How to build a close-knit team when working from different places

How to build a close-knit team when working from different places

This is a guest post from Degreed’s Global Head of Comms, Content & Client Advocacy Teams Sarah Danzl.

Sarah Danzl

As the saying goes, teamwork makes the dream work and it’s a priority for all team leaders. Especially given the past few months, when all of us were suddenly flung into unprecedented times and had to upend our working practices in a matter of days. Make no mistake, remote and hybrid working will remain a core part of our new reality. Indeed, 85% of people wish to continue working remotely some, or all, of the time post-pandemic. This poses unique challenges in fostering a close-knit team — especially when they’re based in different locations and time zones.

You have to be more intentional about work/life balance, sharing personal experiences, and building strong working relationships. But the benefits are tremendous. For starters, you can pick the very best talent from across the world. Geography is no longer a limiting factor in your recruitment. You also broaden your diversity of thought and experience. It can enable people to work who otherwise may not be able to access a workplace, like neurodiverse individuals or those with caring commitments. Finally, it offers greater flexibility and autonomy to your team.

This is something I’ve experienced for a long time. I lead a team of 14 people based in six time zones and four countries. Some of them have never met their fellow team members in person. Here are some of the ways I’ve ensured that they feel (and support each other) like a traditional team.

Have regular meetings
My personal preference is to hold a weekly team meeting along with one-on-one meetings with each team member. This way, you can update your team on everything they need to know and also get dedicated time to discuss their work, any blockers or concerns, and long-term career growth.

Key to a successful team meeting is having a structure that allows for team updates alongside social discussions, spontaneous questions, exchanging ideas and troubleshooting. Setting an agenda beforehand is a must, to focus people on the task at hand. I also recommend having 10 minutes at the start or end of each meeting for informal chats and to discuss how everyone is feeling that week.

Be results driven
In an office, it’s easy to equate performance with time at work. In a remote environment, people may not always be at their desks all day, or at the same time. Your measures of good performance need to evolve. Looking at output instead of time at work is an effective way to get the results you want, without micromanaging someone or setting specific working hours. Of course, people do need to be available to collaborate with their team members or answer questions. So there does have to be a way to asynchronously communicate (through a messaging platform like Slack, for example) or agreed availability hours that everyone knows about. In my team, we have ‘Slack’ hours when we’re available for quick chats and questions in real-time. As for results, we have team and individual KPIs (key performance indicators) that we update quarterly. Meeting these goals are more important to me than time at a desk.

Make your expectations clear
This links closely with my KPI point above. By communicating what you expect of someone in their role, you’re ensuring that they meet those expectations. If they don’t know what you want from them, they’re working blind. Write and speak clearly, so your instructions are not misunderstood. Because in a remote team, it can be easier to overlook a task or deadline.

Hire the right people
Being part of a remote team isn’t for everyone — and that’s okay! But make sure that the people you hire have the aptitude and skills to thrive as part of a remote or hybrid team. Good time and project management skills are a must, as is a self-motivating attitude as you won’t be there all the time to guide and push them.

Set time boundaries
Work/life balance can be a challenge when working remotely, particularly if your home computer is also the one you use to socialise and relax. It can be too tempting to answer one last email… at midnight. Let your team set their boundaries, when they are logging off and will answer any emails or messages in the morning. Ensure they know that they can disconnect. And let the rest of the team know when someone is and isn’t available. This is especially important when working across multiple time zones.

Socialise
All work and no play is, quite frankly, draining. Your team will work better if they socialise together too. This doesn’t have to be in-person. My team has recently done cocktail and cooking classes. The wider Degreed team have held virtual casino nights, workouts, yoga and more.

For more on working from home, read our previous guest post from Question & Retain’s Annabel Dunstan, featuring advice for balancing work and home life. 

Heading back to the office soon and feeling nervous? Check out advice from mental health professionals on how to prepare for your return to in-office working

How to engage with Generation Z

How to engage with Generation Z

This is a guest post from Life Size PR Trainee Helene Lamprecht.

Generation Z (Gen Z), which refers to all those born after 1995, is dominating and reforming the global economic landscape. Currently, they make up the largest group of consumers worldwide. If you want to attract their attention, then you need to know how to communicate with them.

Before diving into detail with actions you can take to successfully engage with Gen Z, let’s look at who exactly it is that you want to communicate with.

Digital Natives
Gen Z was born into an already digital world that becomes more globally connected each day. They grew up with high-speed internet and electronic devices, making them familiar with mobile from an early age. Being so tech-savvy means that Gen Z demands the highest quality digital experience and expect any business to have an online presence.

Short Attention Span
All Gen Z has known is a hectic world full of stimuli, so they are accustomed to filtering information – anything that does not immediately stand out is unlikely to catch their attention. As they are used to absorbing as much information as possible in a short amount of time, the content they consume has to be clear and straight to the point.

Environmental and Social Awareness
On average, Gen Z is quite wealthy compared to previous generations, with their desires going beyond meeting their basic needs. They aim for self-actualisation and are determined to achieve their full potential. In this context, a fulfilling job and pleasant working climate are of high priority to them.

They also strive for social parity and are passionate about the environment. The Fridays for Future demonstrations are just one impressive example of the commitment Gen Z is showing. Gen Z also fights for equality and demands diversity and non-discrimination, not only in society but across all forms of communication.

Once you understand what Gen Z is looking for, it’s time to adjust your communications accordingly. Here are four main actions you should implement:

1. Make it digital, mobile and an experience
Show that you are a modern company that cares about the environment by providing links instead of flyers. Keep your website up to date, and ensure that all your content is optimised for mobile devices. Additionally, try to make the content you produce more than just text. Think of how you can transform your website into a web experience – keeping it clear and straightforward yet exciting and diverse at the same time.

2. Communicate frequently and visually
Gen Z uses social media almost constantly; therefore, you must share social media content regularly. If you stop, you will appear inactive, so always think of interesting and engaging content to share. Set up editorial plans for social media and stick to them. Make sure to make your content easy to understand, and remember to actively engage with your audience.

3. Talk to them personally
Gen Z knows the internet better than any other generation. Do not try to fool them: they demand authentic and personal relationships. Gen Z relates to genuine voices, especially those they are already familiar with, such as real-life friends or influencers they share passions with. Be cautious with the latter, however. Ensure any influencers you use represent your values and are interested in a mutually beneficial collaboration, rather than one-sided in their favour.

4. Give them something to identify with
Make sure to communicate your beliefs and values. Gen Z has been involved in social activism since a young age, and they will consider a company’s value more than any generation before them. Find easy words to make them understand what you do and how this can help people or the environment. If you get them to understand you and support your vision, they will be more inclined to share it. Be prepared to equip them with the right facts and messages and let them promote your company for you. For example, you could provide them with material for convincing Instagram Stories or informative YouTube videos.

If you want to engage with Gen Z, you need to think about your purpose first because this is what matters to them the most. Try to build on this and adjust your communications by making sure they are digital, mobile, authentic and personal.

