Neuro PR Vuelio webinar

How to strengthen connections to your brand with neuro PR

Using neuro connections to form unconscious and potentially unbreakable bonds between brands and consumers – sounds kind of sci-fi, perhaps. But don’t be worried – it’s perfectly natural.

Why are we drawn to particular cans of baked beans when we’re shopping, even if we don’t care what they taste like? Why is it so automatic to blurt out a certain chocolate bar’s tagline when someone mentions ‘taking a break’? This is the power of the subconscious and it’s something Harvey & Hugo PR’s managing director and Leader of the Pack Charlotte Nichols believes all PRs need to be aware of as part of their work.

Leading our latest webinar Neuro PR: Strengthening the Brain and Brand Connection, Charlotte showed that good PR takes the way our minds work into account and works with it. If your mind is now conjuring up those old stories of cinemas splicing pictures of popcorn into the adverts before films to boost concession sales, certain scenes of similar splices in Fight Club or the messages hidden in billboards in They Live, be assured that neuro PR isn’t anywhere near as nefarious – it’s just very clever.

Here are some of the useful ways Charlotte shared for creating memorable campaigns and locking in loyalty with brain science…

Get eyes, and brains, on you
‘We don’t see with our eyes, we see with our brain. We think we’re in control of our focus – we’re not,’ said Charlotte.

‘For example, think of ‘the cocktail party effect’. You’re deep in conversation with someone. All of a sudden, you hear your name from somewhere else in the room. Your subconscious scans the room all the time, no matter where you are, and picks up little alerts.

‘When you say “I’ve got a feeling about it”, it’s actually your subconscious. Often, we make decisions with our ‘gut feeling’, then use our rational thoughts to justify our decisions.

‘In the marketing sector, people say that “adverts don’t work”. Sometimes you can’t remember the adverts, sure, but it doesn’t mean it hasn’t gone into your brain. It’s always there, in your “gut feeling”.’

Attract the right kind of attention
Full attention from an audience can have its drawbacks. According to research, there are negatives that come with ‘high involvement attention’ – watching a perfume advert – versus ‘low involvement attention’ – checking your phone while the ad plays on a TV on the other side of the room.

Perhaps while watching a perfume advert, you realise you don’t like the model or actor chosen to represent the product. This can cause ‘inattentional blindness’ – ‘where you’re so distracted by one thing, you miss the message,’ says Charlotte. Letting messages seep through into the subconscious may be more effective. Certainly better than a potential customer watching an expensively-produced commercial with an internationally-famous actor and only thinking ‘Ugh, I really hate that guy’.

Enhance powerful emotions
‘Emotions exist to move us as humans,’ says Charlotte. ‘We feel first and then the brain interprets it.’
‘Feeling is an unconscious experience – you cannot control the way you feel. We frame things with our rational conscious thought, sometimes even doing that can’t take away the feeling of it.

‘There are also sematic markers when we feel emotions. Sweaty palms – that happens before our brain registers that emotion. We start running from a bear before our brain processes what’s going on. We feel first, and then our brain interprets it. That’s why all these small touch points add up to a massive experience of emotions.’

Brands that are making good use of their customers’ emotions right now that we can learn from? Charlotte pointed to McDonald’s current focus on friendship groups meeting up again after the isolation of lockdown: ‘They’re doing really well with their recent ads, it appeals to your emotion – wanting to meet up with your friends… and maybe you just really want chips, too.’

Show your brand’s personality, story and purpose
While brands like Tesla push brand personality first and foremost in campaigns focusing on sustainability, there are some standard personality traits that are tried and true, whatever your brand, product or service.

‘Listen and engage,’ says Charlotte.

‘You don’t always have to be doing anything. It can do your brand so well to just listen to your customers – social media is great for this. It helps build that emotional connection.’

Make good memories and good first impressions
‘The language we use is so important. We’re told imagery is more important, but never underestimate the words we use.’

‘As PRs, we are the artists of semantic memory networks. You can change these networks, it just takes a long time to do.’

The saying goes that first impressions are particularly important and, as Charlotte showed, there is evidence to back this up. Brains don’t always want to work so hard – ‘the brain uses 25% energy at rest,’ shared Charlotte. ‘You won’t remember something that’s really hard to understand, so don’t underestimate the power of a catchy tagline’.

Use your brain
After all this talk about other people’s brains, don’t forget to make the most of your own. Take time to think and really ruminate about the projects you’re working on.

‘Our subconscious is so powerful. As PRs and marketers, we can be guilty of measuring results the same way, over and over again. Meditation will boost creativity and it’s just good for our health.

‘I believe in the future we’ll be doing more of this to get to know ourselves, and our brands, much more.’

Watch the webinar here.

Want help listening to your audience to make connections? Try out Pulsar’s social listening solutions and the Vuelio media database.

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.

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 Disability@thetable, 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, Disability@thetable 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 Disability@thetable 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 Disability@thetable 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’

 

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.

2021 in PR and communications so far

2021 trends so far in PR and communications

Back in December, we asked a selection of thought leaders working across PR and communications for their predictions on the big trends coming up for the industry in 2021.

Ethics, fake news, the growth of digital and opportunity in disruption were some of the topics that came up at the time, so we caught up with Sarah Waddington, Shayoni Lynn, Stuart Thomson, Kerry Sheehan, and Tolu Akisanya to see how things have panned out so far…

Upcoming areas of opportunity – healthcare, policy and change
‘COVID is nowhere near over and businesses have never needed professional comms support more. Specific industry experience will be a huge boon as the economy opens up further. Those with experience in healthcare comms and economic development will continue to do particularly well.’
Sarah Waddington, Astute.Work and #FuturePRoof

‘It seems that, under Boris Johnson at least, interventionist governments are here to stay. There are very few areas of life that the Government doesn’t seem to have an opinion, or policy, on. The big opportunity, and threat if not addressed, is for organisations to engage with Government to ensure the policies work. There will be no more obvious policy area where this applies than climate change. With COP26 coming, the Government will need to make some big policy announcements to accompany the impressive targets it has set. Engagement will be critical throughout and beyond this time.’
Stuart Thomson, BDB Pitmans

Digital data is an essential part of the modern PR toolkit
‘Data, digital and understanding of human behaviour will continue to be an important driver for effective, strategic communications. Why are we doing it? What do we want people to do? How will be measure it?’
Shayoni Lynn, Lynn PR

‘Because of the pandemic last year, brands and organisations have had to shift their attention to digital; I think there will be a conscious effort to continue this, with a focus on building online communities. There’s an opportunity here for strengthened loyalty, genuine interaction, and not just for our clients but also with peers and the wider industry. Ariatu PR’s work with new authors is a great example of this; working with new authors, from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds, raising awareness for these authors (that statistically would have been overlooked in the past), creating new communities and reaching new audiences. The organisation also has built a great interactive community online, with other PR professionals, journalists, and the wider industry and created a strong reputation of being knowledgeable, approachable and impactful.

