Has the communications space just leapt from 2020 to 2030 in what is needed?
Updated: Oct 10
Look around. Flexible working’s slow debate for the past six or seven years is now not even a debate for many, but a right, as bricks and mortar office centrepieces wither and shrink. Drifting around purpose as part of a brand plan is now a business essential. The global to national shift from Brexit fallout has just potentially skipped the national bit and gone much more quickly into community and local. And brands being useful rather than self-focused is what earns new respect.
The author and journalist Tony Parsons considered a broad version of this virtual time leap the other day in an article around culture shift, and although he has a deeper focus apparently than my comms head allows, it was one of those questions that stuck around afterwards. And not in a ‘isn’t this a new Netflix original movie’ kind of way (probably starring Mark Wahlberg).
Because these work shifts fundamentally impact and fast track the communications state of play that we were dealing with mere months ago. If fresh strategies don’t step up boldly and swiftly here, we could miss the opportunity to drive many of the positive changes impacting our culture, mindset and values that we are now finding out of awful adversity.
Which I think means five things essentially need to be the new priority to keep up with the '2030 reality':
Focus on impact. We were too often in a world of marketing noise. Wallpaper. Self-importance. And sometimes we should admit, the average to maintain a pace. A better world requires better content, not just the next content. We need to stay memorable and be clear on purpose so brands can keep the respect and the customers newly gained. It’s back to a simple question that sometimes gets forgotten in the headlong frenzy of noise, but that may well now need recasting, which is ‘what do you want to be famous for….now?’
Be useful, generous, and empathetic. This doesn’t mean just wearing your charity heart on your sleeve, essential as being clear about both your purpose and your communities are. But it means being customer and moment focused rather than just brand focused. Ikea’s meatballs at home recipe laid out like their furniture instructions, or Heinz’s all red giant ketchup jigsaw to keep people busy at home in lockdown were simple, on brand, impactful and well designed for understanding the times. It’s the difference moving forward between shifting from being disruptive, which can be short term impactful and headline grabbing, and working out instead how to fit into people’s lives. This is the time for PR especially to take the lead, in the way that it can fit naturally into peoples days and positively influence other channels around it, and most importantly how it can deliver on understanding rather than just awareness. We are definitely not in the era of awareness any more, as mindsets shift to needing answers in macro confusing times.
Shift from the algorithms . The ‘frequency of visibility’ mantra that usually dominates marketing priorities in ad spend strategy needs to more equally balanced with the flipside (and what is the storytelling side) of ‘emotional visibility’. Back to my point on quality and relevance over just awareness. Back to purpose/local/values led comms/and properly through the line storytelling. Eyeball strategies need a greater share of heart and soul thinking built in. Awareness alone doesn’t mean brand understanding.
Break the routine. In the PR, social and digital content space, we need to stop looking at an annual plan, fixed and agreed four months before the next year even starts. It’s not realistic to be 16 months ahead of what’s right, it doesn’t keep things relevant and reactive, and can get in the way of the smart and nimble. Agree budgets and priority peaks by all means, but flex the planning in the channels that allow for that.Change is on everyone’s lips, and that should go for processes as well as messaging and storytelling
Prioritise your internal comms. It’s no longer number four on the priority list, but equal number one. This last bit I hope is obvious if you want to maintain culture, contentment and community. But the juggling of information flow, channel choices that avoid mental burnout, and the role of front line employees as brand ambassadors has been supercharged in the last
months. And customers really care how you treat your staff.
Some people I’m sure will already be in 2030 with their thinking. Others regrettably still in 2010. And for the former, hopefully you will also be finding out how to add a useful and generous quality filter to Netflix. No offence to Mark Wahlberg movies intended..
But in the meantime, what else do you think ticks the box of opportunity/challenge