The rise and rise of influencers

The rise and rise of micro influencers

This is a guest post by Lis Anderson, director of AMBITIOUS.

Micro influencers are a growing market with an estimated value of 13.8 billion dollars in 2021, and a massive increase expected again in 2022. So why has this market exploded in the last couple of years?

Life has moved online. We know this. We also know that how we engage with people and content online has changed. Our expectations and requirements from brands are higher than ever before as customer confidence increases. They must reflect our values and demonstrate this in their presence – on and offline.

Successful marketing relies on reaching networks of people. Personality and authenticity are at the heart of successful marketing campaigns, and this is where influencers can really boost a brand.

What are micro influencers?
These are the influencers that pack a punch, but not in the way that you necessarily expect. They don’t have millions or even hundreds of thousands of followers, but they have influence over their communities. A micro influencer is defined as having between 10,000 and 50,000 followers. Over that, you’re looking at a mid-tier (50,000-500,000), macro (500,000-1 million) or mega (1 million+) influencer.

Micro influencers are more likely to be in niche communities, great for drilling down and connecting with audiences who have exact interests that match your offerings.

It’s worth noting that micro influencers have the highest engagement rate of all influencer types, which really opens up the market for businesses with limited budgets. Working with a micro influencer can be cost-effective and offer a great return on investment, depending on the industry and their community. Prices can start from just tens of pounds, meaning brands have a real chance to connect with their audiences.

How to start working with micro influencers
Choosing the right partner for a brand can make a massive impact, without a doubt. Micro influencers can take you to the next level as they are closely connected to their audiences.

1. Start by deciding your goals. What do you want to achieve through using a micro influencer? Consider increasing brand awareness or traffic to your website for example.
2. Find your micro influencer. Decide which platform you want to focus on and look for people here. Choose ones that have high engagement rates, post regularly and who have the right voice and personality to match your brand. It should feel like a natural collaboration.
3. Look at the hashtags they use, these should fit your brand and offerings.
4. Review their audience comments to see what they are interested in. Will a collaboration appeal to their community?
5. Ask for a performance report to truly understand what the influencer is achieving. Most will be happy to share their analytics with you.
6. Design a campaign together that will resonate with their audiences. Listen to the micro influencer as they know what content their audience likes.
7. Get the contract in place and agree pricing. It’s always worth doing a test case before doing a big campaign with them to see what sort of results they can get for you.
8. Check results. Are they what you expected? Use the results to inform new campaigns.

Micro influencers could include your employees. Some brands won’t have to go far to choose the right people for the job! Build long-term relationships with micro influencers to maximise impact and get your story told in the right way to the right communities.

Micro influencers and your brand
One thing to be aware of is that micro influencers will have lower reach than macro influencers. You will need to work with more micro influencers to reach the same numbers that a macro influencer has.

But using the right micro influencer will boost your brand’s reputation and get you increased online presence. Do you really need the followers numbers of a macro influencer?

For more on influencer marketing, check out our UK Influencer Survey 2020, our interview with Chris Stokel-Walker on the benefits of the influencer sector, as well as the top bloggers by sector in our regularly-updated Social Media Index section.

Net Zero New Statesman

The rewards of net zero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to deal with difficult clients

How To Deal with Difficult Clients

This is a guest post written by Sharp Relations founder AJ Sharp.

AJ Sharp on how to deal with difficult clientsWriting this article made me realise we’re extremely lucky that we genuinely don’t have any clients that I would describe as ‘difficult’. However, reflecting on the past few decades – working for London PR agencies and perhaps also, when I started my own agency Sharp Relations nearly 11 years ago – it’s fair to say that we had a few more difficult conversations back then. So, I started pondering the change.

I think the answer is that we have become a lot better at making sure we don’t arrive in a space where a client might feel motivated to become ‘difficult’. I don’t think a client ever starts off being difficult but perhaps they move into that space when they don’t feel that their needs are being properly met by the agency.

Let’s stop using the word ‘client’ for a moment and remember that all clients are business owners, founders and entrepreneurs. They are emotionally, physically and financially invested in the success of their business. They have clear goals, objectives, ambitions, and dreams for their business and the better you understand these motivations and drivers, the better you will be able to meet their business needs.

How to prevent clients from becoming difficult in the first place.

From the off, it is imperative to understand the intrinsic motivations for a business to employ a PR agency. What problem are you helping to solve? No one wakes up one day and decides, ‘Gee let’s get a PR Agency, that seems like fun!’. There’s always a challenge the business is experiencing. Understand the challenge, and you will be able to design and deliver a brilliant communications plan which will drive the business towards its goals.

Secondly, you need to agree Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), which could relate to reach, pieces of coverage, industry sectors, time spent, shares on social media and so on. It’s crucial to agree and discuss these KPIs up front. Show some examples of previous work you’ve done so they can envisage how it will look and feel for them. Get all KPIs agreed in writing from the outset, then you know you’re on the same page.

Thirdly, you need to manage expectations. This can come in so many forms:

Results: A client is happy if they understand exactly what is happening, how long it will take and when they can expect to see results. Lead times for specific stories are always a conversation that needs to be had, no matter how experienced they are with PR. What is obvious to you is not necessarily at the forefront of their mind.

Contact: They also need to know how and when they can contact you. You cannot possibly be available between anytime 9am and 5pm every day, you have other meetings, other clients and of course, the work itself. A regular virtual meeting and ad hoc on email works well. Explain this up front. Collaborative documents can also work for some teams.

Input: What are you going to need from them? And how often will you need their time? This is so important; some business owners can be surprised at how much input is required from them to get great PR pieces.

Under promise and over deliver: This is my favourite technique. If you’re sure you can do it by Wednesday, tell the client Friday. If everything goes to plan you deliver early and you look good, if you get a curve ball from elsewhere in the meantime, you have ‘fudge-factor’. Believe me, giving your clients increasingly unrealistic deadlines to deliver work to them, does not make you look good especially if you don’t always hit your deadlines. They’d rather have the realistic deadlines and for you to be reliable and consistent with them.

By managing expectations properly from the outset, you won’t face any difficulties. It’s much harder to justify your way of working once it’s been flagged as a potential issue than it is to say from the outset ‘this is how we work’. Be open, honest, and transparent. You don’t have to justify it or explain your processes, it is simply how you work.

What if you already have a difficult client, how can you change the dynamic?

I would assert that fundamentally one of the above factors has probably not been fulfilled to the level that is required. In the past, if I suspected that a client was starting to become ‘difficult’ I would ask for a call with the client straight away and open a dialogue. I would go back over their intrinsic motivations, KPIs and, if necessary, spend more time managing expectations.

Consider the impetus of why a client might have decided they need to be ‘difficult’. Difficult usually looks like unrealistic expectations, not listening to advice or micro-managing.

It’s important to get around their side of the table as it were and really listen to what they need and the pressures they are facing. You are their ally; you are there to help them achieve their objectives. What is it that isn’t going the way they hoped? Sometimes it’s not the PR work, but a change in messaging from the board level, or a new focus within the business. Are you still following the old PR plan, or have you reworked it to reflect the new changes? Work smarter not harder – make sure you’re doing the right activities to deliver the results the client really wants and needs.

