For the third year in the row, PR pros are being asked to change. In 2019, it was about cutting through the clutter, aligning marketing messaging, and improving social media engagement in an increasingly distracted market. In 2020, the pandemic made us shift our tactics, strategies, and communications habits for an online world. In 2021, we need to alter how we create PR strategies relevant to post-pandemic work. In short, these three years saw people demand a different communications beat. And here are three ways PR Pros can stay woke in order to continue to drive meaningful engagements.
The authentic voice
Hiding behind legal statements and ignoring them with silence is not authentic. Either you announce your stance, or other people will do it for you. Admittedly, this goes against traditional crisis management, where silence is golden and conservative reaction is the solid legal advice. Such advice does not consider that people live in a social media-driven world. Social media, unlike news portals, tailor news content to what you and your friends want to see/read. It also concentrates inflammatory remarks to drive engagement. Suppose a rumor that your favorite apparel brand is working with partners who are suspected of buying yarns from Xinjiang, and most of your friends are concerned. In that case, your social media news channel lights up. What if you were representing the accused brand? If you had stayed quiet, people might think you were guilty as charged. But even if you reply, using legal terms may sound as if you are tone-deaf. People will say you were hiding the truth. PR pros will need to update their crisis communications plans and reactions. They also need to work with legal teams closely to ensure that the plan is legally defensible. Being precise, fast, and authentic needs a different approach and is much more than protecting brands. After all, you would not like the activists within your partners and employee base to also take issue.
Event communications disrupted
COVID-19 completely changed the way events were run. It stopped big shows, delayed essential conferences, and made everyone tolerate virtual. But we also learned important lessons and adjusted our habits. When the pandemic restrictions ease, brands are hoping to welcome their traditional events back. It may look traditional, but the virtual/online component will be pronounced. While in the past, we controlled social media posts for online communications, today’s events need to consider virtual interviews, live QnA, virtual breakouts, and online brainstorming sessions. This means PR pros need to change their message house and communications plan specifically for events. You need to consider virtual interview requests being received at any time (not just the appointed time). You will also need to prep your spokespeople accordingly. With a wider global audience attending conferences, PR pros also need to be mindful of cultural and geographical sensitivities. You can no longer plan for a U.S. conference thinking that people in Europe, Africa, or Asia will not hear or be bothered about it. Besides, it only takes a single criticism to shift global opinions. And there is always some political person looking to use your event for their own means. At the same time, PR pros should also consider widening the influencers’ pool to communicate their messages correctly. It is good practice to identify key influencers in specific geographies, so your event messages will not be read as culturally inert.
Fake news is a PR problem
Sorry, PR pros, but this is a problem that can no longer be avoided. Fake news (not to be confused with false news) is essentially disinformation. The English word comes from the Russian dezinformatsiya, the name of a KGB black propaganda department. That sums up what this is all about. By the way, false news is misinformation. Fake news is PR. When brands had to reframe the brand story or point their audience in another direction, fake news occurred. While fake news is reaching shrilling decibels in today’s media, it is also not new. We have been at it for ages. It’s just that now we have a lot more platforms to shout from. PR pros need to arm themselves with strategies to contain fake news or address it if such news is directed at your company. It is a communication war, and you need to also understand your strengths. So, doing an audit of the news that already surrounds the company and industry is an excellent place to start. A proactive approach can save you a lot of heartaches in the future as fake news continues to shift opinions around the world.
While PR pros are no strangers to shifts in communications, very few of us would have worked in a market that faced a black swan event. Now we have. The shifts in strategies, new tactics, and the additional attention we pay to our work — as highlighted in the three points above — will set a new precedent for the years to come and help you to stay woke to shifting behaviors and trends.