Few of us were sorry to see the back of 2020, but with 2021 having got off to a tumultuous start, what can we learn from the beginning of the new Lunar Year? What does the Year of the Ox have in store for us and what can we learn from it that can help businesses communicate better with their publics?
The Ox, the second animal of the Chinese zodiac, denotes hard work, positivity and honesty. Its strength, fairness and conscientiousness inspires confidence in others.
A balm for uncertainty, perhaps?
Businesses that can inspire confidence in times of uncertainty can reduce stress in both their employees and their customers for mutually beneficial outcome. The science says so, as this insightful piece in Marketing Week points out.
So what does this mean for PR in the year ahead?
How can businesses make best use of PR in 2021 to help them emerge out the other side of these unpredictable months and years as strong as an ox?
1. Be a pathfinder
Legislative and regulatory landscapes got a whole lot more complicated as 2020 drew to a close. Between Brexit and Covid-19, both businesses and customers have found themselves navigating new legal landscapes and government guidance that is a full-time job in itself to understand.
Businesses that can show they understand the new challenges their customers are facing, and lead them deftly through the maze, will build hearty brand engagement and loyalty by return.
2. Ramp up your information flow
During times of uncertainty, providing clear, timely, accurate information to employees and customers can quite literally reduce their stress levels. And lower stress levels means better quality decision-making, improved personal relations, as well as fewer mistakes and customer complaints.
Establish dialogue early, via channels that work for your audiences, even when you don’t know exactly what the future holds. Keeping people informed in an open and honest way fosters trust. This is something we supported clients to do better and faster in 2020, particularly on issues relating to health and safety, and that need is accelerating in 2021 as we take the first steps on the bumpy road to pandemic recovery.
3. Find gold dust in trade press
While the last few years of the 2010s saw social media and influencers as the darlings of many PR strategies, the 20s demands a more nuanced, targeted approach. Overlooking the old ways of doing things doesn’t always pay off and that applies to PR as much as anything.
For many clients, trade PR coverage is exactly what they need to prioritise. It is the foundation on which reputation with niche, targeted audiences can be built. Not only do they reach directly the right people at the right time, being a regular fixture in your trade press also makes you more likely to be sought out by national journalists looking for experts on their chosen topic.
4. More listening, less talking
Clients that are new to PR will often approach it with a desire to ‘shout about it’, whatever their own personal ‘it’ might be. But if the last half-decade of public life in both the US and the UK has taught us anything, it’s that you can’t win for your cause if you don’t first listen, no matter how noble your offering might be.
Listening first, to fully understand the assumptions, fears, motivators and challenges faced not just by your favoured customer, but by the audiences that surround them too, means the delivery of your own messages is more likely to be successful in inspiring the change or action you want to see.
When times are tough, listening becomes all the more important. And PR now exists in a tech-abundant world that allows us to provide timely, in-depth insight that can inform not just communications, but business strategy and product/service development too.
5. Make PR part of your thinking, not just your doing
The last few years brought with it a tendency for some organisations, particularly in the public sector, to talk about ‘doing the PR’. A desire to send out a ‘PR’ like pushing an envelope into a post-box, and sit back to enjoy the results.
While ‘push’ marketing and proactive media relations can indeed be tactics employed in some PR strategies, PR can offer so much more value to an organisation and those who employ PR as part of their thinking, not just part of their doing, have the most to gain.
Good PR is strategic.
Those that use PR as a management discipline, that ‘establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between itself and the publics on whom its success or failure depends’ (Effective Public Relations, Cutlip, Center and Broom), are more likely to survive and thrive.
Broader than its sister profession, marketing, public relations does not just consider relationships with customers but also draws in non-market influencers including regulators, politicians, activists, investors, trade unions, employees and citizens.
Why is this important?
Because most organisations do not have the undivided attention of their audiences, nor do they have fixed loyalties.
And in an uncertain world, that’s even more important to understand.