AJ Sharp is the founder of Sharp Relations, an award-winning food, drink, hospitality and travel PR agency. AJ is a judge for the Great Taste Awards and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. 

Need tools for managing your stakeholders? Demo Vuelio’s Stakeholder Engagement products

PRCA

PRCA launches Small to Medium Enterprise (SME) Group

The Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) has launched its Small to Medium Enterprise (SME) Group to provide an online and physical platform for the sharing of ideas and advice within the sector.

The SME Group is now open to any UK agency with up to 15 members of staff and will aim to provide strategic business help, opportunities for SME agency heads to develop their skills and knowledge as business leaders, as well as practical advice for maintaining their mental health.

Carta Comms Founder and Director Matt Cartmell FPRCA and HERA Communication Strategies Managing Director Anna Geffert FPRCA are Co-Chairs of the new group.

Anna Geffert and Matt Cartmell

They said of the group’s foundation:

‘As we step out of one of the hardest periods for business in history, it’s incredibly important that the next generation of leading PR agencies gets all the support that it needs to take the industry forward as growth returns.

‘We were inspired to launch this group by all of the hugely supportive informal connections that we’ve made with friends in the industry during the lockdown, ones that have helped us to learn so much. This is our way of crystallising that experience into something formal, and hopefully helping even more SME agency leaders to grow their agencies.’

More information about the PRCA SME Group can be found on the website here.

How to manage teams of disparate cultures

How to manage disparate cultures in the same team

This is a guest post from Paul MacKenzie-Cummins, founder and managing director at Clearly.

It has been interesting to observe the number of companies that have opened an overseas office since the UK voted to leave the European Union. We have seen it ourselves, with a handful of clients announcing their intention to expand into key markets such as France, Spain and United States.

While exciting and incredibly pleasing to see such expansion and ambition, especially after the storm of the last 18 months, businesses and brands need to be cautious. If they get their comms and messaging wrong across each of their new markets, those hopes and aspirations can come quickly crashing down.

Navigating complex nationalities

Ten years ago, I relocated to Croatia to take up a role as interim head of comms for a European scientific publishing house. It was a position that kept me there for two years (not that I was complaining, of course) and gave me a crash course in managing and leading culturally diverse teams.

I started with a team of 20+ people who spanned a wealth of nationalities – culturally, each nationality had its differences.

I loved them all. Their quirks, humour, attitudes, mentality, and the way in which they would process information and make decisions. It opened my eyes to a diverse range of ideas, which would become extremely beneficial when I started Clearly in 2014.

Let’s not think for one moment that being British is a benchmark we should all judge other cultures with. We Brits aren’t exactly easy to work with. We have penchant for saying ‘please’ way too often, our impatience for lateness is world-famous, and we have a wonderful ability for confusing the heck out of people and failing to say what we really mean. For example, when we say, ‘If you have time, you may want to check out…’, what we actually mean is ‘Check the damn thing out now, got it?’

But culture doesn’t just relate to one’s nationality, it also refers to psyche.

Attitudinal variances

Indeed, when I arrived in 2011, Croatia was marking the twentieth anniversary since the start of the first Balkans war that was fuelled by the collapse of the former communist-led Yugoslavia. For the next few years, civil war ensued and inflamed historic cultural divides. It also divided generations, too.

From what I could see, those within the team who were schooled pre-1991 followed the indoctrination of their former communist leaders – to toe the line, never question those in authority. Even the careers they had were determined at birth; if you lived closer to an engineering than a textiles college, you would become an engineer. End of.

But for those who went to school post-1991, theirs was an altogether different mindset. Western ideals were introduced, and people were actively encouraged to challenge the status quo, dare to dream of leading a better life filled with possibilities, and to choose a career based not on where they lived but what they wanted to do.

As a manager, this was rather challenging. One half of the team would follow instructions and go about their work without hesitation or recourse while the other half had no fear of pushing back and asking questions. It made for interesting team meetings, I can tell you.

Regional differences need to be observed

Such nuances are not the reserve of somewhere like Croatia, the United States can be challenging, too. We have clients opening on both the west and east coasts of the country, and the disparities can be enormous.

Indeed, from my own experiences, Bostonians can be conservative and seem rather British-like. They are more likely to ask where you come from, how the business got started, or who the key people are and their stories. New Yorkers couldn’t give a jot about any of these things, they cut to the chase and want to know what’s in it for them from the off. West coast Americans are different again. The Californians I’ve interacted with were a chilled bunch who like to spend time establishing a rapport before getting down to the business of the day.

Multiculturalism has made me a better leader and innovator

I love working with multicultural teams and not because it is a politically correct thing to say and do. It’s because as someone who has worked in-house, as well as in my current role as an agency leader, driving forward new ideas and innovations are of critical importance.

Diverse teams create diversity of thought, and that has enabled my previous teams and the organisations they represented to gain that all-important competitive edge within each market they serve.

This experience has influenced my own way of thinking. Because I have become so used to hearing often-conflicting ideas, I now naturally look at a particular scenario and consider how some of the people in my previous teams would approach it. I now court the opinion of those within my current team who I know will view said scenario differently to me. It is this approach that has seen us a business benefit enormously over the last few years, and the experience gained has made me a better, more rounded and open-minded agency leader.

As a leader, none of us has all the answers. But as a team, and a diverse one at that, the solutions will invariably be found.

Six reasons ESG is important in comms

6 reasons why ESG is something comms should care about

This is a guest post from The Media Foundry’s associate director Kat Jackson.

We work in a sector where buzzwords and acronyms fly around like crazy. Some of us have the distinction of having come up with the terms. So, PR professionals can be forgiven for looking at the latest acronym being bandied about with a cynical eyebrow raise.

But ESG is not like that.

It is here to stay, and here are six reasons why comms should care.

1. ESG is influencing the top table
Environmental & Social Governance is getting a lot of traction from the investment market. That doesn’t mean it will just stay contained there. In a nutshell, it means that increasing numbers of investors want companies to be scrutinised for their green and socially conscious credentials. One of the biggest names in the space, BlackRock, even issued a stark message to investors at the start of the year including phrases like ‘a tectonic shift is coming’ and ‘climate risk is investment risk’, under the banner of the pandemic triggering such a ‘stark reminder’ of human fragility that it will force us to confront climate change. They are backing it up, ensuring their clients invest in businesses with proven environmental action.

2. Its already impacting your clients. And you, even if you don’t know it
The biggest businesses in the world are being forced by the markets to have a good look at their green processes and initiatives. This involves a root-and-branch review of their organisations, their sustainability and social policies. They are then rated on a changing set of criteria (depending on who is doing the rating – there is no standardised criteria at the moment). Most critically, they also need to conduct this review of their suppliers. This is already evident in physical supply chains for goods, but it will soon apply to service industries as good ESG standing becomes less ‘nice-to-have’ and more fundamental. Sooner or later, it will become something agencies are asked for on appointment.

