Digital Trade Fairs – the new normal in 2021?

Digital Trade Fairs – the new normal in 2021?

What have we learnt in this crazy year 2020? Video conferences are the norm, and so is social distancing with colleagues. Work in the communications industry is largely the same, but what it’s missing is personal communication. Customers are physically absent from the shops, at meetings and events. And of course personal exchanges at trade fairs is missing. A trade fair was always something exciting — setting up on time, getting customer invitations out, securing press atttendees. And now? Everything is different. Companies that were regulars at trade shows are now doing virtual events instead.

Help, everything digital!?

Practice has shown in 2020 that trade fair organisers were sometimes technically and conceptually overburdened to reproduce a presence fair 1:1 digitally. Starting with the fact that only a few trade fair visitors take the trouble to take a tour of several stands online. Often the hurdles are too high, for example when logging in or during the registration procedure. If the trade fair server is overloaded, nothing works and the patience of visitors and exhibitors is put to a hard test. As a result, potential customers have often only made a few selected appointments. Virtually, only a few visitors saw the whole exhibition, unlike a physical event. Both trade fair organisers and exhibitors draw their conclusions from this experience and will continue to develop further.

As an agency, we have advised our clients to take a digital trade fair presence seriously. The rejection of the stand builder alone is not enough. A simple Q&A with a spokesperson from your company during a digital trade fair is not enough. A trade fair appearance in digital format should not be underestimated. Here too, companies are in competition with each other, and there are always companies that make the perfect appearance.

In order to provide our customers with the best service, we develop comprehensive consulting packages. Our core competence, working with media representatives, takes place digitally. Media and advertising planning in advance is largely unaffected, whether a trade fair takes place in in-person or digitally. What was really exciting for all of us was the planning of the actual trade fair appearance. What does a digital room look like, how many rooms are needed and which employees are available? In close consultation and agreement with the customers, we worked out the customers’ trade fair programme together and supported them in a technical and communicative capacity.

In order to be noticed in the digital space, the package included the regular use of all necessary social media channels such as LinkedIn, Xing, Instagram and YouTube. In the run-up to the trade fair, we advertised in trade magazines, the same channels we would use for a physical fair. We also placed PR articles in the trade journals.

Lead generation with content

Anyone who goes to a trade fair as an exhibitor or takes part in it virtually must have something to report. As an agency, we offer advice in finding the right topics and in creating professionally prepared content. In contrast to real trade fairs, German trade fair visitors do not first and foremost seek personal contact, but are looking for really good content. They prefer to use the time they spend on your stand to consume your content rather than chatting with you. For this reason: the content must be prepared in such a way that it attracts visitors to the virtual stand and thus becomes the best tool for your lead generation.

The target group

You also need to know your target group really well. So well that you can assess how they will react to the digital appearance of your company. “All business is local”, and this experience was reflected in the Intergeo digital 2020. The international audience was much less afraid to log into an event live and with pictures via video.

Summary and outlook

At present, we see no way back to normality before the corona pandemic. Video conferences and home offices are now part of everyday life and it is impossible to imagine life without them. Physical fairs have been in crisis for quite some time now, and in 2019 there was already a hail of cancellations of fairs in Germany. The pandemic has greatly accelerated this process. We think that decisions must be made on an industry-specific basis. There are industries where a trade fair fulfils its purpose, such as an order fair in the fashion or sporting goods sector. In many other sectors, negotiations take place throughout the year and there is no need for a personal meeting at a trade fair. Transferring a trade fair concept 1:1 into a digital space will not work for everyone. Smaller and more flexible formats will be required in the future. Companies should not wait and see what the market offers them, but should take action themselves. Why not offer a roadshow or an in-house exhibition virtually. As an agency we are called upon here to proactively develop concepts for our customers.

By Fortis PR

Make Social Media Work for You: A Four-step Guide to Driving Revenue

Make Social Media Work for You: A Four-step Guide to Driving Revenue

As of 2020, there are nearly 4 billion social media users, including the over 90% of businesses that have also deployed a social media strategy. What does this large user pool mean to PR practitioners? It is simultaneously more challenging and more profitable to cut through the noise and gain visibility.

As opposed to only drafting content to be posted online, social media marketing has become a more extensive process, including analysis of web statistics and targeted strategies. As those who have tried to meet a Tweet’s character limit can attest, it can seem like your conducting intensive surgery with each and every word!

But beneath all the traffic statistics and intricate tactics, the core fundamentals driving a campaign will, in the end, determine if it is successful or not. Fortunately, these crucial components can be condensed to these basic tenets – monitoring, managing, measuring and monetizing.

