By: Matthew Kaiserman, Account Executive
As we enter a new decade, many communicators and creative professionals are excited to look ahead to what is to come. From the application of emerging technologies like AI to finding better ways to harness and utilize big data, there are many exciting things impacting the industry on the horizon. But buzzwords aside, we must not only be aware of what is next but also where our industry has been. Former president Theodore Rosevelt stated, “I believe that the more you know about the past, the better you are prepared for the future.” Communicators need to take in and reflect on what has transpired during this past year to better inform our profession moving into 2020. Below are the top three lessons of 2019 for PR professionals.
Transparency Is Still King
This topic seemingly comes up each year, but sentiments have remained the same. Consumers don’t want to be lied to and especially not on a consistent basis. Over the past year, scandals appeared over the misuse of consumer data, lack of clarity on privacy practices and grey areas on the political agendas of social platforms. In 2019, Facebook was fined over $5 billion by the FTC on user privacy violations, admitted to a lack of political advertisement oversight, and is still dealing with the fallout of their dealings with consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.
These issues were kept under wraps until the secret became too big to hide. All scandals tie back to misleading the public, a concept which all brands should keep in mind moving into 2020. With the California Consumer Privacy Act moving into effect at the top of the year, transparency is no longer just a good business practice but now legally required. Companies need to get their ducks in a row fast, and be forthcoming with all of their publics to get ahead of any issues before they become a full-blown scandal.
Don’t Forget About Your Internal Publics
Often companies are so consumed by their external image they neglect their most important stakeholders; their employees. The ideas and values of a company should resonate throughout the entirety of the staff and echo through the halls of its every location. Wayfair ignored this advice earlier this year when the DTC furniture brand announced their decision to stand by an existing contract to supply detention centers at the US-Mexico border. Despite immense internal disapproval of the move, Wayfair doubled down on its stance leading to a 500 employee walk out of its Boston headquarters.
While the deal alone led to public scrutiny, the walkout triggered a national scandal and serious cause for concern. What started as a risky leadership decision spiraled into a brand going through an identity crisis. How can the public have faith in your brand if your employees don’t? This is a cautionary tale for brands who don’t take their employees’ perspectives into account before major decisions. Often, your internal publics will have the best interest of the company in mind and have a better pulse on the sentiments of external audiences than the leadership team.
Unlocking the Business Potential of Virality
Going viral is by no means a new commodity. But the concept of driving true business value off internet fame is relatively new. Until this past year, few brands have been able to mirror the success of influencers in converting likes and social media buzz into dollars. Enter Popeyes and the chicken sandwich that took 2019 by storm. For months, a three-ingredient fast food item owned the internet and was seemingly the main topic of discussion.
The viral explosion for the sandwich led to a breath-taking $23.25 million in ad value equivalencies for Popeyes in media mentions across digital print, social, TV and radio. Case in point, virality can drive change for your bottom line and inject life into a forgotten brand. This doesn’t mean brands should employ gimmicks until they achieve viral fame, but rather be open to new ideas and take risks. You never know what may stick and could revitalize your company. Popeyes, a single tweet about chicken, buns and pickles helped map out their plan for the future.
2019 was a year full of many lessons to the public relations profession. But, above all, it is clear that the power of a brand to influence the market is inherently tied in their ability to understand their audiences and use this information to inform their decision-making. Whether it is a tweet about chicken, consulting your staff or being upfront about company policies, companies must take into account the gravity of their decisions and think ahead to all possible outcomes. Looking ahead to 2020, brands need to heed the warnings of this past year and be bold, authentic and, if nothing else, transparent.