‘Some other great examples over the last few months include the fantastic Weetabix x Heinz Twitter thread, and Marcus Rashford’s School Meals campaign, both of which started online and went on to captivate the nation, lead to wider discussions offline, and ultimately changed behaviours.’
Tolu Akisanya, Ariatu Public Relations

Accountability and ethics
‘For public affairs as a profession, there is no doubt that the texting habits of politicians, for example, have adversely impacted on our reputation. The rules that he [David Cameron] put in place, which everyone said were lacking at the time, did not prevent him from doing whatever he wanted without fear of retribution.’
Stuart Thomson

‘There has been an increased expectation for accountability. Last year, there was pressure for brands and organisations to be seen saying the right (socially conscious) thing, this year they have been asked to show the work behind their public claims. It’s no longer enough to pay lip service to global issues, organisations and brands be must be seen to authentically follow up with real-life changes and examples, and not just performative PR activities, they must work much harder now to be genuine and transparent to build trust and relationships with their audiences.’
Tolu Akisanya

The fast pace may not ease up
‘We’re returning to urgent planned and unplanned work, and supporting organisations, businesses and brands to move to a place of not only surviving but thriving in their evolved ways of doing things and their accelerated transformation and innovation as a result of the pandemic.

‘Some are still trying to fathom this out and even though some economies have seemingly bounced back to a better than anticipated place at this stage, we are seeing behaviours continue to adapt and change at a faster pace than before. This continues to be a big challenge for us to ensure we can land our communication right to ensure the compliance, buy-in, take-up and so on we require.

‘There has been no let up. There never will be. Working at pace is the norm now.’
Kerry Sheehan, Business innovation and communication advisor

Big surprises of 2021 so far?
‘The refocus of gaining coverage in alternative media – which I love! Over the last year or so, one of the biggest challenges was being able to effectively cut through the global stories dominating the news in hand with changes in content consumption. Many practitioners were able to quickly pick up on this and pivoted, to utilise smaller, more localised and niche media outlets, to reach their target audiences.’
Tolu Akisanya

‘The way that the Government has tried to shift the Covid-19 public inquiry off until mid-2022 is surprising given that another wave of infections are widely expected for later in 2021. The political imperative of putting the findings of a public inquiry off until some future date seems to have outweighed the potential health benefits of learning lessons sooner rather than later. If you want a prediction for 2022 then it will be how much the inquiry will dominate public life as the evidence starts to be heard.’
Stuart Thomson

‘The amount of communicators tuning into and building on their emotional intelligence, and using this to build relationships. The need for emotional skills, the cornerstone of employee and audience engagement but also competitive advantage, will continue to grow and could even outpace the demand for cognitive skills in the future.’
Kerry Sheehan

PR continues to show its value
‘COVID-19 may be one of the worst natural disasters global society has faced in recent years, but it has been good for the public relations industry which has been able to pretty bullishly demonstrate its value to business, not least through stakeholder engagement and internal comms. The biggest challenges have been managing demand and helping the hardest hit industries get back on their feet, closely followed by a talent shortage at the account manager level. The ongoing concern is how to keep PR in front of management teams so they continue to appreciate what it delivers and invest appropriately.’
Sarah Waddington

‘Public sector comms teams continue to knock it out of the park with COVID-19 comms – huge respect to everyone working through this tirelessly, especially colleagues in public health. This has contributed to our excellent vaccination numbers with more people than expected taking up the vaccine, helping us all move towards some sort of ‘normalcy’.’
Shayoni Lynn

‘Some of the biggest achievements for the industry this year – embracing change, mastering the art of the pivot, and finding new ways to be creative and communicate our products/services and clients. Despite starting the year in the middle of a pandemic we’ve really been able to highlight our value in our ability to adapt, be creative and deliver effective PR campaigns. The #GettyMuseumChallenge is a great example of pivoting, increasing brand awareness, and building a community of art-lovers from user-generated content on instagram.’
Tolu Akisanya

‘I am continually impressed by how resourceful people have been during the continued lockdown, on a personal and professional level. We all need picking up sometimes and my network across PR and comms has always been there. It is fantastic how many organisations really are thinking about the wellbeing, especially the mental wellbeing, of their people.’
Stuart Thomson

Looking for more from our PR and communications trends predictors?

Interview with Stuart Thomson about his PR & Comms Best Influencer win at the 2020 Online Influence Awards

Sarah Waddington’s #FuturePRoof Five

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

Deforestation

Baroness Bennett: ‘We have to stop wrecking other people’s countries’

This is a guest post by Green peer Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (Natalie Bennett), who was leader of the Green Party of England and Wales from 2012 to 2016.

What’s been called the development of the Global North – the creation of the society we have today – was built on expropriation and extraction through force from the rest of the world. It is been calculated that India alone saw $45 trillion in wealth extracted over 173 years.

But the practice isn’t just history. It is still ongoing today, as the conclusions of the UK’s independent Global Resource Initiative Taskforce (GRIT) demonstrate. It was a far from radical group – including reps from Cargill, McDonald’s and Tesco – but it could not but conclude that the UK needed a ‘new strategic approach… to overcome the challenge of commodity-driven deforestation and land conversion.’ Between 2016 and 2018, an area equivalent to 88% of the total UK land area was required to supply the UK’s demand for just seven agricultural and forest commodities.

The new Schedule 17 of the Environment Bill – addressing products from forests and deforested lands – aims to address some of that. But in the debate in the Committee stage of the Bill, members from all sides of the upper house tore into that weakness of the Schedule.