Once marketers master the art of creating a clear plan of action that incorporates these four tenets, social media campaigns can be carried out with great success.

Monitor the social media ecosystem

Whether you’re creating an entire digital marketing strategy or are just trying to find the best hashtags or subject for your CEO’s next post, knowing the trending topics pertinent to your target audience as well as what social activities competitors are doing is a vital first step. Monitoring active conversations also brings an additional benefit – it helps you find new subjects that your business can offer unique insight into.

Manually scouring different platforms for keywords can suck up too much time for the effort. Instead, once you’ve defined goals, it helps to adopt a centralized software solution, like Hootsuite, that is able to track and analyze conversations and supply immediate insights. When using a software platform, be sure you know how to best use its search strings and capabilities to maximize efforts.

Manage efficiently to achieve clearly defined goals

Activities should be carried out to achieve SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) goals. Once a campaign is started, efficient management is vital to achieving these clearly laid out goals. It is crucial to refine social campaigns by tracking what is working and what is not and quickly reacting to improve performance. Additionally, those managing social media should avoid scenarios where they are rushing to manually post all their content. Instead, tweets and posts should be planned, scheduled and tracked within a calendar.

It is also critical to respond to any comments, or a dearth of them. This helps teams encourage conversations and discover new leads. While analytics, software platforms and strategies are necessary, efficiently managing execution will also be a critical success factor to continuous success over time.

Measure progress continuously

Social media campaigns can include marketing on many platforms, making them difficult to track and analyze. Yet, doing so is vital, especially if you must report to a chief marketing officer, other executives or board members.

To make reporting more efficient, you should decide on how you plan to measure success before you begin working on it, create a central place for all stakeholders involved to regularly track metrics, and ensure the data being tracked tells a compelling story about how social media marketing is driving revenue or improving customer service.

As an example, there are more than 1 billion websites vying for engagement, so a major goal when measuring your social media will probably be tied to generating website traffic. For such a goal, you should track measurements like post click-through rates in combination with ways to monitor how a website engages viewers and converts traffic to leads. By consistently measuring such traits, you demonstrate to your organizational leaders how sales are being bolstered while also gaining knowledge about which strategies are most effective.

Monetize social campaigns

With measurements helping create a data-led path to follow, you will ultimately want to demonstrate how your social media marketing is driving revenue growth. If marketers are able to draw a direct connection between social media marketing and sales, the value a campaign is bringing becomes immediately noticeable.

To link your reporting metrics to bottom-line growth, you should measure the impact of owned, earned and paid media in relation to overarching goals that depict value, like customer service and retention, social presence and lead generation. Then there are key metrics that should be monitored, including the number of comments, SEO scores, email sign-ups, click-throughs, followers, etc.

While there are a plethora of metrics that can indicate social media success, organizational leaders will be most concerned with customer retention, lead conversion and any benchmark that directly links marketing to revenue growth.

Diligently pursue success

Try to help others understand that social media marketing is not about instantaneous gratification. This is particularly true if your goal is to keep customers tuned in and develop ongoing relationships with them.

Instead, success can be achieved by consistently following these four fundamentals, tracking different metrics to improve efforts and significantly contributing to the bottom line wherever possible. Taking this type of action now will help a business to better compete in years to come, especially as the number of social media users continually grows alongside the social media strategies of most businesses.

By Robert Brownlie, Bob Gold & Associates

About the Author

Robert Brownlie is an integral part of the team at Bob Gold & Associates (BG&A) located in Los Angeles, California. Robert leads numerous technology accounts, including NiceLabel and Opengear. Prior to joining BG&A, Robert’s professional experiences include editing and creating technical documents, proposals and marketing materials for healthcare IT and civil engineers. Before entering the compelling world of public relations and business-to-business communication, Robert tutored English grammar at Long Beach City College and attended California State University Long Beach, where he graduated with a degree in English and Technical Communications. His background enables him to effectively write and pitch content for clients and contribute to results-driven marketing and communications strategies.

It’s not all bad news

It’s not all bad news

It’s a sad but true fact that it often takes a disaster or calamitous event for real change to happen. Like when new safety measures are hurriedly imposed after a fire, despite the fact that experts had been warning long beforehand that they were needed. It seems, at least for now, that it has taken the catastrophe of the global pandemic and its far-reaching effects in our personal and work lives for business leaders to become aware and focus their minds on the real value of PR.