3. This goes deeper than CSR
This is not greenwashing. It’s not brand purpose. It’s also not community outreach. This is a rigorous assessment of a business’ impact on its social communities and environment. It’s early days for ESG, and as we’ve seen, set universal criteria are not yet set. But this is more than paying lip service to an entity’s carbon footprint. This is an extra set of criteria by which the markets will assess the success of a business, beyond its balance sheet. It’s also currently where the money is – and money talks. Investments into businesses with proven sustainable credentials are booming. According to one study by the University of Oxford, also found that businesses focusing on ESG areas were operationally more effective.

4. ESG as a USP (for now)
Clearly, this is a major focus for financial and corporate PR. But there is an opportunity sitting there waiting, for many businesses, before everyone jumps on the bandwagon. Getting ahead of ESG assessments, taking a deep dive look at green and ethical policies within a business, and pulling away from the pack before it becomes widespread will help frontrunners to stand out. The shocking findings from the IPCC report earlier this month with dire predictions about climate change shook a lot of people, but action is hard to quantify at a personal level. If companies can show they are already taking steps to help customers to make a difference, they will grow as a result.

5. ESG will seep down to the SME
It’s just a matter of time. This means focusing on PR’s own business operations and getting ahead of the curve so we can advise clients in turn. It also means small businesses will need to get organised themselves, especially if they trade with much larger entities. Expect the RFP process to get greener. Start asking the questions to clients now about their plans.

6. It’s the right thing to do
Climate change complacency has led to 20 years of little tangible progress. Finger pointing is everywhere. If the biggest countries in the world and huge businesses aren’t doing anything about their emissions, what difference can I make? This argument isn’t going to stand much longer. Think of it as reverse incremental gains. If everyone commits to making small changes, habits form, processes change over time, and together the effect can move the needle in the right direction. Companies who start now will set a direction for people power. Most do want to make a difference, it just feels too large and overwhelming. Companies that assist that process are already winning business. Those who ignore the issue will slip behind.

accessmatters with Cassius Naylor Proud FT

‘This is where we all can make a discernable difference’ – accessmatters with Cassius Naylor, Proud FT

While the UK PR, comms and media industries are making efforts to improve on inclusivity, one marginalised group in particular is the focus for Cassius Naylor in his work as chair of the Financial Times employee network Proud FT. Empowerment, support and protection of transgender and nonbinary people working within the FT structure, and fair representation of the community in the press, is a passion for Cassius, who shared his experiences and advice in our latest accessmatters session.

Watch the full accessmatters session with Cassius Naylor here.

Proud FT is working to lead the way and model how the UK media should be supporting transgender and nonbinary people. As Cassius highlighted during the session, the reporting of transgender and nonbinary-related issues in the mainstream UK press right now needs to change, very drastically and very quickly.

‘This community is the most at-risk and marginalised, yet we’ve all seen how trans issues are being reported in the UK right now.’

Those who work with the media can make a difference – especially those who engage with the public to drive opinion and tell stories. What can the PR industry do to fight transphobia and better represent transgender and nonbinary people?

The inclusion of pronoun information on social media is particularly popular among Generation Z – ‘Gen Z are getting queerer and more liberal because they’re plugged into others’ experiences. Culturally, with my younger brother, for example – it’s like he’s from a different planet. He came out at the age of 15 – if I had, I wouldn’t have got through school’. Pronouns frequently receive scoffing comments on social media platforms. Is pronoun information on social media useful and worth adding?

‘Absolutely,’ says Cassius.

‘We need to engender a place where pronouns are as normalised as sharing names. “Not seeing gender” is not helping to dismantle structural transphobia. It’s like those who say “I don’t see race” – that’s not helpful, at all’.

‘I’m a bisexual man and secondly a disabled man, but I’m still learning the lessons of inclusion, too – I’m still trying to get better at this. There’s nothing wrong with getting it wrong – it’s okay to be on a learning curve. Yes, pronouns are very important.’

That’s a small thing that can help with your outward-facing communication, but what about within the workplace? Gendered language seeps into work speech without us even realising it – starting a meeting with ‘Ladies and Gentleman’ (that does not cover everybody) or ‘Guys’ (sometimes used as a gender-neutral term, which it obviously is not).

‘There are many non-gendered alternatives – I go with “Hi everyone” or “Hi all”,’ says Cassius. ‘Those are easy to adopt – just adjust and move on. Practice, practice, practice.’

The recognition of phrases that are used to disempower – dog whistles – are also worth listening out for and actively questioning. ‘Recognise where that kind of language – “gender critical”, “biological female”, etc. – is being used; it’s insidious and it’s subtle.

‘Listen to your transgender and nonbinary colleagues – don’t talk over them, don’t talk for them. Cisgender people can use our privilege to create spaces of safely for our trans colleagues. If you see someone being dogpiled on Twitter, a simple DM or tweet of support can change things for people – it’s a real battle ground out there.’

If this conversation is new to you and you want to learn more, there are many resources you can engage with to empower yourself with the right information to go on and empower others. Influencers are already sharing what you need to know – ‘There’s so many people out sharing insight,’ says Cassius. ‘The internet is both a wonderful and occasionally terrible thing. It’s given us access to the breadth of human experience’.

Cassius advised following Abigail Thorn – ‘look up the speech she did at Trans Pride this year – an inspiring moment of defiance against transphobia’, Kat Blaque, and Jay Hulme. Groups like Gender Intelligence, GenderGP, Stonewall and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau have even more information.

‘Take a holistic view of this. It’s a worldwide struggle to be intersectional while making sure we treat everyone’s experiences as individual. Filling your space with the richness of other people’s experiences helps.

‘There’s an endless web, a massive community,’ says Cassius. ‘Make sure you’re not just absorbing white voices and male voices. Go out there and absorb and amplify the multiplicity of experience.’

For more from our accessmatters session with Cassius Naylor, read our write up for journalists on the ResponseSource blog.

Want to watch the full session and catch up with past accessmatters videos? Check out the accessmatters hub here.

Why introverts make great PRs

4 Reasons Why Introverts Make Great PRs

This is a guest post from Prezzybox PR & marketing executive Alex Spencer.

It can sometimes feel like the world of PR is reserved for the extroverted, that those who need time to recharge after social gatherings, events or team meetings aren’t best-suited to this competitive environment.

But while I had my reservations when I started my career in PR, as an introvert who much prefers a night in with a blanket, hot chocolate and Netflix binge to a night out, I quickly realised that the qualities I thought would hinder my progress can actually be huge assets.

Here’s four important reasons why introverts can make wonderful PRs.

1. Introverts are great reflectors
When starting out in PR, it can seem like charging ahead at full speed is the best way to get your clients or the brand you’re working for noticed.

But I quickly learned that this really isn’t the case. At Prezzybox, we’re big believers in not doing something just because we’ve always done it. Instead, we slow down, taking the time to reflect on what’s worked well in the past, what hasn’t, and how we make things better.

We used to send untargeted press releases to hundreds of journalists at a time, resulting in, unsurprisingly, little interest and lots of unsubscribers. We learned from our mistakes and now, we take a more methodical approach to outreach.

