person you don’t even know, as YouTuber: How YouTube shook up TV and created a new generation of stars author Chris Stokel-Walker put it – are a powerful part of modern-day brand awareness and engagement. There’s no escaping its influence if you engage in media of almost any type.

Type ‘George Clooney coffee’ into Google, for example, and you’ll find that People Also Ask ‘Does George Clooney own Nespresso?’, ‘How much does George Clooney get paid for Nespresso?’ and ‘Why does George Clooney do Nespresso?’. No, he doesn’t own Nespresso, but we associate him with the brand closely since he began working with them in 2006, and he is said to have earned over $40million from a recent campaign. Why? Because brand partnerships can pay off, for everybody involved.

The financial pay-off for brands, and their ambassadors, is undeniable – ‘parasocial interaction mediates the relationship between celebrity images and purchase intentions […] It has significant implications for marketers and academicians,’ reads a study from the University Business School in India from May. ‘Status affect[s] the strength of parasocial relationships, source credibility, and evaluation,’ finds a report published in the International Journal of Advertising earlier this year.

For which brands are making smart choices for their ambassadors – and potential subjects of parasocial engagement – right now, you need only watch the adverts between shows on TV/before YouTube videos/in pop-ups. We’re mid-Olympics 2020, and Dina Asher-Smith is busy creating with Muller. Lynx has teamed up with boxer Anthony Joshua, YouTubers Calfreezy and Chunkz, and rapper Aitch. Tapping into niches, subcultures and fandoms can also attract consumers to a brand – Subway is acknowledging its passionate-about-plant-based clients by teaming up with vegan Grime artists, and Star Wars’ Adam Driver is doing brand ambassador duty in a new campaign for Burberry Hero.

The consumer, the follower – those watching and engaging – can benefit from brand ambassadorship, too. It’s the consumers’ choice, after all, whether or not to engage in a one-sided, fully-voluntary parasocial entanglement with Tom Hiddleston over breakfast – plenty of consumers were happy to be the recipient of a plate and a Centrum from his hand, just as others suddenly weren’t very hungry, actually.

Studies show that parasocial engagements like these provide feelings of companionship, as well as ‘affection, gratitude, longing, encouragement, and loyalty’. It’s that careful back-and-forth that makes ambassadorship so powerful for building long-term relationships with a customer and a reliable, resilient consumer base.

Understanding which media personalities would be most likely to engage an intended audience, and keep on message authentically, was a key part of Zero Waste Scotland’s Scotland is Stunning – Let’s Keep It That Way award-winning campaign of last year. ‘Influencers were essential to this campaign, in particular for the under-25 audience,’ said communications programme manager for the campaign Claire Munro. ‘We wouldn’t have been able to reach them as directly or persuasively via traditional media channels, stakeholder channels or traditional toolkit. They gave the campaign real pop.’

‘When deciding on an ambassador for your brand, look at who their audience is and what kind of content they use,’ says Claire. ‘Does that marry up with your values and your objectives?’

It’s an important question to ask, as ‘authentic’ personalities, and the choices they make, can cause real problems. There are plenty of examples where brands and ambassadors didn’t make for ideal mixes. While Scarlett Johansson claimed to have ‘no regrets’ over her decision to work with SodaStream (a company headquartered in Israel with a factory on the West Bank) in 2014, the Hollywood actress stepped down from her ambassador position with Oxfam following its criticism of her affiliation with the drinks brand. Popular YouTuber Shane Dawson, who had found success across a range of mediums and with many brands, over many years, was swiftly dropped by both Target and Morphe after controversy surrounding his older videos resurfaced.

‘It’s important that PR people fully appreciate who they’re representing, their personality and what is a good or bad endorsement for them,’ says Stokel-Walker. ‘An influencer’s stock in trade is their authenticity, but any bad decision an influencer makes to support or endorse a product will be picked up on very quickly.’

Want to start your own meaningful relationships with perfect brand ambassadors and a loyal – perhaps parasocially-tinged – customer base? Make sure you pick the right people, that share your purpose, aims, ethics, moral outlook and your brands’ plans for the future. After all, it could be the start of a long and meaningful relationship, to everyone’s benefit.