All too often, PR makes up a small percentage of global marketing budgets, with advertising and events making up by far the largest part of total marketing spend. Despite PR being demonstrably better value for money in the long term. That has all changed drastically this year with most media reporting that advertising-income has plummeted as a result of the pandemic and the events industry, for obvious reasons, has all but evaporated overnight. I ran into a friend in the supermarket the other day – he runs an event management agency and I hadn’t seen him since the first lockdown. I asked him how business was, to which he replied that he had had to close it down

This made me feel slightly uncomfortable because exactly the opposite has happened to our business since the start of the crisis and it’s not hard to see that a significant part of the client revenue he used to enjoy is now being diverted to PR agencies like ours. As our partners correctly imply in their blog posts below, it is now more critical than ever for businesses to invest in communication. On the one hand in order to reassure their target audiences, clients, partners, employees and other stakeholders about what their organisation is doing to mitigate the effects of the constantly changing situation. And on the other hand, because most forward-thinking businesses will be aware that investing in reaching out to their audiences now will provide greater returns, once life returns to something resembling normal in the future. Also, it will help position them favourably against competitors who perhaps decided not to continue their communication plans for the moment.

Those businesses that recognise this are turning to PR as one of the most viable alternatives to advertising, especially tech companies. The global pandemic has forced an acceleration in the adoption of digital technologies which in many cases were already out there in the market but struggling to gain recognition. Automation, video streaming, cloud storage, Big Data, e-commerce, video conferencing – all are enjoying a boom in awareness and media interest due to the pandemic and after many years of advocating for technology to be put at the centre of achieving digital transformation. Vendors in these areas are now the absolute protagonists.

And it is the acceptance of these digital technologies within the context of the global pandemic, which is providing us with innumerable storytelling. Use case stories with human interest that help us reach out to media we were unable to approach before. Such as how automation is helping businesses cope with safety restrictions in the workplace and labour shortages, boutique retailers forced by circumstances to adopt e-commerce to sell their wares and who are now selling more than ever. Video conferencing platforms helping families and friends keep in touch during lockdown and periods of isolation, and so on.

The Covid crisis has been undeniably catastrophic for the world in so many ways, with millions losing loved ones or suffering the long term effects of having caught the virus themselves. And so many others, like the friend I met in the supermarket, whose businesses and livelihoods have been destroyed. But if you look hard, one can see many positives to come out of this – changes that have presented us with an opportunity to re-evaluate the way we live and the way we do business and maybe, just maybe, find ourselves living in a better world when this is all over. How remote working has allowed so many to recover the time they used to waste commuting to the office and as a result reconnect with their homes and family lives is just one example of this.

For my part I hope that companies will continue to appreciate PR for the valuable tool that it is even after the crisis comes to an end, marketing activities such as events and trade shows become workable again and they have to decide where to assign budget.

By Piers Finzel, Managing Director, Finzel PR

20 years in IT and tech PR

20 years in IT and tech PR

Marcommit turned 20 this year. A feat I couldn’t be more proud of. This also inspired me to do some reflecting. Because times have changed significantly, but that might not be true for us. Back in 2000, mobile phones had buttons, people used MSN and Myspace and media were reigned by print. Well, you could say things changed, but many things have remained the same. In this blog, I’ll discuss the changes in public relations, B2B and the IT and tech industry.

Public relations, stronger than ever
There is nothing more powerful than an independent publication writing about your brand. It’s only with the right pieces of coverage in the right media that you build a credible brand or claim thought leadership. Achieving this using only your own channels is nearly impossible. In recent years, angry voices often claimed traditional newspaper and vertical media would become less important. Well, a few, maybe. But many vertical media are gaining ground and many digital media outlets have entered the scene. More targeted, more specific, more measurable. It is our job as PR experts to know these media inside out. And to keep believing in their power and know how to use this to a maximum.

Storytelling enters B2B
In contrast to the B2C-market, where brands sometimes solely compete on a price level, B2B requires a strong story in order to differentiate. It is a whole different ball game to extract those stories from companies and to bring them into the light. Precisely that is our expertise as PR professionals. We invest in relations with both our clients as well as the media and we know how to pitch a story. Having done this for over twenty years allows us an even bigger edge in writing stories that media wish to publish.

IT and tech keep evolving
Marcommit’s origins lie in IT and tech. These are sectors that keep us engaged at all times and excite us daily. Both are unmissable and there’s a lot of knowledge present. But also inherent to these sectors – IT and tech professionals are endlessly engaged in what they do – is that they do not like to claim the stage. So our job is to give them the spotlights they deserve. Because we follow every move, we know what they talk about. That makes our job easier because we discover value for businesses and media fast. That’s how we realize our success. And that’s what we intend to do for many more years to come.

