Two thousand and seventeen is drawing to a close. What a year it has been. It has been a year that has seen some major stories with serious public relations lessons that will be applied going into 2018 and far beyond.
What were the major stories and the public relations lessons that can be learned from them?
- The #metoo movement with stories of sexual harassment and assault and how organizations respond to these allegations. From Harvey Weinstein to Charlie Rose to Matt Lauer and numerous other prominent men, 2017 saw their careers come to an end with sordid stories of sexual harassment and assault. For the organizations that had employed these men, the public relations challenge was, how do you address the allegations when made against an employee, how do you reassure shareholders, and how do you let the public know that no such conduct will be tolerated and if such things happened the culture of the company has changed. This calls for a public relations strategy of being proactive and getting in-front of such stories, highlighting the company culture, and navigating social media.
- United Airlines. The videos of a United Airline passenger being forcibly removed from a flight sent stock shares of the airline plummeting and made United the butt of every late night comedian and countless memes on social media. The airline was further hurt by its initial response to the situation. Social media brought this story to the forefront and fueled public outrage. It again showed the power of social media and how it drives narratives. This will only increase in 2018. In fact, social media often reports on a crisis before traditional media. Organizations need to be conscious of this fact. They must ensure that they monitor social media as they do traditional media and address social media in a consistent way with all other modes of communication employed.
- Equifax data breach. The Equifax data breach is still being felt today by consumers. Bad as the breach was, the credit reporting giant’s response to the crisis worsened the situation and caused even additional harm to the once mighty brand. The company waited weeks before reporting the breach and even when it finally admitted to the breach did not get all of the information out at one time. Rather Equifax released information in installments and allowed the media often to reveal information before the company would admit it. The lesson for any organization or individual from Equifax is to be proactive, transparent, and get everything out at one time during a crisis.
- The NFL and the take a knee movement. Donald Trump calling out NFL players who kneeled during the playing of the national anthem led to even more players taking the knee. Yet the public did not support the NFL or the players in this stand as seen by declining attendance at games and television ratings. The reason was that many fans felt that the protests went against the NFL brand and did not understand what the players were protesting. The lessons from this are – be consistent to your brand and fully explain actions that the public might not understand.
- Donald Trump. Donald Trump dominated the news in 2017 for good or bad. His policies and statements created strong passions. From this, consumers came to expect brands to take stands on political and social issues. Brands have often been reluctant to do this fearing they will alienate a sector of consumers. But today’s consumers in the age of Trump expect a brand to take a stand on the issues and brands are being forced to do so. This trend will accelerate in 2018.
Two thousand and seventeen was an eventful year. Its impact on businesses in terms of public relations will be felt far into 2018 and beyond.
Two thousand and eighteen is just a matter of weeks away. Brands are already wondering what will be the top public relations trends for the upcoming year and how they can stay ahead of the curve.
Here are three of what will be the top PR trends for 2018 that brands must be aware of and prepared for:
- Brand reputation. More than ever before brand reputation will matter to consumers. This means not only the cost and quality of a good or service but a brand’s story and its values. Brands need to capitalize in channels that they directly control – website, blog, social media – to convey this. In traditional media stories, brands need to be consistent with the values and story that they tell. This will earn greater brand loyalty and allow a brand to weather any crisis that might arise.
- Brands are going to have to address social and political issues. We live in one of the most polarized political periods in history. Social media and the 24/7-news cycle magnify this. While brands in the past have shied away from addressing political and social issues, today’s consumers demand that they do. This means in 2018, brands will need to take a stand and communicate that stand, making it consistent with the values and reputation that consumers believe the brand stands for. Avoiding controversial issues will not be tolerated by the consumer. Brands need to have their messages prepared.
- Influencer marketing increases. The power of influencer marketing continues at an accelerated pace. In 2018, the cost of it will increase, as will its power to sway consumers. Brands will need a clearly defined strategy to maximize their campaigns and stand out from the competition with influencer marketing.