Reflecting is what introverts do best, and this is key to honing your communications strategy.

2. Many journalists are introverts too… obviously
It’s not that I’m completely against giving a journalist a call. In fact, I’ve had some very productive conversations with journalists by phone, and some where we compare notes on our incredibly ungrateful cats.

But it’s obvious that many journalists prefer to be contacted by email only, and that can be for myriad reasons. Of course, their day is jam-packed and an email usually fits in better with their hectic schedule than a call. But, like the rest of us, all journalists are different. Some will love attending events, meeting PRs and the social side of their job. Others are pretty happy to communicate by email only, and need time, like I do, to spend time alone and recharge.

I’ve seen many journalists request no calls on their profile because they don’t like talking to people. And I don’t think many of us would blame them.

3. Introverts are great listeners
Social listening is key to the success of any communications strategy or PR campaign. And if introverts do anything well, it’s letting others do the talking. Listening is especially important at events and whenever you’re meeting journalists in person, like Prezzybox will be doing next at our first in-person event since January 2020. It can be incredibly tempting to use the short time you may have with them pitching your product, brand or campaign at full speed, with a few short breaths in-between your spiel to avoid collapsing in an exhausted heap on the floor.

But while you certainly need to make the most of the time you have, communicating the salient points in a (hopefully) engaging way, being talked at isn’t fun for anyone. Introverts are great at two-way communication, watching for subtle signs in body language and intonation that tell you when you need to slow down, pick up the pace, change topic or let the other person do the talking.

It goes without saying that asking journalists what they’re looking for is crucial, before you spend ten minutes pitching your health and wellness brand to a finance journalist.

4. We think before we speak!
They say all press is good press. But brand sentiment is a fragile thing, with one wrong move having the potential to push you off the top spot in minutes. It’s wonderful to see so many brands disrupting the market with innovative campaigns, but these have to be well thought-out. Introverts are brilliant at thinking before making moves, and this is exactly what PRs should do in this fast-paced, competitive world.

Thierry Alain, Head of Data Insights at Rise At Seven, shares some brilliant insights into brand sentiment and how quickly this can change over on Twitter. It demonstrates the power of thinking before you speak. Burger King might have gone viral with their ‘Women belong in the kitchen’ tweet, but it didn’t quite have the effect they were hoping for.

The Takeaway
PR is now much more suited to communicators on both sides of the introvert-extrovert spectrum, with the focus for many brands shifting to digital PR and building links. People from all walks of life, with different communication styles will love a career in PR, if they’re tenacious, enthusiastic and, perhaps most importantly, resilient. We all know the knock-backs can be tough…

And introverts can bring special qualities to the plate when it comes to getting amazing coverage. Our ability to reflect, to connect with others and think before we speak make us great communicators, and therefore, great PRs.

Provided we’re given plenty of time to recharge our batteries, that is. Cuddles with the office dogs also help.

For more on how to engage with journalists in ways they find useful, download our How to Pitch to Journalists white paper here.

Want a more methodical approach to media outreach? Try the Vuelio Media Database, which includes how journalists like to be contacted, the topics they cover and recent article information. Social listening part of your campaign planning? Try out Pulsar’s platform of products

PRCA Health Conference 2021

Building on innovations in digital healthcare comms: PRCA Health Conference 2021

The healthcare sector has been under extraordinary pressure throughout the pandemic and new technologies and processes have had to be adopted and embraced across all departments – particularly in communications.

One thing that has helped comms teams working in healthcare connect with the vast audience in need of guidance and correct information? The massive increase in people using social media – according to statistics shared during day one of this year’s PRCA Health Conference, half a billion people joined social media last year alone.

How can teams seeking to connect with both wide and niche audiences on a variety of health-related topics make use of these new ways to connect? For ‘The new digital frontiers: Identifying and leveraging emerging social platforms’ panel, Pulsar enterprise solutions consultant Tom Deacon, HAVAS Just:: head of digital Corin Baird and Ogilvy Health UK account director Charlotte Turner shared their takeaways from the last 18-months of challenge and opportunity and advice for stemming the tide of misinformation and sharing the right messages.

New avenues of engagement across generations
You may not find many old age pensioners keeping up with the latest healthcare trends via TikTok, but the tech innovations sped up by the pandemic have filtered across the generations in a variety of ways, across different platforms.

Healthcare professionals have joined social media channels to share their expertise with people stuck inside during the lockdowns and battle misinformation. They’re natural content creators, according to Corin:

‘There has been a lot of information and misinformation being shared, so the need to right wrongs, to get really involved in that has been massive,’ said Corin. ‘The healthcare community hasn’t been quite so vocal on that before.

‘We’ve got a generation who are digitally native and who are also healthcare professionals – they create great content. They can get in front of the public and get things out in a more interesting way, not just leaving a leaflet in a doctor’s surgery. And it can be done in a way that’s approachable, and dare I say, “snackable”?’

That’s TikTok and YouTube-savvy audiences covered, but how has social media opened-up new avenues to engage with older audiences?

‘For most older people, being comfortable with new formats takes them trying it themselves,’ said Tom. The move to digital appointments made necessary by social restrictions has meant more older people trying it. But video calls aren’t the only way healthcare professionals and comms practitioners can engage with them – health-related internet forums will continue to be their go-to, according to Tom:

‘People need that network of support. The older generations that came before the happier-to-share millennials and Gen Zs enjoy their anonymity. Older people will have more health problems, so you’ll have more conversations happening in those anonymous forums.’

How should teams adapt their message for each platform?
The panel mentioned pharma as a sector known for being slow to share information in order to engage their audiences and adopt new technology. The pandemic has changed this, and Charlotte had advice for teams not quite yet au fait with the new culture of audience-led sharing:

‘The main shift that could help a lot of brands, especially in pharma, is to move away from a broadcast-only mindset. If it’s on social, you can have more fun – fun and entertainment is a key driver for why people are on these platforms. You can’t force your mindset on them.’

‘Pharmacentical companies have to spend time on a campaign,’ Corin acknowledged. ‘But on social media, you need to continue that conversation to get true engagement. They’ll pay money to build a community, but then drop it. It’s maintaining that contact that’s going to be successful’.

Locking in the right influencer to help get your message out on the platforms they understand is a tried-and-tested way to get attention… but it only truly works if there is a genuine connection between your chosen ambassador and the story.

‘A recent successful campaign that comes to mind for me is something our colleagues in the US have been working on relating to rare lung diseases,’ shared Charlotte. ‘You have to go broad for these things – an influencer can be a beacon. We worked with Queen Latifah, and while that might sound like just throwing a big name at it, she has an authentic connection with the condition – her mother passed away from interstitial lung disease. For her, it was important to make people aware of the condition. Influencer campaigns have been trendy for a while now, but I don’t think the authenticity will ever go away – the story has to be there.’

Authenticity is especially important on TikTok. As covered by the panel, Generation Z and millennial users are socially-aware and politically-canny – they’re more likely to spot insincerity and to turn away from overly-fussy content.