By Marianne van Barneveld, owner and strategic advisor of Marcommit

Communication –  new normal, new possibilities

Communication –  new normal, new possibilities

Is it appropriate to talk about positive experiences related to COVID and lockdown? Has the pandemic and several months of completely different life taught us anything? The answer to that is clear, but will the lesson we’ve learnt stay with us longer? Or maybe rather – what is worth keeping; how can we use the new opportunities in our industry? The world has changed – more rapidly than we could have predicted just a few months ago. And probably in a while, we will be back to normal, but it will be a new normal and new standards.

First of all – COVID has forced accelerated digitalization, which isn’t anything new because the technologies themselves have been around for a long time. However, for some reason we weren’t using them the way they deserved to be used. So we aren’t discovering any new lands, but rather going deeper into a previously discovered island because the coast is no longer enough for us. So, as communication specialists, which  should we pay particular attention to?

Online relationships

Our relationships have been transferred into the online-zone – meetings, chats, statements, interviews, conferences and press briefings… everything began to function exclusively on the internet. It also created additional potential for using statements of experts from different countries. As shown in the report made during the lockdown by the Polish Press Agency, journalists adjusted quickly and efficiently to the new reality. To everyone’s surprise, remote working turned out to be just as productive and fruitful as work in editorial offices. Additionally, more than half of the respondents admitted to having observed the following behaviours during the pandemic: greater availability of interlocutors through remote forms of communication (65%), being forced to react faster than before in creating and delivering articles or news (59%), taking on more work than before (57%). 68% of journalists admitted that the shift to remote forms of communication at work forced by the pandemic does not negatively affect the quality of their work. It is up to us how we use this new potential of building relations regardless of location.

Different kind of media

COVID has accelerated digital subscriptions and caused an increase in paid online content. Fewer and fewer readers visit newsstands and buy paper editions of newspapers and magazines, which caused publishers to face new challenges. Some of them decided to temporarily suspend traditional editions of publications, urging readers to use their online versions, which resulted in an exponential increase in digital subscriptions. What does this mean for communication? Paid content causes higher expectations of readers, which mobilizes publishers to create high-quality content and return to reliable, good journalism, and maybe even to stop the avalanche of fake news. The role of influencers has also been redefined. Those of them who based their relations only on empty words depicted by a beautiful picture got relegated to the background. The audience began to better appreciate reliable and truthful information – and may it remain that way for longer.

Media are looking for new business models and their place in the world of new, not yet fully defined communication. It is a signal for PR and marketing – now is the time for new ideas and unconventional solutions.

Internal communication

The remote work formula has been functioning in business for many years. Perhaps not on such a large scale, as in the pre-COVID era it was treated more as a privilege than a necessity, but there isn’t anything novel in the idea. However, building a team and conducting communication in the conditions of meeting limitations is a huge challenge, both for managers and employees. It requires other forms of management, possibly a different structure and certainly different skills and tools. While the relationships built in the past are still working at the moment, this capital will run out in a few months. New relationships with new team members will probably have to be built largely through virtual meetings. It requires a different approach to communication strategy, different choice of tools and certainly an expansion of their range. The belief that we will eventually go back to the previous model slowly ceases to be justified.

Sales

What does sales have to do with communication? A lot! We observe the acceleration of changing the way of selling. The sellers have stopped travelling to clients and meeting them face to face. It turns out that these departments can also be moved online, now at an even faster pace. Remote order taking, smooth distribution, online workshops and consultations, constant customer support via communicators or by phone, individual programs created for customers, online training in the form of video-conferences or webinars… all these tools have entered the canon of sellers and will certainly remain with us permanently, with no possibility of returning to the previous model. This is a new challenge for communication – preparing sales for different ways of entering the market, efficient use of social media, building personal brands, using a rich arsenal of tools.

These four areas will be important in terms of communication. There are undoubtedly more of them, such as new expectations of media recipients and readers, which results in the need to change the strategy of content preparation. All this means that communication needs to be rethought based on those new assumptions. And although we all know that personal contact with another person can’t be fully replaced by virtual contact, we can find new areas of development thanks to a good communication strategy.