Two thousand and eighteen will be a fast-paced year. Knowing the key PR trends and being prepared to use them will allow your brand to make it a profitable year.
Planning is essential for success. That is especially true when it comes to public relations for it to be truly successful and show a return on investment. Public relations isn’t about getting non-stop media coverage, rather it is about getting before your target audience (consumers and businesses) in a way that influences them to seek your services or products. With that as the goal, what should you put into a public relations plan?
- A clear defined objective. You should clearly define what the objective of your public relations campaign is. Are you trying to establish your brand? Reach potential business contacts? Reintroduce your brand? Too often when conducting a public relations campaign, businesses and individuals are not sure what they are seeking to achieve and what will define success. That is why clearly defining the ultimate result when developing a plan is crucial.
- Communication outlets. This means determining what media (traditional and social) are best for you getting the word out. Sometimes print and LinkedIn are the best outlets. Other times it could be broadcast with Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Knowing the best ways to reach your audience to achieve your objective is vital to the success of the public relations campaign.
- Develop a clear timeline and set of responsibilities. The next thing to do is put together a timeline for the campaign. This timeline should include events that the campaign may be connected with, editorial calendar dates of when various media outlets are doing a story on various subjects, dates that you need to begin outreach, as well as a budget, and determining who is responsible for what duties.
Once you have determined these three items for your public relations, you are set to launch the campaign. But the planning is essential for the success of the campaign. Without the planning you are driving blind in the world of public relations.
Our society is more polarized today than at any moment in recent memory. Our politics is divisive. Opinions have become more outspoken and outraged. Driving all of this is social media. Social media has allowed millions to have a voice and share their opinion. It is also a driving force in spreading disapproval of a brand when it takes a stand that someone disagrees with. The hashtag #Boycott followed by a brand’s name is one of the most popular ones on Twitter. Brands need to be prepared when this happens.
Here are a few examples.
A local Cracker Barrel in Indiana fired the wife of a man named Brad. Brad went on to social media to demand that Cracker Barrel explain why his wife was fired. His posts were picked up by people on social media with the hashtag #JusticeforBradsWife. The Cracker Barrel social media sites were inundated with comments and questions about Brad’s wife. Traditional media picked up the story which became a humorous running joke. Cracker Barrel ignored the posters and social media outcry. This led to a new hashtag #BoycottCrackerBarrel. The chain took a hit and its stock price went down.
Adidas made a tone-deaf move by sending out an email to Boston Marathon participants with the subject line, “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!” the day after this year’s marathon – just four years after the bombings at the 2013 marathon. The backlash was immediate. The hashtag #BoycottAddias started. Before it could gain traction and Adidas quickly issued a public apology saying, “We are incredibly sorry. There was no thought given to the insensitive email subject line we sent Tuesday. We deeply apologize for our mistake.”
The heartfelt public apology stopped #BoycottAddias in its tracks. It prevented the incident from turning into a negative three- to five-day story.
A result of #Boycott means that it is more important than ever to make sure that you are prepared with a statement supporting your decision if you are caught in the crosshairs of a boycott. Or if you feel like you’ve made a mistake, make sure the statement explains why you made the decision in the first place and what you are doing to fix the issue. Consumers want to know their voices are being heard and changes are being made.
Social media drives narratives. That cannot be emphasized enough. And it is particularly true during a crisis over customer service. More and more dissatisfied customers are taking to Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to express their displeasure over poor customer service or what they view as poor quality products. A case in point happened with the Twitter war between conservative author, Ann Coulter and Delta Airlines.