It was the Conservative Lord Randall of Uxbridge who put down the most far-reaching amendment, calling for a global footprint target. In our climate emergency and nature crisis, in a world wracked by poverty and inequality, the need for that is obvious and undeniable. We need to reduce our ecological footprint by around 75% to fit within ecological limits.

In commenting on that, I looked at the ways in which it would directly, immediately, benefit the UK. It would reduce the risk of future pandemics. It would help safeguard against the economic costs of biodiversity decline and climate change; the WWF Global Futures report calculated that will cost the world at least £368 billion a year, with the UK suffering annual damage to its economy of £16 billion a year by 2050. It would also support the resilience of UK and global businesses and help businesses to manage risk proactively.

Crossbencher Baroness Meacher moved the simplest – unarguably right – amendment, noting that the Schedule only covers companies doing due diligence to ensure that they are not taking products from illegally felled forest land. But ‘legal’ deforestation is often profoundly disastrous and unsustainable: 2.1 million hectares of natural vegetation within the 133 Brazilian municipalities that currently supply the UK with soya could be legally deforested. It also introduces a perverse incentive to encourage the legalisation of deforestation.

UK businesses could also benefit from this amendment. Currently, in many parts of the world, laws relating to land use, forests and commodity production are numerous, uncertain, inconsistent and poorly implemented. It is very difficult to determine legality, and companies can be trapped in a regulatory, paperwork minefield from which the amendment could free them.

An amendment from Baroness Jones of Whitchurch brought in a further dimension, the inter-relationship of human rights and the protection of nature. It called for the recognition of customary land ownership and control. Some 80% of indigenous and community lands are held without legally recognised tenure rights. We know that in indigenous and tribal territories, deforestation rates are significantly lower. Ensuring respect for customary tenure rights is an efficient, just and cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions.

A further amendment, tabled by Lib Dem Baroness Parminter, was essentially the reverse of what the House of Lords achieved in the Financial Services Bill. After a lot of wrestling, the House of Lords finally got a reference to climate into that. What we also need to do is to get the need to control the disastrous impacts of finance addressed in all the other Bills.

The UK is the single biggest source of international finance for six of the most harmful agribusiness companies involved in deforestation in Brazil, the Congo basin and Papua New Guinea, lending £5 billion between 2013 and 2019.

If deforestation was a country, it would be the third largest emitter of carbon, behind China and the US. Some 80% of deforestation is associated with agricultural production, yet figures published recently from five major UN agencies show that the number of people without access to healthy diets has grown by 320 million in the last year. They now number 2.37 billion in total. A fifth of all children under five are stunted because of lack of access to the most basic resource of all: food.

The need to reform Schedule 17 when we get to Report Stage in the House of Lords in September is clear. We have to stop wrecking other people’s countries. We have to ensure that our lives are lived within the limits of this fragile planet, and that everyone else has access to that basic level of resources that is their human right.

This blog post is part of a cross-party series on Vuelio’s political blog Point of Order, which publishes insight and opinion to help public affairs, policy and comms professionals stay ahead of political change and connect with those who campaign on the issues they care about. To find out more or contribute, get in touch with Vuelio Politics.

Leadership styles that work

Types of leadership styles that work (and those that don’t)

Gordon Gekko from Wall Street, Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada, David Brent from The Office – toxic styles of leadership have been immortalised on the screen through the decades, but none of them can compare to the horrors of bad leadership in real life. And when it comes to unrealistic demands, unachievable targets and damaging work environs, the creative side of industry has been an ideal breeding ground for particularly nasty styles of management over the years…

We asked our PR network for some of their own stories (names removed to protect the innocent):

‘An old boss of mine was the definition of The Devil Wears Prada. She once commented that I would have to charm with my personality since my looks let me down. During the launch of a restaurant she insisted we all walk around with our hands on our hips in case a photographer caught us with a devastating case of Sausage Arm…’

‘…my first ever job was for a well-known trade publishing house in the early 1980s – one of my bosses would verbally abuse me and occasionally hit me over the head. One of the other editors said I needed to stand up for myself (I was 18), so the next time the chap started on me, I told him not to. He said ‘make me’, so I stood up and swung a punch at him. I missed almost completely and ran off…’

‘…controlling, insulting, demeaning. She got violent and used to throw things. The receptionist bought my boss the wrong kind of roll from the bakery once. Thankfully, she had great reactions and ducked just in time…’

PR, marketing, advertising and media have been known as a haven for bad and outdated leadership styles and truly awful workplace superiors – if you’ve been in the business for a while and don’t have a related anecdote that springs to mind immediately, it’s very likely someone you work with does. This history of crappy leadership is understandable. In these creativity-focused sectors powered by financial targets, lead generation and, above all, the bottom line, unconventional working styles and abrasive personalities can reign free… if they are seen to get results.

‘The reality is that all sorts of bad leadership approaches may be tolerated by companies if the person is generating commercial value or has specialist, hard-to-replace skills,’ says Access Intelligence’s Head of HR Kate Fraser, who has worked with her share of big (for both the good and the bad) characters in important roles.

‘At least now it is normal for both managers and team members to talk about the impact of individual management styles on company environment.’

Approaches to management and leadership have – thankfully – changed drastically since ‘Management Science’ came in the wake of ‘Mass Production’. Even since the 1990s, where bosses loudly calling their employees The C-Word during frustrating projects – another example shared by a former pro who worked with a certain big brand during the decade of fax machines and pub-as-office – wasn’t so frowned upon.

Beyond the anecdotal, old-school cruelty at work just doesn’t really… work. A survey from Businessolver this year found that 92% of employees would be more likely to stay in their job if their bosses would show more empathy. An OC Tanner study showed that 79% of employees who quit their job left because of a lack of appreciation. Cruel leadership styles can even impact physical health within teams, as found in a Karolinska Institute report that showed links between leader qualities and incidences of heart disease in the workforce.

‘Human nature hasn’t fundamentally changed, whether we are talking about employees in the 50s or employees in the 90s or now,’ says Kate. ‘People have always valued development opportunities, autonomy, recognition and meaningful work, and good leaders have always understood the value of adapting their approach depending on individual competencies and personalities.