Dorota Sapija, managing director, Omega Communication (www.communication.pl/en)

The first three months are never easy…

The first three months are never easy…

It is never easy to start working for a new client. Those are typically very challenging and critical times. All the hard work that you have done in the past to win the account can rapidly be wasted if you do not operate and execute the campaign in the appropriate way. For clients, these are critical times, too. They’ve invested time and money in a new PR agency and need to be assured they will get their promised results.

Here are some of our best practices for making sure both agency and client gets the best out of these crucial times:

Start on the right footing

The first meeting with the client, and we’re talking about the starting pitch, has to be the base on which everything else will be built on. That’s where the parameters of activity will be established, where the first feelings of ‘chemistry’ (or lack of it) will show and that will prove so important later on during the client-provider relationship. Those early stages will be the time to read and interpret all the important signals in order to keep the client satisfied with the best results possible for years to come.

Get stuck in

Get involved, and if it’s not your speciality, learn with motivation. There is no other secret. Dedication and time spent getting to know the industry or sector in which your (new) client operates is fundamental in order to achieve the desired goals. It is true that all this knowledge and specialization is not learned overnight, but you should have all the skills and previous experience to be able to do the rest and start impressing your client.

Make it a reality

It is not so much a job, but rather an attitude. It’s about offering and portraying confidence to your client and showing him/her from the first time that what you promise will become a reality. Three months is more than enough time to show that you can work together.

Learn from (their) experience

It is an exercise of logic rather than an audit. It is natural that the new client/company explains to you what has worked and what has not in the past; what they have liked and what they have not liked (from the previous agency or experience). Based on all that, the right thing to do is to take advantage of everything good and discard everything that is not that good, in order to achieve new formulas, as well as new ways of working.

We must present ourselves with an open and collaborative attitude and take advantage of synergies and common goals. You can always learn from what others did, recognising that the right thing to do is to “not change it if it works”.

You’re the expert

It all depends on the expectations of your new client. Certainly, there might be pressure, often self-imposed, to get the CEO on the front page as a way to start the relationship. However, this strategy is not always the best way to start a working relationship between the agency and the new client. Reasoned advice on why the CEO should (or should not) appear in a given media title should have much more importance and value. If we have or want to tell something new, then our value as an agency can be demonstrated sooner rather than later.

What skills do leaders need right now?

What skills do leaders need right now?

2020 has delivered an arsenal of inspiration for memes. I like the one where an enormous chicken arrives on a beach and the caption says, What now July? It makes you laugh in that way where you might just start crying at the same time.

For leaders, the COVID-19 pandemic has struck us right in the guts. We have had to be fleet-footed on the quicksand underneath us, watch out for what was coming overhead and all the while, keep our teams informed and engaged. Leadership in calm waters is one thing – working collaboratively and in consultation, executing profitable plans, driving stakeholder returns and leading strategy – however right now, these are not the only skills leaders need.

So, what are the skills that leaders need in 2020, a world in which we are facing and still bracing for the largest global pandemic in living memory?

Quick siphoning of information

Good leaders are avid readers for they take their inspiration and information from the world through a variety of sources. There is no limit to the information available. However,  the skill lies in working out what is useful, and what isn’t. Being able to analyse information and understand the bias, agenda, political persuasion or just grand-standing, is key to absorbing the information that will help and not hinder. Leaders need to be quick thinking to remove the information and the sources that aren’t useful or true – for it can cloud judgement and impact decisions.

Clear communication of information

In ‘normal’ times, leaders might have people to support and craft their communication. Meeting agendas and presentations are planned, there are multiple drafts of newsletters, and media release quotes are carefully honed. However, in a crisis, with things changing so rapidly, there just isn’t time.

A leader must have exceptional communication skills – interpersonal, written and public speaking – as well as an understanding of the mechanics of communication to both construct and deliver messages appropriately for their audience and context. In crisis, internal and external stakeholders are more stressed, critical and demanding of information. A leader needs to rise to this challenge.

Understanding how culture works

There is no greater time to reinforce or destroy your company culture than during a crisis. Leaders might think that their staff will give them some grace in a crisis, but the opposite is often true. Especially during a crisis, people turn to their leaders for guidance and direction, and behaviour in accordance with the company values, goals and mission statement. How leaders ‘approach their work’ in a crisis, such as solving problems, making decisions, achieving goals, etc., is exactly what staff think they should be doing: ‘that is why they get paid the big bucks!’ Staff want to be proud of their leaders and hold them in great respect, so the behaviour of leaders in times of stress will be under the microscope and will be the topic of discussion for a long time to come. i.e. ‘They say they value honesty, but when COVID-19 hit, they lied about when we were to be let off, and we couldn’t get any information.’ Leaders be warned.