‘Content on TikTok has helped with breaking down stigma around things like ADHD,’ said Charlotte.

‘Mental health is such a complex topic, too, but the sharing of experiences does lend itself to TikTok. It’s not overly produced. The best brand performance is when they haven’t injected their own brand guidelines into content. That move to native clothing of content is going to be a strong theme going forward.’

For more on healthcare comms, read this guest post from Evergreen PR’s Leigh Greenwood on how purpose-led approaches win in healthtech PR

Thinking about using TikTok as part of your future campaigns? Here are five tips for getting started. And for how YouTube has changed influence, check out our interview with author and journalist Chris Stokel-Walker on what’s next for YouTube and influencer culture.

COP26 guest post from Vince Cable

Looking ahead to COP26

This is a guest post from Sir Vince Cable, former leader of the Liberal Democrats and a former Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.

COP26 is a vast intergovernmental conference under United Nations auspices and hosted by the UK in Glasgow. The key objective is to secure agreed national commitments leading to demonstrable action to limit climate change.

These annual conferences review progress in implementing the broad commitments agreed at COP21: the Paris Agreement. This year matters more than most since the scientific evidence and the consequences of climate change are starker than ever. A series of natural phenomena – unprecedent wildfires, flooding, extremely high temperatures in Siberia – have illustrated the risks of unchecked warming. COP 26 is crucial to get governments to commit themselves to ambitious but realistic targets for curbing emissions of Greenhouse Gasses (GHGs) which are consistent with safe and tolerable levels of warming (around 1.5% over the century).

It is easy to be cynical. Heads of government will give speeches making commitments to be implemented long after they have left office. Officials will then craft a communique reflecting the interests of countries ranging from small, island states worried about being swamped by sea-level rise to hydrocarbon-based economies like Saudi Arabia and Russia; from major GHG emitters like China and the USA to microstates; from post-industrial, to industrialising to pre-industrial societies.

There are some reasons for optimism. Biden has replaced Trump. Trump was skeptical about climate change; was a strong advocate of the coal industry; and withdrew from the Paris Agreement. Biden has re-joined the Paris Agreement and will commit the USA to ambitious targets backed up by money and legislation. He also sets store by alliance-building and may be able to extract commitments from hitherto uncooperative countries like Australia. Optimists can also point to the success of earlier multilateral agreements like the Montreal Protocol governing chemicals which damage the ozone layer (an agreement in which Britain’s Margaret Thatcher played a key role)

But there are serious obstacles to radical policies in the USA. Support varies greatly from state to state – from committed California to hostile Texas – and Congressional support is not guaranteed. Even in countries with a strong environmental awareness, action lags rhetoric, as with Germany’s continued attachment to coal. And many developing countries will demand large amounts of money from industrialised countries to adapt to climate induced changes that they themselves did not create. Britain’s cut in its aid budget sends the wrong message.

The biggest problem however is China which is currently the world’s biggest emitter by some margin. President Xi has made a strong commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2060 and to reduce emissions after 2030; but there is little detail and a continuing plan to build many new coal-powered power stations, though China has now committed itself to stop supporting overseas coal burning power stations. Relations with the USA are toxic making collaboration in science research and technology exchange more difficult. Anger over Britain’s role in an alliance to confront China also increases the risk that China may choose to postpone its climate change offer until after Glasgow.

The British government has put the odds of a successful summit at 60:40. My heart is with the 60%; my head with the 40%.

Want more on climate change and the environment? Check out our Top 10 UK Green Blogs ranking and advice shared during CIPR’s Climate Change and the Role of PR half-day conference earlier this year. 

Neuro PR Brain and Brand Connection

Neuro PR: Strengthening the Brain and Brand Connection

When it comes to planning successful PR campaigns that create a lasting impression, it’s important to target both the heart and mind of your consumer.

In our latest webinar, we were joined by Charlotte Nichols, managing director and Leader of the Pack at Harvey & Hugo PR who talked to us about how they apply neuroscience to their day-to-day PR activity.

Fill in the form below to watch the webinar. 

App-based banking versus traditional banking

Digital banking versus traditional banking

Laura Rettie is the chief communications officer at 71a, the digital marketing consultancy created by the team behind the financial comparison site money.co.uk.

The pandemic has hit the high street hard and led to the closure of hundreds of branches of banks. In this guest post, I’ll explore the rise of app-based banks and compare them to their traditional counterparts.

App-based banking vs traditional banking
What do I mean by app-based banking? I don’t mean checking your bank account balance online or moving money from one account to another because traditional banks provide all of those tools these days, and I refer to that as online banking.

An app-based bank doesn’t have any high street branches and you can’t talk to anyone. App-based banks provide all the same functions as a traditional bank, but everything takes place exclusively over an application on your smartphone.

What are the advantages of app-based banking?
1. Better deals – Because app-based banks don’t have to pay for buildings and branch staff, they can afford to offer better rates and fees on their products like savings accounts, credit cards, loans and spending abroad. They also partner with other digital banks, meaning they have access to preferential rates and their fees tend to be lower too.
2. Time saver – Because you don’t have to travel to your nearest branch or queue up to speak to branch staff, app-based banks save you time when you need to manage your money, providing 24/7 access to everything, anywhere. If you want to order a new card or view your PIN the process takes a couple of taps.
3. Budgeting tools – App-based banks are ahead of the curve when it comes to providing their customers with ways to sensibly manage their money, providing customers with budgeting tools, intuitive ways to pay and notifications for when you’ve gone over your budget.

What are the similarities between app-based banks and traditional banks?
1. Regulation – Both are regulated by the same banking laws and basic regulatory requirements.
2. Customer service – Some traditional banks have excellent customer service. Still, app-based banks have had to go the extra mile to persuade customers that the digital approach is as safe and effective as traditional banking.
3. Full suite of current account services – Both offer overdrafts, savings accounts, debit cards and the ability to link your account to your mobile wallet such as Apple Pay.

What are the disadvantages of app-based banking?
1. Depositing cash & cheques – If you find yourself needing to deposit cheques or paying in cash regularly, you may find you’re limited using app-based banks.
2. Personal touch – Once upon a time, your bank manager would be the person you’d talk to about borrowing money, mortgages and investing. If you like the reassurance of speaking to someone about managing your money, app-based banks might not be for you. In the wake of the pandemic, I suspect many banking customers have already gotten used to this not being readily available to them.
3. Smartphone usage – You’ll need a smartphone to get access to app-based banks, and you’ll want to keep your phone charged if you need to manage your money.

How long before all banks become app-based banks?
For me, the answer lies in human behaviour.

Currently, it’s estimated that over 54 million individuals in the UK have a bank account of some description. As of January 2021, 14 million of us opened an app-based bank account.
So, what’s it going to take for the remaining 40 million people in the UK to do the same?

There are two examples in recent history of human behaving changing significantly over time.
One is the rise of mobile phone ownership, and the other is the speed at which the high street is dying as people turn to shopping online.

In 2008, 79% of households in the UK owned a mobile phone. It took ten years for that figure to reach 95% of households.