Coulter’s problems with Delta began, after the exit-row seat she reserved on her flight from New York to West Palm Beach was given away to a fellow passenger without any “explanation, compensation or apology” she claimed on Twitter. Delta’s social media team reached out via Twitter apologizing to Coulter and offering to compensate her the extra money she had paid. But that wasn’t the end of the Twitter war heard around the world. Coulter took again to Twitter attacking Delta, its employees, and even the passenger who took her seat. Delta responded to her via Twitter defending its employees and passengers. The feud between Coulter and Delta was picked up by the news media and is still ongoing. Yet it raises the question in this social media driven age in which every tweet and post is analyzed, how should a company respond when under attack via social media?
These are some things a company should do and remember:
- Respond to the complaint. Ignoring it will only make the customer angrier and lead to others on social media joining in. Like Delta originally did, acknowledge a mistake if it was made, offer an apology, and finally offer a resolution. Always act as if your response will be viewed by the entire world because with the power of social media it probably will be.
- Stand up for the company if you are unfairly accused of something. In the case of Delta, the company stood up for its employees and passengers when Coulter’s tweets began attacking them. This showed a humanizing face for Delta and allowed the company also to stand up against false allegations. They also remembered that part of their brand identity is their employees and they defended that brand DNA that was under attack.
- Use humor and class in admitting a major mistake if possible. Social media can be abusive and snarky. If admitting a mistake, a company is always smart to use some self-depreciating humor in its response and take the high road. Anything else will make the social media crisis worse.
- Have a social media team that responds 24/7. Social media never rests and that why a company always needs to respond right away or else the social media firestorm will grow.
Social media complaints are never-ending. The key for companies is to respond to each in a way that it is one and gone. Failing to do so will ensure that the complaint becomes a full blown crisis on social media and then in the traditional media causing extreme brand damage.
Brands know that public relations is essential to success. It develops brand identity and reinforces ongoing marketing efforts. But to see strong success from public relations, certain elements must be in place.
What elements are critical and need to be in place for successful public relations?
- Effective Website: People need to be able to find you after they hear about you. Beyond that, when people land on your website, are they taking the action you want them? Your website needs to be designed for that. And this should go without saying, your website needs to be friendly on all devices.
- Powerful Call-To-Action: Your website needs to have a clear call-to-action allowing you to capture email addresses of those who come on it. It should offer an incentive that corresponds to your public relations message in exchange for that valuable contact information. Without effective lead capture, you’re missing out on all potential leads the public relations sends your way.
- Social Media Presence: The key to effectively using the public relations you have obtained is by promoting it. In this day and age, that means promoting the message on all social media platforms. You should have a strong, clear, and active social media platform with an engaged community when doing a public relations campaign.
Without these key elements in place when doing a public relations campaign, public relations is like striking it rich at the lottery. With these elements, public relations brings a strong return on investment not merely for brand identity but sales.
The major challenge for a business after a major crisis is regaining public trust. It has taken years for a business to build the trust and now that the crisis has hit, the business must begin rebuilding the trust again. It helps if the business had a reservoir of goodwill prior to the crisis and managed the crisis with a strong response. It cannot be emphasized enough that in having a strong crisis management plan in place during the crisis helps in the rebuilding.
So now moving forward what is to be done?
The first step is to explain now that the crisis has passed what steps the business is doing to ensure that it will never happen again. This message must be conveyed to the public, vendors, and internally to employees. This should be done in a strong way, outlining the specific steps that are being taken.
A greater emphasis on customer satisfaction and service is critical during this time period. Look at the steps United Airlines took after its disaster when a passenger was dragged off one of its flights.
The organization might want to look at developing a new mission statement as it emerges from the crisis. This should emphasize more than just profits. It should put a premium on customer service and making the world, the country, state, or city a better place.
Ethics and sensitivity training programs based upon the crisis should be instituted. This helps ensure that every employee knows the proper procedures and what is expected of them.
Also a greater emphasis should be placed on community outreach and charitable programs. This will help rebuild goodwill and also show that the company cares.
Rebuilding a reputation after a crisis doesn’t happen overnight but it can be done. Just as with the crisis, you need a strong plan for after the crisis to regain public trust.