Empathy

As the leader, it is your job to be empathetic to the needs of your team and those impacted by the crisis. Making decisions (often hard) needs to be done with care and compassion for how it will land with the people affected; this is important for the person or persons impacted, as well as how the wider team see you manage these situations.

In crisis, and in some companies, empathy seems to be a one-way street, and seldom is the leader’s own mental and emotional health checked on by the team. Hopefully you have developed a culture and built a team where this is a two-way street.

An example of empathetic leadership which particularly stood out for me was Jacinda Arden, Prime Minister of New Zealand, giving herself and her team a 20% reduction in salary[1] even though their workloads would have at least tripled during COVID-19. This demonstrated great understanding and standing in solidarity with her people.

Managing the responsibility load

Many organisational charts have one person at the top, and in small and medium size businesses especially, the ethical, legal, financial and strategic responsibilities of the company often rest on the shoulders of one person. This is tough, and as they say, ‘it can be lonely at the top’. COVID-19 has put enormous pressure on leaders to make big, hard, challenging and emotional decisions about everything from the cost of toilet paper to negotiations with banks, to the management of personnel. I know many business owners who have rethought entire product lines, dissolved partnerships, let staff go, stopped projects, re-thought tax strategies, relinquished leases and more – all within the space of six weeks. It is a lot. And carrying the responsibility load – especially when there is no end in sight – is particularly draining. It might seem glib to mention self-care at this point, however, it is vital to the sustainability of a leader’s ability to lead and manage the burden. Companies also would do well to look after their leader’s emotional health right now, burn-out is just around the corner.

Courage

Courage is often misunderstood as not being scared or put off by adversity. However, courage is in fact being scared but doing it anyway. Even if you have a good team around you, the research has been done, and the insights and strategy determined, there is always a moment in time, a pause, in which everyone stands around the metaphorical red button where the leader is standing, waiting for her hand to come down and press ”go”. ‘Let’s do this’ they say. And then everyone breathes again and gets on with it. This must happen thousands of times a day and yet it is the courage of the leader, the one/s with the ultimate responsibility for the team, to make that final call. Fear is a perfectly normal response to making change and taking action, but courage, the ability to step through and do it anyhow will make things happen and in the case of COVID-19 – fast.

Many leaders going into the COVID-19 crisis may have had these skills already in their kit, but for others we’ve had to find them along the way – these are lessons we’ll always remember in a year we’ll never forget.

For all the leaders who have spent money on innovations, and new products and services not knowing if it was going to work, who’ve laid off people, taken a completely different direction, changed markets, reimagined their business or just kept showing up, thank you for your leadership. Together with your teams, you will work hard to find a new reality in and amongst coronavirus, because that is what true leaders always do.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/15/jacinda-ardern-and-ministers-take-20-pay-cut-in-solidarity-with-those-hit-by-covid-19

Let’s talk about FAKE NEWS

Let’s talk about FAKE NEWS

Propaganda, manipulation, influence, rumours have always existed. But, thanks partly to activities across the Atlantic, we now have a new name for them… FAKE NEWS!

By definition, fake news is deliberately false or rigged information spread through digital or social media. It is notably in the aftermath of Brexit and during the American and French presidential campaigns of 2016-2017 that the expression “Fake News” exploded as these three political campaigns were subjected to the dissemination of false information on social networks, created with the aim of influencing voter behaviour.

When we know that two-thirds of American adults get their information via social networks and that, in France, one-third of social media users surveyed think that some fake news is true, it becomes an issue.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a resurgence of fake news with disastrous consequences. Sometimes far-fetched, often misleading, this false news swarmed on the internet during the containment. The internet and the rise of social networks have accentuated this phenomenon of misinformation by radically changing the traditional information circuit.

How is this happening?

  1. By creating interdependence between media, social networks and search engines, we no longer access information directly through a media (TV, radio or newspaper) but we often use an intermediary such as: Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube etc…
  2. By allowing everyone to become a media outlet, there is no monopoly anymore on the crafting of “news”. What was restricted to journalists is now an open bar.

Sure, solutions have been put in place. “Fact-checking” is broadcasted as the new Eldorado but when it was used before, it led to more scrutiny and scepticism from the general public.

When two institutions such as the AFP and Le Monde feel the need to create fact-checking departments (the MediaLab and Decodex), it is both a commendable effort and a self-inflicted injury. Isn’t that at the core of what a media does? Isn’t fact-checking an absolute part of the job?

