7 Reasons Why Video Will be Crucial to PR in 2021

7 Reasons Why Video Will be Crucial to PR in 2021

Today’s PR agencies have an ambitious task at hand: break through the noise of a hyper-digital, multi-screen world. Not only this but maintain people’s interest in an industry where exciting news, research, and partnerships emerge daily.

How can PR pros elevate their strategy in a way that goes beyond the printed word? What determines a quick scroll from a captivated moment?

The answer lies in video.

Engaging, digestible, and creating new opportunities for coverage, video’s powerful form is quickly becoming the way to amplify your corporate PR strategy in 2021.

Here are 7 powerful reasons to prove it:

1. Video is Taking Over Digital Media

Video has never been more accessible, be it through our smartphones, laptops, webcams, or professional cameras. It’s this convenience that has created a major rise in video content and its demand. In fact, Cisco estimates video is expected to make up 82% of internet traffic by 2022.

Likewise, more platforms are prioritizing video as it becomes the most consumed and shared form of content. LinkedIn, a staple platform for most B2B executives, launched its live feature while Facebook announced its algorithm will prioritize videos to promote more meaningful interactions.

2.  It’s How News is Being Consumed

With the decline of print and digital newsrooms, news video consumption across social media and video platforms like YouTube has seen a drastic increase globally. This information is vital to PR agencies who must be on top of the latest trends in news consumption; extending their distribution strategy to video-oriented platforms will only maximize coverage visibility.

3. Video is a Magnet for Engagement

At the core of PR is an appreciation for meaningful connections. PR execs work hard to create attractive written material, but without video, they will be missing out on a huge opportunity for engagement.

On social media alone, video gets shared 12 times more than text and images combined. Forbes also reported that 59% of senior executives prefer to watch a video over text; that said, video could determine if a future client reaches out to your agency or a senior reporter responds to a critical pitch.

4. It is Humanizing

Many companies lack “a face” alongside their releases or stories, making it difficult for media and future partners to feel a genuine connection.

That’s where video comes in. Creating a video campaign is a fantastic way to go beyond the press release, and turbo-charge your key messages. More than anything, video spotlights executives and gives a human touch to their industry knowledge. Content like this is also strategic as it creates traction, helping to support placements and thought leadership articles across key industry trades.

That humanizing effect goes beyond thought leadership. Video helps make important conversations on social issues, company culture and other topics not just shareable, but memorable; studies have shown that viewers retain 95% of a video’s message compared to 10% when reading text, making video a powerful tool for tackling difficult topics, developing authenticity, and creating lasting change.

5. Video is an Effective Way to Repurpose Written Content

The ongoing pandemic has driven a demand for PR services that can help businesses work through a crisis or broaden their thought leadership during a time when digital media engagement is at an unprecedented high.

With fast turnarounds required to appease both clients and an ever-increasing online audience, agencies will find that repurposing their written material through video is an efficient strategy to produce a diverse portfolio of highly in-demand video content like vlogs, event recaps, interviews, webinars and more.

6. It Improves SEO

A website is 53 times more likely to reach the front page of Google if it includes video, making it a crucial addition to PR agency websites and initiatives. Research also shows that a web page with video will cause people to stay 2.6 times longer on average. 

7. Virtual Events Will Continue, Even After 2021

While the future of in-person events is uncertain, 71% of marketers agree that virtual events won’t be fading out anytime soon. Virtual conferences are in fact more budget-friendly and immediately accessible to businesses. And with the steady advancements to both event tech and event experience, virtual event conferencing will remain a key networking opportunity for PR folks attending or producing an event.

Using these 7 reasons can help PR pros navigate the increasingly digital and complex world of public relations. As agencies head out of a largely remote year of communications and into yet another, it’s important to keep in mind that video will only continue to thrive as the most impactful, personable, and memorable form of content in the online ecosystem. Likewise, adding video to your 2021 PR strategy will not only create more coverage, but distinguish experiences that can lead to long-term partnerships, clients, and followers.

About Anabela Savulescu

Anabela is an Account Coordinator at Bob Gold & Associates and a graduate from University of California, Santa Cruz, where she majored in literature. She has a passion for storytelling and bringing life to content across an ever-changing media landscape.

A step beyond: what’s next for crisis comms

A step beyond: what’s next for crisis comms

If there’s one thing that this year has highlighted to business, it’s the value of crisis communications and the importance of having the right strategy in place to deal with said crisis.

But before we start using words like “unprecedented” and “new normal”, it may help to take a step back and ask ourselves what a crisis is — the first step in dealing with one. Simply stated, a crisis is a significant event that results in high levels of scrutiny which has the potential to affect an organisation’s normal operations.

Looking at 2020, the defining feature when it comes to the crisis is that the pandemic has affected all organisations; it’s a global challenge. Yes, it has impacted businesses differently in terms of customer service, logistics, supply chain, etc., but overall, everyone has been affected.

That said, the basic principles of crisis comms still apply and haven’t changed. What may change, and certainly should change, is the way we approach planning given the benefit of hindsight and experience from the year so far.

A case in point is scenario planning; a successful crisis comms plan includes preparing for a host of potential crises e.g. an executive scandal, data breach or natural disaster. Now, however, and moving forward, we’ll be including managing the impact of a global pandemic.

Because one key piece of advice we offer our clients is that you shouldn’t do crisis comms planning during a crisis. It can lead to hasty (and poor) decision making and a less than favourable outcome for the business and its stakeholders.

Our current situation might be an anomaly, but it has demonstrated how important the core principles are:

  • Plan for tomorrow
  • Respond rapidly
  • Work with local authorities
  • Position your management front and centre
  • Be open and honest
  • Demonstrate concern and convey integrity
  • Speak with one voice

It has also highlighted the importance of accuracy. During a crisis, it is crucial for businesses to only communicate what they know to be true. Speculation is never advised. Earlier on in the pandemic this came into sharp focus with many brands falling short after making bold statements about impact, job losses, etc. when they simply didn’t have the information available to back that up.

Brands that fared well include those that admitted what they didn’t know but balanced that with making it clear what their plans were to deal with the crisis.

Moving beyond 2020, it’s natural that the crisis comms landscape will continue to evolve, shaped by external factors — much like it’s changed from the 1990s (when it was primarily media relations focused) to now where multiple audiences are important and the use of social media makes it simultaneously more challenging yet easier to monitor what is being communicated.

While COVID has certainly taught us a lot, it’s the adherence to the basic principles and being prepared that will help organisations through. It’s about being proactive, understanding the situation and having the tools at your disposal (like the right message communicated to the right audiences) to ensure you’re addressing the crisis and demonstrating that you have a handle on things, even when there is information that you don’t yet know.

By James Kelliher, CEO, Whiteoaks International

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 Petra Winklbauer & Liane Lahl, 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.