In 2008, 53% of households made purchases online. It took ten years for that figure to reach 78% of households.

Some people may be waiting for their traditional bank to catch up – many of the high street banks now offer a plethora of online banking tools, so you could argue the experience isn’t all that different from using an app-based bank.

In reality, though, it will take years for traditional banks to catch up with their digital siblings. It’s like trying to turn an enormous ship around – their systems are built on legacy technology that will take a long time to replace. The infrastructure of their businesses are complex, and it’s going to cost a lot of money to attract young coders and developers needed to create the platforms the app-based banks have without the same desirable offices, benefits and culture the digital banks offer.

I have two bank accounts. One is with a traditional bank, HSBC, and the other is with digital bank, Monzo. Interestingly I still choose for my wages to be paid into my HSBC account, despite understanding the benefits of digital banking.

Why? Because it’s a habit, it will take me a few years and a few more mates to do it first for me to make the transition. It will happen, but I’ve owned a mobile phone for twenty years and still have a landline phone, you know, just in case.

Did you know you’re more likely to get a divorce than you are to switch current accounts?

It will likely be a while before we see all the traditional banks close their doors for good; after all, we’re creatures of habit.

Keep up with the fortunes of the banking industry with The Banking Comms Index.

PRCA Global Advisory Board

The PRCA launches its Global Advisory Board

The Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) has confirmed the formation of its Global Advisory Board to expand the Association’s international support of PR professionals.

The Global Advisory Board is made up of internationally recognised PR leaders who will work alongside the PRCA’s International Director to expand PRCA operations in emerging PR markets.

The PRCA currently operates in 70 countries across the world with members in locations including Argentina, Hong Kong, Singapore, Spain, Thailand, the UAE, the UK, the US and Vietnam. The association will also continue to manage the global network of PR associations ICCO.

Inaugural Board members are:

Ahmad Itani, Cicero & Bernay Communications’ Consultancy founder and CEO
Alison Clarke, Alison Clarke Consulting founder
Elena Fadeeva, FleishmanHillard Vanguard’s founder and general director
Fred Cook, Golin’s chairman emeritus and director of the Annenberg Center for Public Relations
Gustavo Averbuj, Ketchum’s partner and regional director Latam
Israel Opayemi, Chain Reactions Nigeria’s managing director/chief strategist
Jim Donaldson, FleishmanHillard UK and Middle East’s CEO
Jordan Rittenberry, Edelman Middle East and Africa’s chairman
Lee Nugent, Archetype regional director APAC
Mary Beth West, Fletcher Marketing PR’s senior strategist
Nitin Mantri, Avian WE’s group CEO and ICCO president
Omar Qirem, Edelman Middle East CEO
Rachel Friend, W Communications CEO

‘As the world’s largest PR body, our mission is simple – to raise standards all across the industry, all around the world,’ said PRCA director general Francis Ingham of the board’s creation.

‘We want every PR professional to enjoy access to world-class support and representation. The pandemic has accelerated our international plans, and democratised our offering to communications professionals around the world. Whether you work in New York or New Delhi, fintech or healthcare, the PRCA is here to support you, and to fight for the future of our profession.

‘I’d like to thank the esteemed members of our Global Advisory Board. Individually, they are each globally-renowned industry pioneers. Collectively, they will turbocharge our international expansion, and be a positive driving force for global PR.’

For more on the work of the PRCA, read our previous interview with Mercer UK’s Emmanuel Ofosu-Appiah on the association’s Race and Ethnicity Equity Board (REEB) and our feature on the Disability@thetable podcast with Mark Webb.

Reputation Management

The woes and pros of reputation management

This is a guest post from Pearl M. Kasirye, head of PR at Pearl Lemon. She works in reputation management, crisis communication, and loves the challenging aspects of her profession.

One of the most complex forms of Public Relations is reputation management. It’s the one that attracts the most exciting clients and keeps PR teams busy 24/7.

‘Cancel culture’ is in the zeitgeist and people’s reputations are at greater risk of getting damaged. Reputation management clients are the kinds who keep you up at night thinking about whether or not to put on Olivia Pope’s white hat.

Sometimes clients get in real trouble, and they need us to clean up their image. When we get clients like this, it is never a walk in the park, and our approach is always different because of the complexities of reputation management.

What are the Biggest Challenges?

The more scandals companies and individuals get involved in – the more clients and money PR firms get. I know, it’s not pretty, but that’s the truth.

Challenge 1:
What do you do when a client gets into a scandal that puts you in a moral dilemma? It can be hard to swallow if you are part of the LGBTQ+ community and your client got caught harassing or saying derogatory things about people like you.

There’s that moment when you find yourself wondering how to approach it. It’s challenging to keep a straight face when you know that your client behaved that way or said things that personally offends you.

This is when it gets interesting because you get to empathise with the audience that is angry with your client and understand what needs to be done to mitigate the situation.

It can be both a blessing and a headache when you are in a situation like this. When you work in reputation management, you’ll inevitably get clients whose scandals personally offend you and make you question your moral ethics.

The question is, how will you handle it?

Challenge 2:
Sometimes, there is a huge gap between how the client views their brand versus another brand. The trick is to understand that gap from the start and analyse how to align those two things.

Here’s an example: when you have a client who specialises in tech, and they think they are the most innovative and unique, it’s possible that they really are just average.

Your role as their PR manager is to look for those distinct elements within their brand that makes them stand out. This can be challenging at times because you can’t just tell your client, ‘Hey, sorry, you’re just not that interesting,’ and walk away.

You have to see it through! Look for a human interest story, a quirky tidbit about the company/client, or a newsworthy PR angle that could help you build a strong reputation for them.

Challenge 3:
Reputation management is not an exact science. Just like with any PR service, there are no real guarantees that you can give clients. Someone may hire you to put out a fire and fix their brand image, then leave right after they get some good press.

Then they may return when they’ve made another mess that you need to clean up. For this reason, reputation management is an ongoing PR process. Many clients think it’s a simple thing that can be solved in one or two months. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

In my experience, I’ve found that having a three to six month minimum for contracts is essential. Within this time frame, clients can start to see real tangible results. However, it’s unfortunate that many of them come in expecting us to fix their lives in a matter of weeks.

On a Lighter Note
Reputation management is a very rewarding form of public relations. It’s one of the most challenging, along with crisis communication. Reputation management can often feel like playing a three-month-long game of chess.

You’re constantly anticipating, strategising, and making decisions to kill the bad press or fix your client’s reputation. If you’re a chess nerd (like me), then you’ll find this line of work exhilarating and intellectually stimulating. Every client presents unique challenges that push you to your limit.

Regardless of the ups and downs in this line of work – it’s clear that there’s never a dull moment! What a way to grow and push yourself to be better! Over time, you start to look at the world differently and find unique strategies to keep your clients looking good.

Want more on managing reputation in difficult situations? Check out our previous piece on embracing technology in a crisis and learning the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic

For monitoring the reputation of your brand, business and clients across the media, try Vuelio’s Media Monitoring solutions. 