In 2019, the French government adopted an “anti-fake news” law and most social networks followed suit. Facebook, Google and Twitter, Mozilla, as well as advertisers and representatives of the advertising industry have signed a code of good practice against misinformation with the European Commission.

Too little too late?

And what about our industry? Aren’t PR agencies, along with news agencies, social networks and search engines, key players in the information economy?

Sending hundreds/thousands of press releases per day, PR agencies overwhelm journalists with content which is both an essential link in the information chain between companies and media but also very often unverified and biased.

As a key player in the media cycle, we have a duty of transparency and an obligation of being a reliable and trusted source of content just as much as these players. Often under fire from critics or even openly condemned, the press and journalists must be able to trust agencies to provide them with verified and balanced content.

What concrete solutions can we put in place beyond a simple code of good practice against disinformation, which is certainly helpful but still too ineffective for us as information professionals? Providing verified, traced information is nowadays the duty of communication agencies. In order to protect clients or to facilitate the work of journalists, agencies must strengthen the systems they put in place to control and monitor information. In addition to the necessary adherence to a code of good conduct and raising the awareness of our ecosystem to the issue of fake news, the use of new technologies such as the blockchain is an option to be carefully considered.

There are solutions out there to certify the flow of information we send. It’s time agencies go beyond simply adhering to a code of good practices and create a label of controlled information which will be a warrant of trust. Otherwise, we will forever be associated with the “fake news” stamp of infamy.

Communicating During a Crisis

Communicating During a Crisis

It’s been multiple months since V2 joined the ranks of businesses around the globe which made the quick switch to remote work. This adjustment posed a highly unique moment for the leadership team: how were we to support our now-widespread workforce as its members endured an ever-expanding list of challenges caused by the coronavirus outbreak?

The answer laid in practicing what we preach: communicating honestly and often and prioritizing the wellbeing of our employees. Amidst disruption, making a concerted effort to maintain an atmosphere of collaboration and connectivity continues to be one of our strongest solutions for dealing with the pressing situation. From our own experience, here are best practices for managing the remainder of this crisis and understanding how to lead organizations into the future.

Communicate honestly and often

As an agency whose operations are predicated on communications, we understand the value of transparency, especially between management and fellow employees. Executing thoughtful communications when disaster strikes has the power to ease fears and guide individuals as the situation advances. While circumstantial details may be lacking at the onset, it is still the expectation of leaders to update their employees on the situation to the best of their ability, being mindful not to spread unverified information. From there, proactively addressing how your company will collectively face the challenge at hand offers a sense of control over the issue, as leaving employees in the dark will only contribute to an environment of anxiety and chaos.

To be clear, a strong leader is not someone who has all the answers all the time, but simply someone who demonstrates active problem solving and offers consistent reassurance rather than cynicism. Honesty with employees signifies that you trust and value them; to show them anything less would be a disservice and disrespectful to them, as well as your company.

Base your crisis response plan on company values

Your crisis response plan should be an extension of your company value set, which is defined in the first place to govern the daily operations of your workplace. As you navigate the situation at hand, think of how you intend to uphold these guiding principles despite having a displaced workforce. For example, at V2, we’re big advocates for a strong company culture, and we’re constantly coming up with new ways to support it remotely. From video staff meetings to digital happy hours, we use tech to keep us connected. Especially because working from home can feel isolating, having time to gather and connect boosts our spirits and reminds us that we all have a supportive network behind us.

Prioritize employee needs and emotions

Executive suites may feel a pressure to accommodate the demands of stakeholders and lawmakers during a crisis to protect revenue and mitigate liability, but the priority here should really be the wellbeing of your employees. Choosing to cater to outside parties instead of the individuals who constitute your organization will be a major mistake for business integrity and productivity, which will inevitably crash without the support of hardworking staff.

In addition to all-team meetings and communications, make time to connect with employees on a personal level. This includes sharing thoughts and concerns of your own and making yourself more available than usual to staff who may want or need to discuss their concerns with someone in seemingly more control of the situation. By affirming that you’re weathering the crisis alongside your team, you develop a sense of camaraderie and allegiance across your team.

Celebrate the victories as they come

To quantify business success during a crisis by the same metrics you would use in the best of times will inevitably yield a disappointing and inaccurate reflection of your company. Atypical circumstances require leaders to redefine how they view and measure success at least temporarily. Even just maintaining operations (e.g., steady sales or an intact client roster) instead of growing marks a victory, as it demonstrates that your team has still been able to meet expectations despite pressing challenges. And to circle back to company culture: don’t forget to celebrate victories as they come. Leaders should make an effort to remind employees their work is valued to continue encouraging positive spirits.

