PR pros understand the art of framing a discussion.
Offering a seemingly balanced viewpoint has always been the rallying call for many of them. When viewpoints get tilted to one side, experienced PR pros employ subtle nuances to reframe or center the argument to their company’s advantage.
Many call this spinning. For PR pros, it is the art and science of professional persuasion.
COVID-19 has highlighted key issues that PR pros can no longer avoid, reframe, or even try to shift. They need to take a more in-depth look at the company’s values, have a clear understanding of where the company stands, and take a stand. If they don’t, others will do it for them.
Below are three issues that today’s PR pros should embrace in our new world.
Embrace, don’t avoid, activism
We now live in a world where activism is more digital and sophisticated. It is not just consumers or mass populations getting involved. Employees of companies (or clients for agency PR organizations) are becoming increasingly active and vocal. Even PR agencies are seeing a rising population of activism within their ranks.
The old rule of staying neutral, or offering a balanced viewpoint, is reaching deaf ears. People want their brands to represent their values.
Admittedly, this is difficult. There are many looming mines one may step on. PR pros need to engage activists, and companies should do it together with the senior leadership of their organization and their PR agency.
This is new territory for all. For decades, activism has been seen as a threat within corporations. As the middle ground disappears and end customers demand that brands to take a stand, PR pros need to start engaging.
Activists can also be powerful influencers for organizations. Before engaging them, organizations need to be certain where they stand. The communication needs to be clear from PR pros, or else they could be burnt and humiliated.
Be clear on environmental, social, and corporate governance
We only need to look at the oil and gas industry to see how significant sectors have successfully used environmental issues to their advantage.
Ask any major oil company, and they will tell you how much they invest in environmental studies and alternative energies. Airlines will talk about their commitment to lowering their carbon footprint. Fast fashion will talk about slave labor wages to highlight jobs created.
Yet, the casual disdain for Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) or attempts to reframe the discussion is becoming a reputational liability. Reading the latest news, you will see well-known brands embroiled in various ESG infractions.
You can partly thank the much-publicized efforts of Greta Thunberg and the inactions during the UN Climate Change Conference. The pandemic also has had a hand in raising awareness. It has honed our personal views about the environment and health. Media gets more traction on environmental disasters, slave labor, and governance mishaps.
When viewpoints get tilted to one side, experienced PR pros employ subtle nuances to reframe or center the argument to their company’s advantage.
But there is a communication gap. In a U.K. research blog, Citigate Dewe Rogerson noted that U.K. companies “were remarkably remiss in communicating their efforts with regards to ESG.” More than half (53%) said that their companies do not publicize about ESG.
ESG is also becoming more serious. Across the world, governments are rolling out ESG legislations. They are no longer guidelines but law. While these will impact corporate bottom lines, it also builds awareness. Forward-looking brands are even using their ESG successes as part of their brand equity initiatives.
PR pros need to get their message clear on ESG and add it to their message house. They should prep their spokespeople on key ESG talking points. You can count on the media to put brands on trial for infractions regarding ESG. It is a topic you can no longer afford to avoid.
Get ready to take a stand
COVID-19 has made the world smaller. People now have opinions about actions (or non-actions) across half a world away. And with many sitting at home in front of monitors, people digest information as fast as possible.
The media knows that these issues drive viewership and subscription. Reporters now ask questions that are now more varied and pointed. Many of them force spokespeople to take a stand on activism and ESG. Being unprepared or dismissing these by being neutral is no longer acceptable.
The pandemic has also made these issues more personal. People are angered by some of the problems; others are quickly taking opposite viewpoints.
Companies should engage activists and be clear about their ESG values. They should take a stand, and PR pros are best at helping to create that stand.