‘There are two key things to which leaders and managers have needed to adapt in the past decade or so which are not easy to get right. Employees expect meaningful experiences that have a purpose going beyond money or even self-development, in which the positive reputation (as opposed on to commercial success) of companies is important. And work is often undertaken/achieved through networks and influence rather than through role authority.’

Exerting control through rank-pulling and tyrannical rule (a la Katharine Parker in Working Girl, or, perhaps one of the worst film bosses of all time, Darth Vader) is out – or, at least, it should be – and supportive leaders that allow creativity and good ideas to flourish are what can make modern teams work.

New people-first initiatives – like Bumble’s week-long closure back in June to give staff experiencing burn out a break, job sharing for senior roles at the BBC, KPMG’s voice-only meetings on Fridays, and the Human Givens approach being used at Splendid Communications – are positive changes and, hopefully, signs that aggressive and outdated leadership styles will go the way of those fax machines and printed media directories – relegated to the past.

‘…Every day I wanted to crash into the central reservation on the motorway just so I would have a good enough excuse not to go into work. I left to work in-house for a global brand. Guess who made contact with me two weeks into my new job? Nice as pie, telling me she knew I’d go on to great things and did I need a PR agency? I had great delight telling her that while I was working there, she would NEVER make it onto the approved supplier list and to never contact me ever again. That’s the last I heard from her.

‘I see her name pop up from time to time and it makes me think back to my early days in the industry. As hard as it was, it shaped me into being a better boss. I’d never want anyone junior to me to feel how I did. For that, I’m grateful.’

For more on maintaining mental wellbeing at work, watch our accessmatters session with KDP Consulting’s Katie Phillips on spotting the early signs of burnout and how to protect yourself and your colleagues.

How to nail your PR story to awareness days

How to nail a PR story to an awareness day

This is a guest post from Jamie Wilson, Lead Publisher at Bottle PR.

Pitching a story to the media around an awareness day can sometimes feel a bit like planning your perfect New Year’s party: there’s a lot of pressure to have the best day ever but there’s always the risk that the expectation ends up greater than the reality. Oh, and don’t forget the FOMO – or in this case the fear of missing out to one of your competitor’s campaigns…

There’s no doubt that awareness days can provide brands with a timely hook to elevate a key message or align themselves with a particular topic or discussion. But with over 1,500 awareness days taking place over the course of a single year, identifying the ones that are worth your time and effort can be tricky and time consuming.

The biggest challenge you’re likely to face is working out the ones that journalists will be interested in covering that year. From the widely recognised household names like Mental Health Week, there are a few heavyweights that every editorial team will be aware of.

Then you’ve got the more humorous ones – the Gorgeous Grandma Days and the Lost Sock Memorial Days. Often designed to amuse and delight, these can make for great social content, but you shouldn’t be too quick to discount them as a possible media hook.

While you can’t predict which of the awareness days will be taking a journalist’s fancy, you can be your best PR-self and ask yourself a few important questions before creating an associated story.

Does the awareness day align with longer-term brand messages?

Inclusive PR isn’t about selling in stories at various points throughout the year because you want to be part of a wide-reaching conversation. It’s about building a brand that consistently shows a target audience what you stand for. Remember, the topics that are important to that audience are just as important to you as a brand. Many brands are being called out now for marketing rainbow-coloured products just to be associated with Pride Month. But in reality, the LGBTQ community seek support and recognition every day. Be selective with the awareness days you want to tell a story around and be certain it tallies up with your other PR activity.

What relevant assets do you have in your content bank?

The simple mantra to keep repeating to yourself is ‘do I have something new and exciting to offer?’. Too many brands simply jump on the bandwagon with lukewarm content that’s pre-destined to get lost in the noise. Remember, an awareness day is not a story in itself. Therefore, if you want a journalist to cover your content, you need to have something worth covering. This could be new research, the launch of a campaign, or simply doing something out of the ordinary.

What angle are the competitor brands likely to take?

You should also remember that you’ll be competing with other brands on the day. Therefore, preparation becomes key. Identifying the most important awareness days for your client should be first up on the agenda. Then beaver through what your competitors’ key PR messages have been in the last three months, say. With your PR head on, you can probably work out what theme they’ll write their story on, so you can sense-check you don’t double up (and worse, lose out).

Have I left enough time to nail this awareness day or am I panic-reacting?

Prep and pitch your story at least a couple of weeks in advance. This means you stand a better chance in cutting through on your chosen awareness hook. And of course, pipping those competitors to it. With that (good) story prepped, pitched and secured ahead of the day itself, not even a Hollywood actress or the latest politician fumble (as I almost lost out to around World Bee Day), can get in your way.

In such a crowded arena, and with no guarantee of success, pitching your story or campaign around an awareness day can be a daunting task. However, that’s not to say it won’t be worth it. On the contrary, a lot of homework and elbow grease, mixed together with a dash of good luck, can bring big results.

The lesson here: nailing a media story on a global awareness day takes serious graft. Give yourself as much time as possible: those few extra weeks can be make or break when it comes to long-lead journalists. Rest assured, though – with a truly unique story and the right preparation, the day will be one worth remembering!

Extra answers on building better relationships between PRs and journalists

Cut for time: extra answers on building better relationships between PRs and journalists

Our virtual event Building better relationships between PRs and journalists featured advice and insight from the freelance journalists behind Journo Resources, Jem Collins and Faima Bakar, and Freelancing for Journalists, Lily Canter and Emma Wilkinson.

Watch Building better relationships between PRs and journalists here.

We ran out of time to answer all of the questions that came in during the session, but Jem, Faima and Lily have very kindly taken extra time out of their busy schedules of freelance commissions and supporting the freelance journalist community to give their take on them. Read on for their perception of PRs, why pitching over the phone is a no-go and where to find what journalists are actually looking for.

What is your perception of PRs in general? Do you find them helpful, or a hinderance to your work, when they show up in your inbox?

Jem: To be completely honest, a lot of time it is a hinderance. I have a separate inbox for my freelance journalism work, and honestly, it’s just like a constant avalanche of press releases. Right now, there are 786 unread emails in there, and I did a clear only the other day. Realistically, there is no way I can read all of these (let alone reply to them) and get anything else done, and the majority really aren’t relevant.

