By: Samantha Gregson, Director of Hanover Communications 

Samantha Gregson, Director at Hanover Communications

The Chinese philosopher Confucius once taught that, “A man that commits a mistake and doesn’t correct it, has committed yet another mistake.” As comms professionals, we are certainly not immune to mistakes.  Whilst we are quick to implement a myriad of processes and checks and balances to reduce the number of mistakes that we, and our teams, make in our daily work lives, we are often less forthcoming in identifying any inherent mistakes in our strategies. One of the biggest mistakes that any comms professional can make in a post-pandemic world is to believe that winning approaches of the past will continue to deliver successful outcomes in future. Whilst the virus has undoubtedly had a profound effect on our industry; it is important to understand such changes within the wider historical context. In doing so, we can not only predict future trends, but ensure that we do not commit the mortal mistake of expecting old strategies to serve future goals. 

The last decade has been defined as the era of ‘building walls’, whether literally or metaphorically -where multilateral cooperation decreased, and self-interest rose in prominence.  This has had a profound effect on society, and even, how brands communicate with their audiences (with a clear focus on promoting individualism and self- expression).  However, the Covid-19 crisis has forced society and individuals alike to consider what they truly value and to spot the dangers of self-seeking behaviour. From a comms perspective, we can perhaps see a move towards more collaboration between organisations and a deeper understanding of shared fates. This could result in more knowledge-seeking and sharing summits and industry events geared towards instigating positive change in society and a greater focus on community engagement. Inclusiveness, meaningful dialogue, sustainability, and human centric approaches should not simply be seen as trendy buzz words to utilise, but rather as living ideals that must be embedded into every aspect of a company’s communications approach. 

Along with the building of walls, the 2010s experienced a marked decline in trust in institutions, experts, media and academia, in addition to a rise in populism.  Populism manifested in many different ways across the globe -from socioeconomic versions that pitted the working class against big business to more cultural forms focused on national identity. However, the pandemic has, in many ways, highlighted the inherent weaknesses is such an approach. It is clear that we need pragmatic, evidence-based decision-making to enable us to find common solutions to shared problems. Whilst trust in Government may not be on the rise, research suggests that scientific expertise is highly valued by the general public – and more so than before the pandemic. This shift could see trust in experts restored and a lessening of populist attacks. Consequently, we could see our industry move away from influencer marketing and towards expert thought leadership with a focus on science backed insights and analysis. This is not to predict the death of the influencer culture; however, it is clear that celebrities were found lacking during the pandemic, with many deemed completely out of touch with the realities of everyday life. Companies that choose to work with influencers should ensure that the values and, more importantly, actions of their ambassadors are aligned to that of the business.  If we really are “all in this together”, then overturning the power structures that place celebrity above the masses, and illuminating the experiences of truly relatable people, and especially those that are making meaningful contributions to humanity, could be a more authentic approach. 

The media industry was already experiencing challenges pre-Covid, and the pandemic has only served to heighten concerns. However, one of the positive takeaways from the crisis is that trust in media appears to have grown.  According to the annual Reuters Institute report, based on a series of opinion polls conducted by YouGov in 46 countries, confidence in news reporting has risen six points to 44%.  Despite a more positive sentiment towards news outlets, the fact remains that with advertising budgets shrinking, many publications in the region have been forced to close or downsize during the past year.  Consequently, relying on traditional methods to obtain coverage is unlikely to work going forward, and corporates need to think of more innovative ways to share their news as part of a multi-faceted, integrated storytelling strategy.  Expecting to consistently receive strong coverage from a press release is a mistake.  Rather, it is important to consider which mode and format will best enable audiences to engage with and process information.  Podcasts, explainer videos, webinars and social media, in the right context, could be crucial to a winning strategy. Businesses need to think like their own news organisation; they must interrogate each story that they plan to disseminate as if they were planning to include it in a news programme or paper.  Is it strong enough to grab the top spot?  Is a competitor’s or another industry story more compelling? If you feel it would struggle to command inclusion, then reconsider whether it is a story that deserves to be told. 

Mistakes happen; relying on strategies of bygone eras to deliver future success is perhaps the biggest mistake of all.  Companies should consider how they can evolve their approaches in line with societal changes to ensure that they are operating to the drumbeat of the communities in which they operate. Whilst traditional tactics are by no means obsolete, it is certainly a mistake to assume they warrant inclusion in a present-day comms strategy.