The coronavirus outbreak has demonstrated that all businesses, regardless of industry, will have to face crisis situations at one point or another in their lifetime. This means that business leaders need to be prepared to direct their organizations when the time comes. The mark of a great organization is a company whose leadership rises to the occasion when the time comes.  Whatever the situation, honesty and authenticity will always be the answer for earning employee trust and maintaining a sense of calm amidst crisis.

Crisis Comms Expertise, an Essential Tool for US Businesses Surviving Bankruptcy, Financial Restructuring or Furloughs

Crisis Comms Expertise, an Essential Tool for US Businesses Surviving Bankruptcy, Financial Restructuring or Furloughs

Per the American Bankruptcy Institute, 722 companies in May 2020 sought bankruptcy protection, the tech sector saw the most bankruptcy filings in the first half of a year since 2009, and well-over 2,200 commercial organizations nationwide have filed for Chapter 11 this year. Last year a total of 6,800 companies filed for bankruptcies. So ‘we ain’t seen nothing yet!’

Business leaders around the US are confronting unprecedented challenges. As uncertainty looms, we’re all looking to determine what’s next and how to implement future plans.

As we all undergo trying times, determining how to explain our struggles is more vital than it has ever been. Business growth may not be feasible now, and survival may hinge on carefully managing liquidity or restructuring efforts.

Maintaining liquidity or reorganizing during the current storm and beyond requires expertise that might not be available in-house.

Navigating Bankruptcy and Financial Reorganization

Many US companies will need to adjust to stay solvent. This may be as simple as implementing a new financial plan to accommodate the current situation, including not spending on rent, lessening expenses or reducing payroll.

For others, however, a more formal statement and new business plan will be required. One that creditors and a court can deem acceptable.

Actively seeking professional counsel is a critical way to show stakeholders your leadership and proactive efforts. Set a clear course and request help. From internal sources, but also outside professionals, such as financial consultants, lawyers, and communications specialists, who can advise you on available options to decrease financial burden and attain some level of continuity.

Communicating Optimism in Crisis

Whatever level of crisis an organization and its financial and legal experts must work through, it is vital for it to consider collaborating with a public relations firm equipped to manage bankruptcy communications. This can help uphold the integrity of its reputation and brand.

Planning and executing crisis communications effectively is necessary to ensure customers, investors, employees, media, and partners stay engaged with a company.

An effective bankruptcy communications roadmap will need to build hope and optimism. To achieve this, a plan should include close collaboration with bankruptcy lawyers alongside strategically-directed key messages for business representatives and media training for employees and executives, who will need to share unfavorable news with confidence while positioning the business to recover its value and succeed.

Implementing the Right Strategy

Crisis communications require precision on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, organizations facing challenges should seek communications partners that can customize plans specifically for their needs. Many organizations have their own strengths, so teams should carefully choose who to partner with and strive to gain an honest and transparent relationship with the firms they are considering.

Once a communications roadmap is laid out (and sometimes planning must overlap with execution), it’s time to implement a tactical key message approach. This must be done in a way that helps build and sustain positive relationships with the media and stakeholders via a multitude of strategies — from internal and external communications, social media, news releases, investor relations, and more.

Experience also plays a large role in success. Veterans who have been neck-deep in crisis and emerged successfully with positive messaging can explain first-hand what they have seen work and fail. And the human element is also vital. In every instance – it’s important that crisis communications clearly maintain the value businesses place on customers and employees and the humanity leadership displays as they try to help themselves and others navigate troubled waters.

About the Author

Bob Gold founded and manages Bob Gold & Associates, one of the premiere independent integrated communications public relations agencies in the United States.  The agency specialty is being experts at the nexus where video content meets technology and distribution. In 2019 Public Relations Society (PRSA) Los Angeles named him Communications Professional of the Year.

During his more than 30 years in public relations and marketing, Bob Gold has helped launch more than a dozen companies, re-branded many others, and created successful campaigns for numerous start-ups and Fortune 500 brands.

Gold is also the Co-Founder & Managing Partner of Hemisphere Technologies Inc., a Nevada corporation, which is dedicated to investing in technology companies. Gold has extensive experience in small and large-scale transactions and works as a key member engaged in all aspects including sourcing, evaluating, structuring, monitoring, and, where applicable, harvesting investments.

When he’s not helping others, Gold can usually be found more than 65 feet underwater on a scuba diving “mancation” with his three sons.