This isn’t to say that I think badly of PRs, it’s just the mass send out approach I find frustrating. The PRs I have the best relationships with are the ones who actually send me a personal email and really know what I do. I do appreciate that is a lot more work, and sometimes you do just have to get something out, but I really would stress how important the personalised approach is to building a relationship that actually works.

Faima: It depends on what they’re offering me – unsolicited PR emails can be annoying but sometimes they’re useful, I was more likely to read PR emails as a staffer as I was able to pick up stories of product launches/weird/quirky news which I can’t do as a freelancer. So there is no point sending the same things to freelancers as you would staffers. Now, these emails end up in my bin as they are just not relevant which can feel like a hindrance. However, they are helpful when they listen to what I’m after – which is interesting and unique case studies, and new research that can be turned into a feature.

Lily: If I am completely honest, I would love to go back to the times when you could talk to people directly, but that’s not the world we live in so I acknowledge that I need to work alongside PRs and they can be incredibly useful at times.

The best way a PR can work with me is to respond to my calls for help rather then fill up my inbox. I just don’t read these emails. Recently I put out a call via #journorequest on Twitter for an article I am writing for a running magazine. The PRs that got in touch were great at putting me in touch with exactly the right people to speak to. This was the ideal situation where PR worked well for me. Had they sent me a press release at any other time of the year the chances are I would have deleted it straight away. I get 50 to 100 PR emails a day, so I have to be pretty ruthless.

Do you think pitching over the phones is outdated? Would you prefer to be contacted via email?

Jem: Personally, I hate being pitched over the phone, but I think a lot of that is down to me being a freelancer and working from home. When you’re calling a newsroom, there are loads of people around and whoever isn’t busy will pick up the call, so it works. When it’s just one journalist at home, constant phone calls are just really distracting and you don’t get anything done. It’s especially frustrating when it’s not even a story on your beat – as a freelancer and business owner I do a lot of different things in a day and it’s actually just really intrusive. This isn’t to say that I’m not open to a chat, though – but I’d much rather someone send me a personalised email and ask to schedule in a time for a chat or a coffee.

Lily: I actually don’t like PRs pitching me ideas. My job is to find and report on stories not to be promoting the work of an organisation, so for me this actually undermines journalism. By all means work with me on a story I am developing but don’t tell me you have a story – you have something to promote, not a story.

For somebody that has joined the field mid-pandemic, do you have any tips on how to reach out to journalists and build relationships when communication is so difficult? What advice would you give to PRs for approaching a freelance journalist that they haven’t met/spoken to before in order to start building that relationship?

Jem: While I would very strongly urge against people pitching stories via Twitter DMs, I do think Twitter is quite a good way to get involved in the Twitter conversation. We all spend way too much time on The Bird App, so just getting involved in the conversation and being friendly will help me remember your name and come to you when I need anything. I’m forever grateful to the PR who saw me having an eczema flare up on there and sent me some cream that actually worked!

I’d also recommend the No 1 Media Ladies Facebook Group – they have a dedicated PR hours where you can intro yourself and your clients and it’s a really lovely community where people actually chat to each other and help each other out. You’re also very welcome to our Journo Resources Facebook Group, too! It could also perhaps be worthwhile coming along to some of the virtual workshops and events which are on at the moment – it’s a good way to not only get an in and connection with people, but also to see the kind of issues journalists are having at the moment.

Faima: Go for a personalised approach, ask them what their interests are, Google their work beforehand, see if your clients line up with their interests, show them how the two can work together. Maybe chat over a coffee?

Lily: It’s all about being useful to journalists and giving them what they need. Respond quickly to call outs and come up with the goods. Most of all: be honest and reliable.

Any tips on making sure that our emails are read by the journalist? For example, subject line, bullet points in the email, images?

Jem: The main thing for me is just being as clear and to the point as possible. As I mentioned before, I get a lot of PR emails and I don’t even work in a big newsroom. So, for me to open your email I need to know exactly what it’s about from the subject line of the email alone, otherwise I probably won’t get around to it. The other thing I would avoid is pretending something is personalised when it’s not – it really irks me when someone says this would be a perfect fit for my beat, or that they’ve tried to give me a call about it when they’ve not looked at my beat or tried to give me a call. Journalists just see through those kind of tricks and get annoyed!

Faima: I would put the most interesting thing in the subject line; is it an invite, is it new research, what’s the hook? Include images if you’re talking about something visual and links! The amount of times I’ve received a PR email, wanting to know more but they don’t provide links for more info, leaving me to Google information – which is not what you want.

Lily: Think like a journalist, not a PR. Write a headline that a journalist would write. Write a press release like a news story, not a press release. It might go against everything that you know/have been trained to do but journalists actually don’t like press releases and most of them are really badly written.

Be helpful when they are looking for information or sources. That really is your best way in. Emailing and asking to meet for a coffee will probably not work. Also never assume they are in London, that really winds a lot of freelancers up because many don’t live anywhere near London.

Do B2B and B2C journalists differ in what they want from a PR?

Jem: I’ve not really worked in B2B newsrooms, but I do genuinely believe the basics of good PR are basically the same. We’ve all got the same pressures, so we just want people who take a personalised approach, and are clear, concise and reliable.

Are you having the same types of conversations with journalists, or do they tend to be more structured/more formal? Do you still have relaxed chats and catch ups to chew over/discuss what’s happening?

Lily: Freelance journalists have informal chats, rants and moans in lots of online communities, especially on Facebook.

Aside from a media database (obviously!), would you recommend any websites or tools for finding the most relevant freelance journalists for the stories you’re wanting to pitch? And do you think PRs underestimate the importance of a freelance journalist in an age of where they have a greater role?

Jem: I definitely think that some PRs I’ve worked with haven’t quite realised the long game you get from working with a freelancers. Sometimes the requests I send out are for smaller places, and then I get very few people offering to help. But those are the people I’ll then go back to when I do get a bigger opportunity. A really lovely PR helped me out for a piece for a niche website on freelancing, for example, and when I got my next commission at The Big Issue, I went back to her first as I knew she was reliable, so I think it’s about seeing a bit more of the long game for your clients and coverage. Plus, freelancers mean you have the opportunity to pull in even more wins when it works out – we’re not just tied to one newsroom, we can go anywhere!

