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Why PR Will Be King of 2021

2021-01-27

PR is in Every Corner of Your 2021 Marketing Strategy

Sabastian Wee
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The past year proved public relations is more important and prevalent than ever. In 2020, PR and marketing campaigns made us laugh, cry, then annoyed, angered but also inspired us. It was quite the year for PR.

What public relations is to the public and business owners was redefined. PR helped us pivot our businesses and discover new ways to interact with our customers. Despite the fact we’re living in “unprecedented times,” PR is helping us embrace the “new normal,” because let’s face it, there’s no going back. So instead of waxing nostalgic, we’re going to have to fully accept this brave new world, if only so we don’t have to use phrases like “unprecedented times” and “new normal” for a long, long, long time. Like ever again.

For the PR landscape in 2021, there’s a lot to like about these changes in the industry. We have a chance to wipe the slate clean, lead new initiatives and try new and bold ideas; because in 2021 everything is on the table. And PR is going to be in every corner of your marketing strategy, sitting in your planning meeting like Bernie Sanders at Inauguration Day.

So with that in mind, here’s how to look at your 2021 strategy with PR-tinted glasses.

BE PREPARED FOR ANYTHING

Crisis management was front and center throughout 2020 and continues to be a key component of communications in 2021. The good thing is you’re a lot more prepared than you realize. 2020 was practically a boot camp for those inexperienced in crisis communications.

If you’re in the restaurant industry, you’re not going to be dropping the use of face masks, takeout and outdoor dining. If you’re in a high-touch industry, you’ll still have to practice social distancing, mask-wearing and deep cleaning. The fact is, the precautions now in place are not going away for the duration of 2021 and maybe beyond.

The worst thing you can do is to chuck aside what you’ve learned in hopes that the incoming vaccines will magically bring everything back to the good ol’ days of 2019. Consumers will still be a little wary, despite the fact there will be many who are aching to dance in the streets again. And not to mention if another outbreak occurs, it will put you right back where you were last June if you are too quick to revert.

So have a plan b, c and d.

Set up messaging for a variety of scenarios and revisit them from time to time. Communicate with your staff frequently about what kind of changes could be made in the event things take a turn. You’re not letting the pandemic define you, but you’re defining yourself in a perilous time. How you handle a crisis will go far in the eyes of your employees and customers.

Furthermore, putting these contingency plans in place doesn’t make you paranoid. It puts your mind at ease because there’s just nothing like the feeling of knowing that you’re prepared for anything thrown your way.

YOU HAVE A NEW STORY

Your business overcame a lot in 2020. Talk about it. Show your customers the good, the bad and the ugly. There’s no better time for a feel-good story, especially when the entire planet can relate to struggles when it comes to life in a global pandemic. Plus, you score bonus points for authenticity.

Naturally, by telling your new story, you’re refreshing your content strategy. How will your story translate across the mediums? This could mean new messaging on your website, new types of content creation on social media, how you produce your email content, blog posts, videos, etc.

Your story could also be compelling enough for a media pitch. And there’s a solid chance that your local media outlet (think radio, podcasts and local TV, in addition to the local paper) are happy to chat, especially if it’s a story of hope, positivity and overcoming adversity. Everyone loves an underdog story.

So start by asking yourself: How did you overcome the struggles of 2020? What new initiatives have you undertaken for the new year? Do you have anything new on the horizon that could excite, or even better, help your community? Answer these questions and you have a start for a solid media pitch.

THE MEDIA HAS CHANGED TOO

Speaking of the media, from the way reporting happens to the kind of stories being told, so much has changed in the media in the past 12 months. More importantly, journalists have dealt with every major issue that occurred in 2020. They’re exhausted. They’re beaten up. They’re stretched thin. For many of them, reporting on something other than pandemic-related stories would be a breath of fresh air.

Check in with your contacts.

How are they doing? What are they looking for these days? Their procedures may have changed too. Checking in without trying to get something in return means a lot to them and will naturally strengthen your relationship with them.

When you’re searching for new contacts, pay attention to what they’re writing about these days. What are they tweeting about? It’s a good way to take their temperature and know what they’re interested in.

Keep in mind many members of the media can’t travel, so think of ways for them to experience your story virtually.

Story kits may be more popular than ever. Subject lines, like headlines, are going to be key in getting their attention. Give them everything they need short of coming to you—without drowning them in information. But whatever you do, don’t call (unless you already have a phenomenal relationship with them). That’s a great way to annoy the hell out of them.

BE SOCIALLY AWARE

People will engage brands that align with their values. This sentiment was apparent before the pandemic, but it became a solidified consumer behavior in 2020. Whatever your personal opinions are about racial justice, political speech and the pandemic, you still have to pay attention to your messaging and the content that is reaching your audience. You can’t make everyone happy and you’ll never be able to walk a mile in their shoes, but you can be empathetic to what’s happening in your consumers’ world.

Racial justice and DEI efforts.

To appropriately address this topic, it’s far more important to take action. Avoid tactics that can be perceived as performative, i.e. posting a black box on Instagram, using a trendy hashtag or quoting Martin Luther King Jr on MLK Day (not that doing these things makes you a bad person, but we encourage you to go further) Take the steps to create a truly inclusive environment, partner with minority-run and -supporting organizations, or develop hiring policies that will diversify your workforce. Celebrate your diversity, but do so with actionable progress. For a subject that is sensitive to large segments of the population, it is vital to be patient and read about how you can take part in DEI initiatives before taking action.

Politics.

The political temperature is at an all-time high and we don’t anticipate it cooling off any time soon. Almost everything can be turned into a political football, so it’s important to pay attention to the key issues and actively work to avoid making Left or Right statements unless you want to only appeal to customers on one side of the spectrum, which is fine, I guess.

