Preparing a Public Relations Strategy for 2021
Our jobs, our lives, and everything we thought we knew changed dramatically in 2020. As we look back on a year filled with challenges, we also look ahead to what we can expect in 2021, including the trends that will impact the public relations profession.
As the vaccine rollout begins, even if a bit slowly, and COVID-19 cases here in Colorado seem to be on the decline (for now), things may finally be looking up a bit for 2021. However, there is no question that COVID-19 will continue to have an impact on all industries, including public relations.
Besides the global pandemic, the other big story in 2020 was the push for social justice with the Black Lives Matter movement. That will leave a lasting imprint in the years to come as brands continue the important work of bringing representation to BIPOC and their stories.
As we look toward a new (and hopefully!) brighter year, here are our predictions about the trends we expect to continue to play out in 2021.
Virtual TV Interviews
The show must go on! When the pandemic first hit, journalists wasted no time transitioning newsgathering and reporting to platforms like Zoom. While awkward at first, journalists soon found that virtual interviews can be convenient by giving the media the ability to talk with sources in any location without difficulty coordinating schedules.
Over the past year, journalists have perfected the process and even as the pandemic winds down, we don’t expect to see virtual interviews going anywhere.
Takeaways from 2020:
- Pitch early. With virtual interviews, producers are often booking out their calendars further to allow for the additional time coordination and setup can take. Be sure to pitch your segments a few days earlier than you previously would have.
- Equipment and lighting is key. Without the benefit of studio lighting and a sound engineer, it’s important to ensure clients have a well-lit space and high-quality headphones to ensure they put their best foot forward on camera. Taking the time to do a run through to test Zoom setups can make a world of difference when it’s time to go live.
- Prepare for every situation. If we’ve learned any lesson this year it’s that technological difficulties can, and will, happen. We recommend preparing for common challenges connecting to virtual interviews, along with presentation techniques to avoid becoming flustered, which can show once the interview finally gets underway.
Diversity and Inclusion Remains a Focus
It’s no secret that consumers are ready for organizations to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to DEI initiatives. By now, your organization should have taken an in-depth look at ways you can improve diversity both internally and with the audiences you serve.
Now, it’s time to get to work implementing change and sharing the story with a wider audience. Don’t let your promises made during the Black Lives Matter movement go unfulfilled.
Takeaways from 2020:
- Ensure all content is diverse and culturally sensitive. Missteps will be unacceptable in 2021. Before going live, all content should be reviewed by diverse stakeholders in a pre-proscribed process to ensure that it is appropriate, inclusive and sends the right message.
- Share your actions, not just promises. As we mentioned above, your target audience no longer wants to hear that you will take action, they want to know what meaningful changes you have put in place. Track your work and put together reports and other graphics that show how you implemented changes that have already begun making progress toward diversity, equity and inclusion goals.
- Be a champion for DEI efforts. As communicators, we have a massive input on the images our organizations send out into the world. We need to always keep inclusivity at the forefront of our work and actively work to amplify diverse voices. Think about how you can directly impact DEI efforts whether that is including images of BIPOC people in marketing materials or seeking out diverse spokespeople within your organization.
Internal Communications are Essential
Seemingly overnight, the way we work changed. High-rise offices sat empty as people traded quiet offices for kitchen tables and homes shared with roommates, spouses, kids and of course pets who were thrilled to have a human to interrupt all day. Many employees also added on additional roles like homeschool teacher and caregiver for sick or elderly loved ones.
All of this to say that workers now face many more distractions, making it important to find ways to effectively communicate with your team at a distance. The importance of internal communications teams was very clear this year and will continue to be moving forward, even once employees begin to return to the office.
Takeaways from 2020:
- Determine what method works best for your company. If the last thing your team wants is another email in their inbox, have your internal communications team create a virtual agenda for quick 10-minute standup meetings every morning. If platforms like Slack are popular among your team, set up a channel devoted to essential internal communications. Determine a method of communication that works for your team and then commit to consistently using it to share key updates so that when employees are in need of information, they know where to look.
- Be transparent. Your team knows that this year is unlike any other. If your organization is facing financial difficulties or other challenges, your team wants to know. Rather than projecting a false sense of confidence, which can damage employee trust in the long term, be honest and upfront with employees and allow them to feel like they play a vital role in contributing to the solution.
Always have a Crisis Communication Plan Ready
During a rapidly changing situation with many unknowns, brands had to get comfortable acknowledging uncertainty and saying, “We don’t know” this year. While this scenario may have been uncomfortable for some communicators, as crisis communications experts, our team knows it’s always best to address a situation quickly, even if you don’t have all the answers, rather than staying silent.
There are still many unknowns that PR pros will face regarding the pandemic in 2021. Having a crisis communications plan in place that you can turn to in any situation will play a huge role in reassuring employees and keeping lines of communication open, even amidst uncertainty.
Takeaways from 2020:
- Set up a virtual war room. We’ve always included chains-of-command in our crisis communication plans but now, more than ever, it’s essential to know which of your team members will have the final sign off on crisis efforts and how/where your team will communicate.
- Create materials that can be quickly updated. We’ve said it before and we’ve said it again. Even nearly a year in, the pandemic continues to be a rapidly evolving situation. Being quick and nimble is of the utmost importance as you try to share your message with clients, team members and stakeholders. When designing materials from graphics to website pages to even video content, try to create items that can easily be updated or repurposed as the situation unfolds.
- Continually update your crisis communication plan and trainings. If your organization is lucky enough to have escaped 2020 without a major crisis incident, now is not the time to rest on your laurels. As you experience staffing transitions, changes in services and other new developments, be sure to keep your crisis plan up-to-date. You should also set a time with crisis team members to review the plan every one to two months.
Consider Hiring a Colorado PR Firm for Communications Support
In the coming year, we are sure to see many more changes as the pandemic (ideally!) begins to calm down. Over the next few months, PR pros will need to work on vaccination messaging plans, reopening communications strategies and other crucial communications.
If your team needs support strategizing or creating these kinds of plans, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-733-3441 and we can schedule a free consultation call to learn more about your needs. We are based in Denver, Colorado and serve clients throughout the Rocky Mountain region and nationally.