For more on influencer culture, read our feature on Chris Stokel-Walker’s YouTubers: How YouTube shook up TV and created a new generation of stars. Find out more about choosing the right brand ambassador for your campaign with our interview on Zero Waste Scotland’s campaign ‘Scotland is Stunning – Let’s Keep It That Way’

Understand how your PR compares to the competition and prove ROI with Vuelio Media Monitoring.

 

Freedom Day in the UK

Freedom or Freedumb Day: how the media and the public reacted to 19 July

Have you embraced the increased flexibility post-Freedom Day in the UK, or were you more skeptical of the Government’s decision to relax COVID-19 restrictions on 19 July?

Freedom Day has been a busy conversation across both traditional and social media. Here we take a look at the reaction from the public across social platforms including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and what topics the media focused on with data from Vuelio and Pulsar from Saturday 17 July (two days before ‘Freedom Day’) to Friday 23 July.

Did the UK see Freedom Day as a shining beacon for #freedom, or a darker display of #Freedumb?

#FreedomDay versus #Freedumb
Away from each of our carefully curated online echo chambers, what were the most popular hashtags leading up to, and just after, Freedom Day? Unsurprisingly, the #freedomday hashtag was being used a lot, followed by the more critical tags of #freedumbday, #novaccinepass and even #johnsonvariant.Freedom Day hashtags

However, the biggest engagements went to posts offering competition prizes – always a draw, whichever way you lean politically – as brands jumped on the exposure opportunity for travel and holiday giveaways. Also drawing big online engagement – a cautiously optimistic tweet from digital channel Dave and a just-plain-cautious tweet from Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on COVID cases numbers.

What were we planning to do with our freedom?
For the places we were most looking forward to returning to – or most tentative about – it was Nightclubs (26.8%) and Retail (13.4%) that took up most of the conversation across social media channels.

Perhaps surprisingly, international travel wasn’t a chief concern (maybe the UK heatwave helped), with Airports being only 1.2% of the location conversation. However, potential holidays were more interesting to post about than fitness, with Gym talk taking up just 1.1% of the posting on social media.

School was a chief concern for many (10.2%) as well as the office/working from home (12.8%). How we’d travel to these newly-opened locations was also on our minds; 7.6% of the social media conversation was taken up with Public Transport.

Location conversation on social media from Pulsar

Did the media predict which locations we’d be most concerned about? Largely, yes – Vuelio data shows Nightclubs as the location most written about (21%) regarding Freedom Day, while Retail only got 8% of write ups. Almost taking up another fifth of media content, however, was returns to the office/WFH. Did the media overestimate how much the public would be concerned about work? Or would people just rather not think about it when on social media?

Media coverage of locations from Vuelio

Most influential?
When it came to sharing links and information across social media, The Guardian was the most popular news outlet according to Pulsar data. It was followed by the Mirror, the FT, the Telegraph, the Independent and the BBC (its placing in this list is surprising, given the size of the broadcaster).

Pulsar articles being shared

While these were the most shared outlets, we know from the Vuelio data that they were not the most prolific in their coverage. That title goes to MSN UK closely followed by MailOnline, each publishing over 30 articles about Freedom Day. We can also see a large number of local sites in this list, many of which carry syndicated news based on popular topics.

Vuelio volume of articles

Which political figures were being talked about?
The orchestrator/announcer of ‘Freedom Day’, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was also the politician with the most mentions across social media – well over half (69.3%) of social media posts talking politics were focused on him. Second most popular was health secretary Sajid Javid – who was recently diagnosed with COVID-19 himself – with just under a quarter of the politician conversation online. Taking a much smaller bite of the attention apple were Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (3.8%), Labour Leader Keir Starmer (2.1%) and Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty (0.7%).

Pulsar political coverage on social media

While Leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer only got 2.1% of the draw on social, 10% of the coverage on political leaders focused on him across the UK media. Boris Johnson was the subject of 55% of news and features, and Sajid Javid another fifth (22%). Rishi Sunak took up 12% of the UK media’s reporting on political leaders.