Pandemic woes.

You (and everyone else on Earth) may want to move on from the pandemic, but the pandemic isn’t leaving us just yet. At any given moment, your business may be shut down if JUST ONE of your employees gets COVID. It’s nerve-wracking. But if you pretend it’s business as usual and don’t communicate your precautionary measures to employees and customers, you’re just setting yourself up for a potential crisis that was avoidable. Again, you’re not letting the pandemic define you, but your customers (and employees) will remember how you defined yourself during a crisis.

Environment.

This was already a hot-button issue before the pandemic and it’s back on the table in 2021. Remember when wildlife roamed the streets in 2020? Or how pollution decreased during quarantine? People became much more aware of environmental impacts in the past year. So take stock of your energy-saving practices or any upcoming green-friendly upgrades to your business. Join or support Buy Local initiatives. Partner with environmental nonprofits or local groups in community efforts.

REVIEW YOUR PUBLIC-FACING PLATFORMS

When you start reviewing every public-facing platform, from social media and website to email and content/blog, you’ll start to see it’s all PR. Customer service? PR. Answering DMs? PR. Your podcast? PR. Everything should be curated and on message—just like PR.

So it’s time to rethink how you treat social media.

It’s your direct line to speak to your audience, like a customer service desk. It’s where consumers go FIRST to learn more about you. Your Facebook page acts as a business listing, so be sure to update if you have new hours, bios, links, etc. And perhaps it’s time to invest in fresh photography to liven your Instagram presence. Or maybe it’s time to put aside an hour a week to engage in Twitter chats. If this all sounds overwhelming, find a platform–one that customers engage the most–to focus and build for 2021.

While you’re reviewing your social platforms, perhaps it’s also time to refresh your social media policy.

Some call it “cancel culture,” some call it “accountability,” but whatever you want to call it, the separation between work and personal life is blurred these days. If your employee says something inflammatory on their personal social media account, it could be screenshotted and sent to you, the employer—Aaaand now you’re back in crisis management mode.

As previously mentioned, your new messaging should be incorporated into the content of your website. By creating a sense of consistency across all of your public-facing platforms, you suddenly have what looks like a campaign. And while you’re cleaning up the content on your website, refresh your SEO and make sure all the keywords and tags are still relevant.

MAKE YOUR WORDS MATTER

Now that you have the makings of a campaign, a couple of quick notes to keep in mind: Keep being transparent. You’ve made some changes to your business in the last year, explain it. Mask, no mask, just be clear with your customers.

Embrace your business personality and keep it simple, silly. Your business is more than an entity. It’s a vibe. The words you choose and the way you use them matter. But if you’re going to give your business a personality, go all the way. Have fun. Does your business make dad jokes? Or is it a snarky brute? A pop culture reference machine? Whatever you decide, be clever but don’t overthink to the point you forget your initial goals for the year.

INFLUENCERS, INFLUENCERS EVERYWHERE

Regardless of how you feel about influencers, they’re still a valuable choice for showcasing your business and its products. But for every great influencer, there are dozens and dozens of freebie hounds who make the legitimate ones look bad. And they—like everyone else who’s been cooped up—will be out in full force in 2021, flexing their influencing muscles.

So take the time to vet the right influencer for you.

Be clear about what you want. Collaborate and brainstorm ideas together. Influencer marketing makes the most sense for products, retail and even the food industry. Travel and leisure is struggling at the moment, but there are opportunities in the hospitality industry.

One key component to look for in an influencer are the channels that they populate. What’s their strongest platform? How does that fit with your audience?

There’s a good chance that you can reach a segment that you haven’t accessed.

For example, you may not have a Tik Tok account, but Influencer Bob does and his content creation is a good fit for your product (and your business personality). Or does Influencer Raquel have a Twitch account where she can review your product on her weekly livestream? A double hitter strategy (buying some digital ad space) can be capitalized to capture more of the influencer’s audience.

LET’S GET DIGITAL

As more consumers spend their time online than ever before, it makes sense that digital advertising spending is up in 2021. Every digital advertising component—from Google SEM and social media to podcasts and streaming services, and digital direct email and programmatic to e-commerce and artificial intelligence—will very likely see a rise in user experience and engagement. The sky’s the limit in this sector and we’ll likely see some major digital breakthroughs by the end of year.

In the meantime, pay attention to the advertising platforms to be sure they align with the values you’ve established—which, once again, will play well with your ever-sophisticated consumers.

Online shopping will be the buzzy thing of 2021

With Shopify, Facebook and Instagram Shops going all in for e-commerce. In-store shopping is likely to continue to dwindle through the year, thus it’s a no-brainer that social media is going to be more important than ever to keep your audience engaged with your brand. What are you waiting for?

As previously indicated, email marketing will continue to stay strong in 2021, with more consumers choosing to engage in email more than, say, social media ads. With that in mind, along with your 2021 messaging in place, there are a lot of opportunities to grow and engage your audience with fresh content and announcements every week.

PR IS AS PR DOES

2021 is going to be unpredictable, so you might as well be unpredictable, too. More importantly, your customers are getting more savvy by the day. When they were bombarded by ads, they used Ad Blocker. When they got sick of social media ads, TikTok came along. When cable show ads every three minutes of programming, they moved to streaming services. Consumers can see through a sales pitch a mile away, which is why PR exists.

But bad PR always sticks out like a sore thumb.

The more invisible PR is, the more effective it is.

Your actions are more important than what you say. In a world where we’re all having to be distant and isolated because of the seemingly never-ending pandemic, people are craving truth, comfort, kindness, transparency and no bullshit. By viewing your marketing strategy through a PR lens at all times, you’ll always keep your consumers at the top of mind.

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