It’s not exactly breaking news that over the past eight months, every Bellmont Partners client, no matter which industry they’re in, has shifted their marketing approach – some slightly, others significantly. But what is newsworthy are the insights we’ve gleaned regarding what’s most important to keep in mind for 2021.
Each organization has been pivoting according to its own timeline. As early as February, well before Minnesota reported its first coronavirus case, we helped revise or develop multiple communications plans around the pandemic. And we’re continuing to work with organizations that are still in the process of revising or revitalizing their narratives to reflect the way they’re approaching their operations and their marketing efforts as this all continues to unfold.
The work we’ve been doing falls into two basic buckets: strengthening foundations through critical blocking and tackling, and testing new approaches – both of which are crucial to 2021 planning.
STRENGTHENING THE CORE
After an initial pullback (in March alone, six of our clients shut down their communications efforts completely), we saw a massive increase in requests for crisis counsel from our existing clients as well as organizations approaching us for help for the first time. We shifted our internal resources to make sure we could provide the senior-level support they needed. We also responded to an amped-up need to engage with and reinforce relationships with clients’ customers and other stakeholders by using multiple communications disciplines, from earned and owned to social and paid. Generally, we’ve seen a major focus on demonstrating thought leadership and re-establishing or building authentic relationships with audiences, something public relations does very well.
TESTING NEW APPROACHES
We’re continuing to see an increased interest in planning and exploring new tactics. Many organizations have had to set aside their best-laid pre-COVID plans, and they now need to determine the most efficient and effective ways to meet their constituents where they are for the rest of this year and for 2021. They’re looking for new ideas and a variety of approaches that can be adjusted on the fly depending on what the pandemic and political landscape looks like, or what new challenge is lurking just around the corner. We’re seeing that many companies aren’t as bound to the status quo as they once were, and are finding success as they test new (or new-to-them) methods of communicating and demonstrating thought leadership.
Regardless of whether organizations are trying a new tactic or reinforcing a tried-and-true approach, we’ve seen a number of trends unfold that will inform 2021 activities, including:
- Repurposing content. Across the board, we’ve seen an increased interest in taking a core piece of content and repurposing it for other platforms. That’s always been valuable, but now that teams and budgets are often smaller, it’s more important than ever to slice and dice information into social media posts, infographics, emails or web copy. We don’t see that waning at all in the new year.
- Virtual events. While major events we work with, like the Loft’s Wordplay book festival, shifted to become fully virtual this year (and in some cases, significantly expanded their reach), even smaller or more niche events are looking at how they can make it easier for attendees to participate, either in-person or online.
- LinkedIn strategies. Executives have been called upon to be more transparent and accessible this year, and are finding LinkedIn to be an excellent way to authentically engage. They’re putting more emphasis on – and devoting more time to – developing content and building a network.
- Digital media. We’re seeing an even bigger shift toward digital, if that’s even possible. 2020 brought with it a huge influx in remodeling or at least adding a new coat of virtual paint to websites, or exploring extremely accessible ways to connect with audiences, like using Facebook Live for townhall meetings. We’ve also seen a significant increase in paid social media efforts and creative ways to partner with influencers and other partners in social.
- Podcasts and videos. For organizations that hadn’t fully embraced communicating via video or audio because it may have seemed overwhelming, using user-friendly tech like Zoom or Microsoft Teams is an easy way to test it out. We’re now working with multiple clients to develop podcasts – many of which are produced fully remotely.
- Internal communications. Goodbye, in-person staff meetings around a conference table. Especially since many organizations are now at least partially working remotely, keeping team members connected is a challenge, so we’ve seen a large resurgence in developing effective – and creative – ways to engage with employees.
- Desksides. Because they’re mostly still working from home, editors have been more interested in virtual deskside meetings, especially those that provide plenty of story ideas or resources for their audiences.
- Bylined articles. Contributed bylined articles and guest posts are also in great demand, and excellent opportunities for leaders at organizations of all types to demonstrate their thought leadership – while providing valuable content for often-resource-strapped media outlets.
- Measurement. Now, more than ever, it’s critical to track metrics to determine a tactic’s effectiveness and how to adjust. In many cases, we’ve been seeing a reallocation of marketing budgets to focus more resources on metrics-based and trackable approaches like paid social and web analytics.
The fourth quarter of a presidential election year is always difficult to predict, and this year, because of the pandemic, it’s exponentially more uncertain. But while the industries that are still experiencing the biggest ramifications of the pandemic, associated shut-downs and lack of consumer confidence – hospitality, retail, performing arts and some nonprofits – are still struggling to survive in some cases, we’re seeing many other sectors – particularly B2B – have been able to adapt to the (cliché alert) “new normal” and again begin to devote budgets and resources toward marketing.
For decades, PR has often been misinterpreted as primarily media relations, and this uncertain time has allowed us to really showcase all the diverse tools in our toolbox. And we’ve also been able to demonstrate how we’re especially good at integrating multiple disciplines, approaches and platforms so they all work together more efficiently – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts – to serve the overarching strategy.
If you’re looking for an innovative, battle-tested PR partner to help you both strengthen your existing communications approach and explore new ways of engaging with your audiences as you prepare for 2021, we’d love to talk it through. Please reach out if you’d like to set up a no-obligation discussion or brainstorm.
Here’s to a stronger, more stable – and well-planned – 2021!