Vuelio political coverage across press

When comparing the data regarding Freedom Day, it’s clear that the UK press continues to be a reliable signifier, and influencer, of the public discourse. We also know that for publishers, high quantity doesn’t necessarily lead to high engagement, which is an important consideration for PRs and their media outreach.

Want to understand your audience more, and track trends in real-time on social media? Check out Pulsar. And to find the publishers and outlets that will work for your pitching, check out Vuelio.

In the event of an emergency webinar

In the event of an emergency – communicating a summer of live events webinar

For our latest webinar we spoke to the people behind the planning as we ready for the return of in-person events. Sharing the big challenges from the last year were Cheltenham Festival’s PR and communications manager Bairbre Lloyd and ME Travel founder Hannah Mursal, who have successfully battled through cancellations, changing restrictions and internationally-inconsistent rules on travel and event attendance.

Part of the relaxation of social-distancing rules in the UK is the uncertainty over what is to come over the next few months. Read on for practical advice on how to prepare for every eventuality regarding events.

Challenges of the last 18 months
‘It’s been tricky!’ said Hannah. Looking after every element of booking for ME Travel’s entertainment clients, their bands and their crew has required increased flexibility as well as patience.

‘In the UK and across Europe, it’s been quiet – people have been doing music videos and virtual performances instead of touring. In the US, it’s been more focused on domestic travel. They haven’t really stopped; people were still travelling to do gigs. We’re looking at the bulk of events coming back in September. It’s been a waiting game to book tours in and find new venue dates.

‘Restrictions are changing constantly, but it all depends on who’s going where. I’ve got Jamaican artists, but their crews are American, English, German. There are times where you could only get half of the crew there.
‘You have to know what every country is allowing in. Do they need forms, vaccination – you can’t really book in advance, either. You can’t book today to fly next week, because it will change by mid-week.’

Plus points of the pandemic (there have been a few)
For Bairbre, juggling different priorities has brought positives as well as challenges.

‘When you’re a location putting on a festival, you can make your own decisions but you have to think about the audience if you want people to come.

‘Some of our speakers were delighted to get out of where they were, and others were… not so keen. What it has opened up to us is the idea of dialling in. Our Literature Festival was a hybrid of a socially-distanced audience and streaming online. There were people on stage while guests from the US were able to join digitally. That will have repercussions in the future – when this all finally lifts. It’s another string to our bow. It worked for us.

‘Like a lot of our fellow cultural organisations found, there was a huge appetite for us to provide support for the community. Our Science Festival was a godsend to lots of parents schooling from home. Our audience has increased enormously and that’s something we want to develop.

‘It has been difficult, but it’s jump-started our digital ambitions. We had to do all of this in five weeks – it would otherwise have probably taken us about five years.’

Lessons learned
‘We were making decisions as late as possible to have maximum flexibility – we were on tenterhooks waiting for the go-head for things,’ said Bairbre.

‘While we brought in lots of technology, there wasn’t really time to test it. We could have done with more user experience for next time. It worked, but it was hairy.’

For Hannah, the importance of communication and relationships has been a main takeaway:
‘We were all in it together, we became a family – I know how my clients’ mums are doing, their dads. It was panic stations in the beginning, so it was good to keep that communication going. In terms of hotels, the entertainment reps were the first to lose their jobs. My contacts all got made redundant. It was important to keep in the loop of what everyone was doing.

‘It was useful to know when someone was in the studio recording – it tells me when things lift, they have an album to tour. Building these relationships lets me know when are going back to work.’

Contingency plans
‘We’re planning for a full capacity without social distancing for our next Literature Festival in October – we made that call fairly early on,’ shared Bairbre.

‘I think if restrictions are put back in place, however, we will go back to what we’ve done before. This will be the eighth festival we’ve done in lockdown – we can bring in distancing and Covid-secure measures. Our senior management team will be in HQ cooking up plans. We were lucky last year because we slipped in between lockdowns. And I think we were the first literary festival to do a hybrid version.’

