As we reflect on the nail-biter of a year that was 2020, it’s incredible to see how much we have adapted to singular — dare we say “unprecedented” — circumstances. From the pandemic that took the world by surprise, to the BLM racial reckoning that was long overdue, to a roller coaster US election in limbo, public relations had to rise to meet the moment.
Keeping messaging original, fresh, tactful and relatable is one of PR’s perennial problems, but 2020 threw down the gauntlet when it came to communicating in meaningful ways that transcended cliches and bested buzzwords.
PR has tackled those issues and more in a way that has become increasingly sought-after, suggest the findings of the fourth annual Comms Report from PRWeek and software and services company Cision.
Entering 2020, PR had already established itself as a trusted adviser to top management. That status, however, reached new levels in 2020. Of the 314 survey respondents, all U.S.-based PR and marketing professionals, 85% said the C-suite sought the counsel of comms even more after COVID-19 hit our country.
As we have had to grapple with so many unknowns, the role of communications has been elevated and we have had to be proactive with our approach — and our clients took note. A senior member of leadership at MariaDB remarked, “They (executives) are so happy to see the level of energy and firepower from you guys…You guys rock and we are so happy to have you as part of the team!”
While proactivity was praised and counsel was crucial, content was king. At Liberty Communications, we found ourselves drafting more thought leadership content than ever, and we were not alone in spotting that trend. Respondents selected content creation as the single most important PR task (41%) and media outreach as the second most important (27%).
When asked what the biggest change to the content creation process since the start of COVID-19, most respondents (44.3%) cited that they had notably adapted the tone of their content to better fit current societal realities.
“The medium is the message,” that phrase coined by iconic communication theorist Marshall McLuhan, is as timely as ever. And in terms of dissemination of newly nuanced messaging, being resourceful at finding those mediums that connected with people on a personal level was key. Perhaps due in part to lack of in-person networking opportunities, LinkedIn emerged as a vital channel to increase awareness of our content and coverage secured for clients. The survey’s numbers confirm that LinkedIn is becoming increasingly critical for broader content strategies industry-wide: 79% of respondents say it is one of their most important channels, up from 45% last year. In our case, we witnessed this increase firsthand while growing engagement of a client’s LinkedIn account by 500% over a six month period. While that growth was one of our most salient metrics, other channels of social media were integral to our comms plans and podcasts were an increasingly crucial component of making our clients heard among a wider audience.
We also leveraged relationships in the media and incisive angles to grab headlines in some of the most widely read publications in the world. From the New York Times article highlighting how our client Starship Technologies was deploying a fleet of robots to deliver food to a community in lockdown, to the Computer Weekly piece on how Mobile is failing over two-thirds of frontline workers featuring survey data from client B2M Solutions, to a Forbes writeup and podcast on how our client e-Residency transformed how we work via its Digital Nomad Visa program, and many more. We also worked to set the table for what industries will look like in a post-pandemic world, as we did with Elucidat, and tackled #metoo and WFH with coverage in Forbes for our client Vault Platform. Liberty was at the forefront of communicating about how our cutting-edge technology clients are shaping a response to Covid-19, a remote reality, and what’s to come.
The news cycle of 2020 kept us on the edge of our seats and kept our comms strategy on our toes. As we head into 2021 tested by the times and burnished by a blaze of activism, we feel fortunate to be part of a team that feels stronger than ever. We look ahead with anticipation, hope and a host of skills to see us through any crisis.