Faima: I would keep an eye out on the #journorequest tag on Twitter, and then go through that writer’s profiles to see what they cover. Usually when writers send out a request, they’re inundated with DMs/emails but usually they’re not relevant – so again, make sure you’re offering someone they can actually use. And remember that freelancers don’t need to stick with one publication, use that to your advantage – if your story is interesting, they can pitch it to a wide range of publications.

Lily: It is tricky as there are no comprehensive databases specifically focused on freelance journalists and it takes quite a bit of detective work checking bylines and social media profiles. MuckRack can be handy for seeing what journalists do and if they are freelance. And, yes freelance journalists play an increasingly large role in shaping the media landscape particularly in securing exclusive stories. Plus, they like to get more than one bite of the cherry from a story so if you work with them, an article could end up in multiple publications.

Is Twitter where journos put out requests most often? Are there any other places we should be looking for requests?

Jem: You do see a lot of stuff on Twitter, so would definitely be across that, but I’d also say the same for Facebook Groups too. I know I’ve banged on about them a lot today, but they are super useful! I also use the Journalist Enquiry Service a lot if I need an expert, so being across that can often be a quick win, and I do try and include as many people from there that I hear back from as possible.

Faima: Look out on Facebook Groups, I put out a lot of my requests on journo-friendly pages. I also read them on, as Jem mentioned, the No 1 Media Ladies Facebook Group.

Lily: Definitely keep track of #journorequest on Twitter. I also use niche Facebook sites but I will be looking for individuals and actually don’t want to do it via a PR in this instance. I also use the ResponseSource Journalist Enquiry Service quite a lot when I am looking for experts.

What’s the best way to find out specific interests of freelancers other than trawling through publications?

Jem: Journalists are pretty big on self-promotion (we can’t help ourselves) so I know it sounds simple, but a flick through social media is really helpful. When I do a news shift, I have to write eight stories a day, but I wouldn’t tweet them all out, because they’re not all stuff I’ve spent ages on, I just tweet the stuff I’m really proud of, so having a look at social can give you a good steer on what they’re actually really interested in. Similarly, looking at portfolio websites is also a good shout – again, people will just include their best bits and often have a line or two about their main beats.

Faima: Check out their websites – a lot of the more established journalists have their own websites or Linktrees. I have a Linktree of my most cherished articles which gives a good idea of what I’m interested in. You can search a writer’s name and type Linktree – it will come up if they have one.

Lily: You do need to do the work yourself in the same way that freelance journalists have to trawl through social media to identity commissioning editors to pitch to. Keeping track of the Freelance Writing Awards nominations could be a good way to start making a list of relevant freelancers.

Watch the full virtual event Building better relationships between PRs and journalists or read our round-up for more from Journo Resources and Freelancing for Journalists.

To find out more about the Vuelio media database and the ResponseSource Journalist Enquiry Service, check out our services and how they can help you in your work here.

PR and Retail Media Trends 2021

PR Retail Media Trends 2021

PR and Retail Media Trends 2021

It’s been a difficult yet transformative year for UK retail as the public were forced to switch to online shopping solutions through multiple lockdowns.

But as restrictions relax, what trends and opportunities should you be planning for?

PR and Retail Media Trends 2021 has expertise from those on the front lines of retail alongside those in PR, comms and research to report on the current state of the sector. It covers the trends that will need to be factored into campaigns for brands looking to recapture and retain the modern post-pandemic consumer as well as how to navigate recovery, both in-person and online.

Read the full report for:

  • The impact of coronavirus on the UK retail sector and the lasting effects of lockdown on consumers
  • Lessons from lockdown and catering to the new ‘empowered’ customer
  • Trends that will shape future retail PR and communications campaigns
  • Tips from those in the retail PR space for connecting with a changed consumer landscape

Fill in the form below to download the report.

Judith Lewis SEO PR webinar

The latest Google update – what PR professionals need to know

Remember when Google used a cute animal like Panda or Penguin to signify that it was changing its algorithm?

Sadly, those gentler days are behind us, but Google still announces a core update around four times a year. These are significant changes that Google makes to its ranking algorithm that affects a large number of indexed web pages.

Knowing when Google announces core updates and what those updates are is important for PR professionals because of the potential impact on the visibility of your website, or your clients’ websites in the search engine.

This was just one of the areas of SEO that search expert Judith Lewis covered in our recent webinar to support the publication of our free SEO best practice guide for PR.

Here’s a summary of some of the questions about SEO and PR that Judith answered:

What is the latest Google core update and what do PRs need to know about it?
“The Google core update focuses a lot on expertise, authority and trust (EAT) which is explained fully in the guide. We also link to the guidelines that Google’s human quality raters use.

It’s a complex area that’s all about how you demonstrate EAT to Google. Google is tweaking those dials and really bumping up the emphasis that it’s placing on demonstrated expertise and authoritativeness, which is finding mentions about you on other sites.

So PR is all about establishing EAT and the latest Google update is actually increasing its valuing of EAT.

There are two more updates coming, so this will change over time. and I’ve seen that clients of mine are fluctuating, they’re going up, they’re going down, it’s like a roller coaster! So right now the algorithm update does still seem to be finding its level balance. I’m seeing more US search results in the UK, so I’m thinking it’s still rolling out, but this core update is really focused on quality.

Later this month is a long announced update to website speed.

Basically if your website is not fast and it does not pass ‘core vitals’, you will lose out to other people who do. So Google will rate you against your competitors in the search results, and you will go down, if competitors websites are faster and more efficient at delivering web experience to people.

‘Core vitals’ is later this month, and then in July we have another core update coming. So, this one was about more about quality, and the next two are going to be about landing page experience, and then more on quality.”

What are the differences between ‘follow’ and ‘no follow links’?
Do ‘no follow links’ in online coverage and do they have any impact on search engine visibility?
‘No follow’ and ‘follow ‘are technical attributions that are put on a link, and it’s a little bit more code techie, but don’t be put off by it, it’s a checkbox in WordPress. So if you’re working with bloggers or influencers, they can select the Checkmark, and that will make all of their links on their blog nofollow.

What does that mean? Well, it tells Google, not to pass any points from the origin page to the destination page.

However, from a human point of view, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a follow or nofollow, it is still a link. And that enables someone to go from where they are to where your clients information, or your information is.