‘Not to sound complacent, but I’ve done so many cancellation announcements that we have our contingency plan for if it’s needed. If you’ve got a plan written and ready to go, you roll that out; you know that it works. Having those comms ready to run, is the key for me.

‘People are still going to be a bit insecure with events. One of the things we were conscious of were that some people were going to be really gung-ho and ready to come out, some would be more cautious. You need to be really clear with everybody with how you’re managing your event. If the audience knows what to expert – that they’ve got to sit in bubbles, wash their hands, have e-tickets and wear masks – they will accept it. It’s the not-knowing that makes people angry.’

Practical tips for planning events during COVID-19
‘Have your communications plan ready in advance,’ advises Bairbre.

‘We went through looking at scenarios, what negative reactions we could potentially have to safety onsite. We thought about all the things that could be picked up on and made sure we were proactive with our safety measures. And with sending comms out, make sure your stakeholders are onboard and informed – artists, staff and suppliers.’

‘Insurance has been huge in my world,’ Hannah added. ‘It’s hard to get event insurance that covers COVID now. Make sure you’re covered with your suppliers.’

‘Be prepared; have that contingency plan. The rug may be pulled from under you at any moment.’

For more trends to prepare for when it comes to getting back outside, download our white paper PR & Media Travel Trends 2021.

Simon Mouncey Transport for London

‘Start by speaking the same language as the person you are talking with’ – Simon Mouncey, Transport for London

Everyone in society is different and has different experiences of the same things. This is a fundamental truth that everyone in PR must accept in order to design the right comms strategy and speak to the right audiences in the right way.

In this guest post, Transport for London’s communities and partnerships specialist Simon Mouncey shares the importance of listening to your audience and taking on new approaches to embrace inclusivity.

‘I’ve been in PR for as long as I can remember, indeed long before emails, when you used carbon paper and did things in triplicate. I even remember a training session on how to put the paperclip on the right way round so it didn’t catch with all the other memos in the tray. Thankfully most priorities have changed since then, from how you did things to making change happen. I can now say I have changed people’s lives for the better. That’s a nice feeling. It’s nice being able to say you did the right things than just did things the right way.

What is the right way now anyway?

Something we’ve learnt over the past year is there is a disconnect to what we believe to be true and what others know is true. This has turned into a discussion on inclusive leadership. Whatever you think inclusive leadership is, the bottom line is that you cannot possibly know what it is like to be judged unless you too have been judged the same way. So, decisions affecting people’s lives need to be made by the people whose lives are being affected. Call it Ivory Towers or call it what it is, a systemic failing in our society based on opportunities and therefore positions of power reserved for those who look and sound like the people who are already in those positions.

No amount of unconscious bias training or other gestures will change how you are hardwired; it is just another easy tickbox. As a society, we surround ourselves with people who reinforce our beliefs, values and prejudices. Real unconscious bias training will parachute you into a life totally alien to you, an escape room, where you have to find new friends and allies to achieve your aim. Maybe, subconsciously, that’s why escape rooms are so popular. But to be effective you will need to be with total strangers, randomly picked from society.

The place to start is speaking the same language as the person you are talking with. The only way you can do that is to let them do the talking and listen and learn. So, don’t restrict them to a survey with questions based on your own experiences, views, opinions, perceptions and so on. But also amplify their voice. If they have no experience of being listened to then you have to bring them up to the same level as you, in knowledge of what your outcome is, and skills in making it happen.

I learnt this very early on, when I was charged with implementing national policy for people with learning disabilities. I think being naïve back then I was given it not as a challenge but as something everyone else had turned down (I was asked to become a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate after that and turned it down, but that’s one of life’s crossroad moments). The policy was that adults with learning disabilities should be able to decide their own lives. They had new personal care packages known as Independent Living allowances, which is an income they could spend on what they wanted, like ice cream and holidays. But how do you know what they want if they have never been listened to before, been institutionalised, and had other people make decisions for them? Many of those living in institutional care had never had a voice and therefore never developed speech well enough to have a conversation. There are many aspects of society where that is still true today. Well, in this case a pictorial language was developed, that meant they could say what they wanted in a conversation and their voice was heard for the first time, unfiltered by other people who had their own values and opinions.

