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PR predictions in a post-COVID-19 world – Part 1

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Way back in late May, I put out a call for thoughts covering predictions for PR in a post-COVID-19 world. Here’s part one of the write-up which covers community engagement, drones and social media. As they say – better late than never.

Please let me and the contributors know your thoughts and feedback.

Community Engagement – A digital shift

Image courtesy of JackArts

“COVID has reminded us as individuals how important community is and I think moving forward, that’s going to be a big trend in PR this year.”

Teela Clayton, Account Executive, SLBPR

Community has been a key theme throughout COVID-19. 750,000 people signed up to help the NHS via the GoodSam app, 560 ‘Be kind. Let’s look out for one another’ posters popped up across London and there were 11 weeks of nationwide clapping for the NHS and carers.

These are just a few of many examples, if COVID-19 has shown us anything it’s that we need each other, especially during times of crisis and uncertainty.

When I look at the regeneration space in local government, COVID-19 has majorly impacted community engagement, it has forced a shift from on the ground community engagement to virtual engagement via software platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom. We have also seen an increase in webinars to facilitate what would usually be done in person.

It’s just another platform, right? Virtual engagement can be tricky, it might be cheap and easy to set up from an organisational perspective, but there are some considerations around accessibility for the end user – especially the inclusion of those who are not so tech savvy or individuals who may not have access to a supporting device.

Additionally, the set-up is different when delivering a virtual event, for example it’s harder to observe body language, some people choose to have their cameras off and others find it hard to get involved in the conversation. Plus, the usual “you’re on mute” reminders.

However, in a post-COVID-19 world, to engage the communities that we serve, we need to be flexible with our offering going forward.

My prediction: We will see an enhanced hybrid model of community engagement continue to develop throughout COVID-19. Dare I say the introduction of dual events in the future (a combined online and offline event, held at the same time) – we shall see.

Drones – A reintroduction

“I think drones are going to become really important. I’m a drone user myself for the company and during the first couple of weeks of the pandemic, I was asked to go out and film a tour of the site.”

Sam Brownjohn – Visual Content Manager, SUEZ

I feel like drones seemed really cool back in the day, especially with the high spec video outputs that they can provide – but maybe only to a niche audience? Then came the Gatwick Airport drone incident in 2019, which was highly disruptive, and combined with new regulation probably did not help with the popularity of drones.

At the time of writing, the Civil Aviation Authority estimates that there are roughly 90,000 drone users in the UK, with 40,000 of those individuals on the Drone Register – which was introduced last year.

I’m quite surprised that we haven’t seen the use of drone footage increase in the PR industry, especially with construction sites and development work. I went on Google and had a look at the hiring costs for drone filming. According to Drone Safe Register, you can expect to pay between £300 to over £1000 depending on the type of work.

If you want to purchase one, DJI Drones are a popular manufacturer and an entry level drone with nice recording capabilities will set you back around £350. Plus, the footage from drones is impressive.

Where are you on the tech adoption scale – are you an early adopter or are you a laggard? In Sam’s example, by filming a tour of the site, it reduced the risk of having people come onto the site during the early stages of COVID-19, made possible by a drone.

My prediction: Drones are one to watch for the future, those who have the budget will explore the use of drones within their PR and marketing efforts, and will benefit from using an innovative and alternative bit of kit. Ultimately, the data will indicate the success of implementing a drone.

Digital Activism – Consumers vs Brands

“Cancel culture is one of the digital symptoms of a hyperconnected social media active world were brands and individuals have nowhere to hide if they get it wrong. On one hand this provides communities with an empowering ability to drive the narratives and conversations they feel need to be had.”

Sophie Amono – Founder, sTUFFs 

The 2020 USC Annenberg – Global Communications Report highlighted that 63% of PR professionals surveyed believe that activists are more influential today, compared to five years ago.

What brands come to mind when you think of the pandemic? For me, it’s Wetherspoons and Sports Direct for their interesting attempts to try and stay open during the early stages of lockdown – equally Nike and Tesco also spring to mind for their PR efforts.

Boohoo came under fire in July for poor factory working conditions in the UK, pay below the national minimum wage and a lack of PPE in its factories, described as “sweatshop conditions” by an undercover reporter for the Sunday Times. Boohoo uses influencer marketing to help sell its clothes – in fact, they spent over £90m on marketing last year.

When the story broke, Boohoo received backlash on social media, some of their influencers boycotted the brand, retailers like Next and Zalando postponed orders and removed Boohoo brands from their websites and Boohoo’s share price fell.

From my perspective, this is poor risk issues management – Not only has this caused reputational damage and an adverse effect on their bottom line, but the exposure of this issue could not have happened without the activism from the online community, particularly on social media.

My prediction: Digital activism will continue to increase the pressure on brands to ‘do the right thing’, this will be a test for brands to see if they truly are aligned with their brand values, vision and mission.

A special thanks to the following contributors: Teela Clayton, Sam Brownjohn & Sophie Amono

Tune in next week for part two of PR predictions in a post-COVID-19 world.

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