I obviously would prefer a follow link, because it helps with search ranking. But I will accept the follow or nofollow link, because we’re pushing our clients or our company’s information and details out there and so any link is good because it draws the readers back to our websites.

If you don’t get a link in coverage, do citations or mentions of your brand or organisation help with SEO and search visibility?

It does help.

A citation – where there’s no link but a mention – is incredibly important for Google, because the more of those that you get, the more the increase of perception that Google has that there is something important about that company or that organisation going on.

It increases the words around the company and increases the relevance of that company name to those to those pieces of content. What’s happening is Google is seeing the word that is a brand and it recognises the brand usually because it’s usually in a URL or something similar and then it looks at the words around that citation. It looks at these words around the brand and increases the relevance of those words for that brand.

Google is already recalculating what that brand is possibly relevant for now. It doesn’t have as big an impact as when we get a link – a link is, is the key – but it does increase Google’s perceived relevance of those keywords of the brand and how popular the brand is.

Update ‘Vince’, many years ago was all about brand and rewarding brands. So the better that you can establish a brand, the better it is and citations are part of that because not everybody gives you a link.

If everybody gives you a link it looks artificial. If some people don’t then it looks much more natural and Google is more likely to trust it. Therefore if you get a citations with no link, it’s good, and it does help people.

Do shares on social media and closed or private social networks/communities like Facebook Groups or Guild have any impact on SEO or search engine visibility?

I think the problem is that people’s perception of links is that all links help Google rankings, but in my opinion, all links help people – and that’s the most important thing.

In closed ecosystems like Facebook and Guild links don’t necessarily impact on Google’s rankings but when someone is talking a lot about something, and links are being shared a lot, whether they’re shared through Guild, WhatsApp, Facebook or Instagram, they will reach a critical point after which people will start to blog and write about them.

And journalists may pick up on this ambient noise, and publish something with either a nofollow or a follow link.

When that happens, then Google will possibly increase the ranking of that page, because we’re increasing the perceived relevance of that page to that topic. Even though a nofollow link says to not pass any points, it still helps Google contextualise what a target page is about.

If Google was struggling up to that point, and then somebody blogs, even if it’s a nofollow link, then it will instantly help Google understand it better – and that means that it could increase in rankings, simply because Google understands more.

Here’s the video and the Q&A with Judith is from 43:17 seconds.

Want to add SEO to your PR and communications strategy or to get the very latest SEO tips specifically designed for PR practitioners?

Download our free educational SEO best practice guide for PR

Vuelio has the world’s most comprehensive media database, providing up to date contact details and preferences of >1million journalists and content creators. Learn more about this essential tool for successful coverage generation and linkbuilding by requesting a demo

SEO best practice guide for PR

SEO best practice guide for PR

PR and SEO are more connected today than ever.

Modern PR practitioners require much more than a basic understanding of search. Yet there are very few search marketing resources specifically tailored for the PR and communications sector.

And when you Google for SEO advice, how much can you trust that what you find will contain the very latest information about what impacts search rankings?

To help address SEO knowledge gaps among PR professionals, we have published a helpful, bang up-to-date educational resource for the sector.

We asked international search expert Judith Lewis to write a free 60+ page: SEO best practice guide for PR.

Judith explains why this guide is needed: ‘These days, SEO is as much a part of PR as PR is a part of SEO. SEOs and PRs are increasingly overlapping in what they do. All PR professionals can help deliver exceptional SEO by adding a small amount of additional knowledge.

‘This guide was designed to help PR professionals understand the seemingly impenetrable world of SEO. It will help them better reshape and refocus their offerings to not only continue to excel at what they are already doing, but to regain ground lost to SEOs.’

Download the free SEO best practice guide for PR here

Want to learn more about SEO? Do you have questions about how to align SEO to your PR and communications strategy, or do you want to hear about Google’s latest algorithm update? Judith will be on hand to answer your SEO questions in a free webinar.

Learn even more about SEO. Sign up for the ‘SEO best practice for PR’ webinar at 11am BST on 9 June, with Judith Lewis here.

Why is PR and SEO so closely linked, and why produce this SEO guide for PR professionals?

Two of Google’s most important ranking factors are natural extensions of what most PR professionals do on a daily basis: content creation and generating coverage.

In the agency world, search marketing agencies have evolved over time, adding content marketing, social media and creative services, and wrapping this up with what many call ‘Digital PR’.

Digital PR is a tactic focused on generating content and stories that will not only generate coverage online, but build links. These agencies back up that offer with measures to highlight the commercial impact of the coverage and links, such as sales, leads and other valuable and measurable ‘conversions’ for their clients.

As the relative importance of links to SEO has increased over the years, digital PR is a natural extension of Search Marketing or a Digital Marketing agency’s services. But digital PR and content marketing is much closer to traditional PR territory than the more technical elements of SEO or Paid Search Marketing.

As a leading provider of tools and services for multichannel PR, communications and marketing professionals (Vuelio, Pulsar and ResponseSource), we’ve designed this free guide to cover one of the core skills required in many modern PR and communications roles – Search Engine Optimisation or SEO.

Who should read the SEO best practice guide for PR?
Developing SEO knowledge and skills is not only important for PR agencies developing a broader range of services for clients, but also for in-house communications teams.

Many companies approach SEO and public relations as separate activities. Either running activities with different teams or working with multiple agencies. For in-house PR professionals, a little knowledge of SEO can go a long way in terms of PR planning, execution and measurement aligning to marketing and digital activity in their business or organisation.

The good news is that it is easier than you might think to combine a PR and an SEO strategy.

The guide is not just an excellent primer on SEO for beginners.

For PR and comms professionals who already have a good handle on SEO, Judith Lewis provides some advanced SEO tips to help you move your knowledge on.

What does the SEO best practice guide for PR cover?
The guide covers:

  • What is SEO?
    Information about search engine rankings, what visibility means in digital PR, and the concept of search ‘demand’.
  • How Google works
    The technical side of search engines, covering spiders, the index and how Google sees expertise, authority and trust.
  • How to build a PR SEO strategy
    The signals search engines look for, the technical bits you need to understand and the important elements for success.
  • Keywords, content and on-page essentials
    Delves more deeply into the kind of research currently possible to understand search demand, how to meet that demand and do it in a way rewarded by search engines.
  • Advanced SEO
    A deeper look at advanced SEO elements that could help the content you are creating stand out in search engines.
  • Link building for PRs and communications professionals
    One of the most popular topics in digital marketing and an area where digital marketers overlap with PR and Comms professionals.