ICCO logo

ICCO and The Trust Project team up to promote media freedom

The International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) has partnered with media and journalism organisation The Trust Project (TTP) to support a free news media, address misinformation and promote public access to accurate news and information.

Already a specialist advisor to the Council of Europe on free speech and media literacy, ICCO will now be supported by TTP in this work. The partnership will also promote the Trust Indicators as news literacy tool for those working in PR, their clients and the public. ICCO and TTP will collaborate on resources, tools, new standards for the industry and activities to promote education on free speech and media literary across the globe.

ICCO’s Europe president Massimon Moriconi said of the partnership: ‘Misinformation spreads quickly, damaging the work of PR and communications, therefore it is essential we support trusted, credible media. PR also relies on a free media to report information without fear of punishment. Without a free press, there is no free communications. I look forward to partnering with The Trust Project in our work with the Council of Europe and with our members, on building productive networks, campaigns and shared practices between trusted media and trusted PR’.

The Trust Project’s founder and chief executive added: ‘I am pleased that public relations professionals, led by ICCO, are helping to lead the effort to elevate honesty over misleading reports and claims. The rise of both misinformation and attacks on the press make our collaboration urgent and essential’.

September is ICCO’s PR Ethics Month, which aims to highlight the importance of facts, ethics and truth in the communications industry.
US-based not-for-profit The Trust Project works with news organisations to promote transparency and truth, and enable the public to make informed news choices. It has partnered with over 200 print, online and television media across the world.

For more on ethics in PR, read up on the PRCA Ethics Council’s first Annual Perspective, released earlier this year.

Interested in how the media industry can tackle misinformation? Download our ResponseSource whitepaper Fact-checking and fast news: Expert lessons for journalists and the media.

Cut for time Neuro PR

Cut for time: extra answers on neuro PR from Harvey & Hugo’s Charlotte Nichols

Our latest webinar was with Harvey & Hugo PR’s managing director and Leader of the Pack Charlotte Nichols who shared how delving deeper into the subconscious can help us all better understand our clients, consumers and our own creative impulses.

Watch the Neuro PR: Strengthening the Brain and Brand Connection webinar here.

Dispelling the myth that full focus is needed from your intended consumer base to get long-term loyalty and engagement, Charlotte extolled the virtues of the modern audience’s split attention. Looking away from the screen a campaign starts on, for example, doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t have an impact…

We ran out of time to answer all of the questions that came in during our session with Charlotte, so the neuro expert has agreed to share more of her brain power with us on testing out ideas and how to handle proponents of more traditional ‘spray and pray’ PR approaches.

How can we test initial branding ideas to see if they are landing as we want?
One of the easiest ways is to run a focus group, however you’re relying on the fact that people will only answer to project a certain type of image of themselves, not actually what their subconscious actually tells them. You’re also mainly engaging their conscious brains so may be affected by inattentional blindness and more often in this situation the counter argument.

What I’d like to use more commonly are techniques of measuring the brain directly, such as using fMRI scanners and EEG headgear that can measure electrical activity.

Unless you have a good relationship with your local neuroscience faculty at a nearby Uni, these aren’t as accessible or affordable at the moment, but I believe that will change in the future.

Can you give some advice for countering when a colleague says we ‘spray and pray’ with our communication, implying we communicate too much?
Can you ever communicate too much?!

It can often, from an internal perspective, seem like you do, but you’ve got to remember you’re hyper aware of it. To the external, messages often need to be seen seven to 10 times before recognition. I believe in a multimedia approach – messages need to be seen, heard, clicked, watched, interacted with and this all leads to them being felt – which is ultimately what you’re aiming for.

What is important is to make sure your message is shared where your target audience is and is directly tailored to them at the right time.

Some simple feedback from some of your customers would perhaps put a colleague’s mind at ease, i.e. ask leads / customers – where did you see us? How often had you seen us, was it too much?

Also they often use the pray element to say that it is not measurable. It can be hard to measure changes in perceptions and reputation without the tools above.

Mention that all of the big brands have faith in their campaigns and that’s often what leads to their success – they’re willing to give things a decent chance.

Try and get colleague buy-in from the start of campaign with messaging and ads – even if you’re making them feel like they’re suggesting it when really it was you – they will feel more empowered and give the campaign more of a chance.

Read our write up of the Neuro PR: Strengthening the Brain and Brand Connection webinar for more from Harvey & Hugo PR’s Charlotte Nichols.

Looking for more on engaging the minds of your consumers? Read up on the importance of picking the right ambassador for your brand and whether or not it’s a good idea to get your business involved in politics.

PR for start ups

How to approach PR for start-ups

This is a guest post from Espresso’s Stacey Jaffe, who co-founded the agency with Lisa Fox.

Espresso is an agency that works predominantly with start-ups and growing businesses. Our approach focuses on getting under the skin of the brands we work with to fully understand the business founders and their background as a means to tell their story and build a brand personality. We seek to understand our clients’ business objectives in order to utilise PR to help achieve them.

Each client is unique with their own aspirations, story to tell and objectives. Our passion and proposition is to help start-ups achieve their business and personal objectives through the means of PR.

The PR landscape has changed significantly over the last year, the boom of exciting new businesses and innovations supported by the British public has resulted in new forms of media and new opportunities for growing businesses.

Here are five top tips from us on how to approach PR for start-ups:

1. Work with clients you want to work with
The beauty of having your own agency is working with clients you want to work with. Working with clients who you fully understand or consume on a personal level is a massive benefit. If you are not the target consumer, make sure you do your research and understand your target consumer, what makes them tick and what/who influences their spending habits.

2. Reserve budget for the must-have opportunities
Start-up businesses don’t always have additional budget to spend – every penny spent must be accounted for and result in conversion. Rather than using the budget on big campaigns that undoubtedly have a risk factor, we focus the majority of budget on fee allowing us the time to fully immerse ourselves with the brand using our experience and contacts to deliver maximum results.

3. Know your target audience
The media landscape continues to evolve. Think hard about media targets, whilse some coverage/publications may look impressive, they may not reach your audience. Start-ups usually seek PR with a purpose. Whether that be ahead of fund raise, to help enter products into retail, to build the brand and audience or to kick-start sales, we concentrate our efforts on the desired results and depending on the specific objective the media focus will change. For example, if a start-up is prepping for a retail meeting, a meaty business feature in a broadsheet is useful to have up a client’s sleeve. If we’re focusing on pushing sales and building a brand identity, we’d opt for a targeted influencer programme.

4. Work with the right influencers
It’s not all about the numbers; take time to investigate engagement and followers. When we started out in PR, social media was not on the table. We’ve had to evolve and learn and now truly see the value of working with the right influencer. We tend to focus on up-and-coming influencers with a genuinely engaged following. Don’t be afraid to spend reasonable budget on influencers if they can deliver well thought out, well executed content that impacts brand reputation, drives awareness and sales.

Got big ideas for your start up or start up clientele, but working with a small budget? Take advice from The Wildlife Trusts and Tiny Tickers on their successful (and tightly-budgeted) campaigns

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.