Zoom (pun intended) forward to 2021 and many have woken up to the realisation that so many are excluded from society by their voice being excluded from decisions and have therefore developed their own communication methods. That can be rage, a protest, a counter-culture or just opting out of society. All of them, whatever your perception or judgement is, are methods of communication because they aren’t listened to the way the decision makers will hear. I call it prismatic thinking, where all the colours of the rainbow are there but when you apply your own filter to it you see just one colour. When decision makers say ‘limit the right to protest’, they are in effect masking those voices. And glass isn’t just in ceilings, it is all around us, and we see what we want to see based on our own reflections.

What I’m looking for in someone to communicate for me when I can’t is sincerity and authenticity. They need to believe in the message and what they are trying to achieve, and they need to tell it how it is. And when they look for what comes back it needs to be unfiltered. When people talk about a Green future what they mean is panic; we are feeling the effects of climate change now and it will only get worse, do something now. Relate that to what we are doing to make people’s lives in London better. What is better for them? Is it to be treated fairly and equally, a home, a job, a future? So there is a disconnect between getting more people cycling and walking and what we really mean is that all our futures are at risk if we don’t panic.

As professionals we need to get across to decision makers that everyone is starting from a different place and you can’t apply the same policy to everyone. Someone reminded me recently of the big tent idea. Where, in our western colonial culture, we get all the friendly like-minded experts together to agree what needs to be done. When in fact the name originates from native Americans where to deal with threats, like to their way of life, they would bring all the tribal leaders together, most of them enemies, leave their weapons outside and not be able to leave the tent until they agree what they need to do.

I’ve always advocated for local decision making, so you give the problem to a local community, you give them the skills and opportunities to become leaders (which by default is inclusive leadership), any risks, constraints and a framework to reach a consensus – in other words, everything you do to reach your conclusion – and you help them make a decision. It has become known as Citizen Assemblies. But call it what it is; people deciding how they as individuals and members of a wider society will achieve the same future as everyone else wants. That could be cycling where you can, it could be driving just for essential trips, it could be anything the individual can and knows they need to do. But to get there you need to abandon the structures and processes put in place that limits their voice. Amplify the hardest to hear and turn the volume down on the loudest heard all the time.

Take the example of going cashless on London Buses. Just like when I was in social care policy, I leapt at the chance to do it. Only then was I told TfL had been trying to do it forever and no one had attempted it in case in went wrong. My first thought was what was ‘going wrong’; it shouldn’t be about image. Failure to me was someone being hurt because they were carrying cash. Or someone trying to get somewhere just in time only to have to wait for people paying their fare with pennies. Or the person who is just a few pence short but trying to get the bus to get away from being hurt. So it was presented to people as, these are your friends and family, your neighbours, your community. We will help you engage with them so you can tell us what you’ve agreed. We helped communities find their leaders and supported them. I called it Co-Production.

In a later project involving a school, the headteacher told me I had changed the life chances of the students involved in the project, their confidence, hopes and aspirations and how they had just expected to leave school with nothing but were now planning a degree, career and a future for themselves, as lawyers, engineers and business leaders to help their communities.

I don’t have any plans for the future; I’m a water sign so go with the flow. Who knows the next thing around the corner. Another pandemic, certainly. The warnings were given years ago that with the climate and ecological emergency there was likely to be more diseases jumping species. And then there have been record after record tumbling on temperature, drought, rain. My advice would be, be nice to people, open your heart and that will open your mind. Make friends with people who are really different from you. Take a leap of faith and trust people to do the right thing. Forget the hashtag and campaign slogans. Give them your knowledge and skills and watch people reshape society in everyone’s image.’

For more on communicating with different audiences, read insight from this year’s PRFest on keeping PR sustainable