SEO best practice guide for PR’ is free and can be downloaded here.

Learn from Judith Lewis, one of the world’s leading authorities on SEO in this free ‘SEO best practice for PR’ webinar, 11am BST on 9 June. Register here.

Bank in London

Barclays dominates the launch of the Vuelio Banking Comms Index

Today, Vuelio launches the Banking Comms Index as an industry benchmark. Using Vuelio Media Monitoring and Analysis, the Banking Comms Index is a free weekly resource that compares the Share of Voice of the UK’s top retail banks.

Share of Voice has long been used as a key metric in both PR and marketing, with evidence to show that increased Share of Voice, leading to ‘Excess Share of Voice’ – where a brand’s Share of Voice is significantly higher than its market share – can lead to growth.

The Banking Comms Index measures the earned online media coverage of 21 top retail banking brands and selected challenger banks in Britain. The coverage all appears in Tier 1 publications, with a reading list including national news and financial trades.

Barclays has dominated over the last three weeks in top spot, while challengers, including Starling Bank, Monzo and Revolut manage to take a bigger share of voice than more established brands like First Direct and Bank of Scotland.

Updated weekly, the Index will provide an archived comparison, as well as insight into the biggest movers and shakers. The monitoring in Vuelio also allows for further exploration to see how these retail banks compare on key issues in the media, whether that is ESG, financial policy changes or a breaking scandal.

Oliver Grant, senior consultant and financial services specialist at Vuelio, said: ‘We are thrilled to launch the Banking Comms Index that will, week on week, give a snapshot of how these major retail banks are performing in the press. Share of Voice allows brands to benchmark their earned media coverage against the competition in a meaningful way.

‘We will also use our proprietary data to regularly analyse the retail banking sector and see how each organisation tackles the big issues, from the pandemic and Brexit to advances in governance.’

PR survey

PR Survey: Communicating in a pandemic

Lockdowns, tiers, levels and restrictions: 2020 continues to present challenges to the whole of society. And while vaccine approval news is encouraging, the expectation is for the return to life without Covid to still be some time away. 

Comms teams continue to be at the coalface in this crisis, navigating the rule changes and Government announcements on behalf of their organisations, clients and stakeholders.

But what are the biggest challenges and where are there opportunities? How will lessons learned this year affect your strategy next? And how are you proving your success to colleagues and at board level?

Vuelio is delighted to be working with the PRCA on the Communicating in a pandemic survey, giving comms practitioners a chance to answer these questions and benchmark themselves against their peers in real time.

Every question you answer will instantly compare you to your industry colleagues, and once we’ve gathered enough answers you’ll receive a personalised report to help you plan for 2021 and beyond.

See how you compare, click here to take the survey now.

Engagement with healt comms through COVID 19

Engagement with health comms through COVID-19

Engagement with healt comms through COVID 19

 

Throughout COVID-19, every aspect of public health has had to respond and adjust to new responsibilities. Communicators have been thrust into the spotlight, absorbing extraordinary pressure to manage a huge variety of stakeholders while navigating a ceaselessly changing media, policy and care landscape. 

In Engagement with health comms through COVID-19, we analyse how audiences responded to official NHS feeds on social media, how conversations shifted during different stages of the pandemic and the media’s reaction to the developing crisis.

Information and data is presented from Vuelio, ResponseSource and Pulsar to give a complete view of the excellent work carried out by health communicators in a tumultuous 2020.

We also picked up five lessons that you can apply for planning healthcare communications moving forward. We hope you find it useful.

Deliveries in lockdown comms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comms leaders recovery

PR and comms leaders prepare for recovery

PR and comms leaders are increasingly focused on recovery in Q2 according to the Vuelio Barometer which analyses themes dominating the public posts of 897 heads of and directors.

The Vuelio Barometer of PR and Comms Leaders shows that ‘Recovery’, which includes the terms ‘return to work’, ‘learn from’ and ‘get back to’ among others, has become more important since the start of lockdown and most recently accounts for nearly two in five (36%) of all online discussions among PR and Communications Leaders. This was up from being the main topic of less than a quarter (23%) of conversations in Q1.

Social media debate among PR and Communications Leaders about ‘Action’, including the terms ‘we’ve decided’, ‘start’ and ‘we need’, in contrast has decreased over the same period. In Q4 2019, two thirds (67%) of all conversations were about action. This fell to less than half (45%) of all social media conversations among PR and Communications Leaders in Q2 2020.

Over the same period, non-COVID-19 topics focusing on the community and outreach – such as Charity, Employee Wellbeing, Green Business and Institutional Trust – declined. Trust fell from accounting for one in seven conversations (14%) in Q4 2019 to just one in 20 (6%) in Q2. Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 dominated, increasing from half (50%) in Q1 to accounting for two thirds (65%) of all social media conversations among PR and communications leaders by 20 May.

Analysing which recent PR campaigns had cut through to grab the attention of industry leaders, the Vuelio Barometer found the most successful was ‘Clap for Carers’ which throughout Q2 accounted for four in five (81%) campaign conversations. In contrast, the Government’s ‘Stay Alert’ campaign was referred to in just one in ten.

Natalie Orringe, chief marketing officer at Vuelio said: ‘Our analysis of the online conversations of PR and Communications leaders reveals since Q1 2020 a shift from debating what action has to be taken to, in Q2, discussing how recovery can be managed. It demonstrates how the industry is turning from responding to the implications of COVID-19 to focus on the proactive, sustainable strategies needed to enable businesses to recover. There can be no doubt COVID-19 has reshaped the industry and continues to account for nearly two thirds of all social media conversation among communication leaders.’

Based on this insight, Vuelio has developed a range of products designed specifically to support organisations as they move from crisis management to proactively managing reputation for recovery. Packages on the Vuelio Recovery Hub include ‘Get up and Grow’ to help small to mid-sized companies kick start their PR programme; ‘Re-start-up’ for mid-sized businesses to maximise the effectiveness of their communications; and ‘The Full Works’ for large, complex organisations that need to accelerate their communications.