I lost my PR360 V plates in no less than the Hilton on the Sea in Brighton! Social impact is no longer just being driven by charities, institutions, and funders; consumer brands are readily joining the act, and it’s starting to shape the future of PR. Here are 4 key insights, collated from brilliant speakers at Britain’s most loved commercial brands and enduring household names.
AUTHENTICITY & TRANSPARENCY
The encompassing theme of PR360 Day 1 was authentic, decisive communications so it’s no wonder that authenticity and transparency were two of the most frequent words and topics adopted by most speakers and panels.
For consumer brands looking to use their power and influence for genuine positive change, these two words have to be guiding lights in their journeys. Brands have an incredible opportunity to deepen relationships with audiences, whilst simultaneously accelerating social outcomes. But this is only effective if approached from a place of integrity and a desire to drive meaningful, authentic impact. This isn’t just true of environmental sustainability, it translates across all communications and campaigns.
Alex Doorey, OVO, discussed the energy firm’s need to “break the wheel” of the energy sector, starting with the way OVO communicates about sustainability. Energy has never been more of a pain point for the public, which is why centering honest conversations with their customers is crucial to building trust. Spotted: a subtle reference to the widespread malpractices of greenwashing across the energy sector, something OVO and others are lobbying the ASA to cut down on.
“Imperfect strides forwards are more powerful than perfect inaction.”
Dan Neale, Alfred, dived into how brands have an opportunity to build authentic relationships centred around social values and real world actions, albeit without the need to have everything figured out. In fact, it is with the support and expertise of agencies such as ours (shameless plug, I know) that can harness these relationships and convert them into impactful results, and by extension, stronger brand equity. Wherever you are in your journey of purpose, it’s about grappling with the opportunity in front of you.
Similarly, Nicola Pearson, British Airways, shared how the British institution is integrating transparency and honesty to open up their journey throughout and since the near-catastrophic COVID years. The move has taken the BA brand into a new era for both customers and colleagues. Again, underpinning the power of authentic, levelled communications.
Openness and transparency doesn’t just mean a single, cohesive narrative. It’s just as important to adapt ESG comms to target audiences through tailored messaging, said Amarilis Whitty, Mattel. This creates the space for brands to break down their impact in a way that is right for a variety of perspectives and viewpoints. Speaking on a panel, Whitty was joined by MIchele Duhen, Vodafone Business and Clara Biu, JustEast, who all agreed that ESG comms have underpinned by a robust and clear strategy, and avoid the temptation of quick, short term PR wins that lack substance or tangibility.
To be truly authenticity in social impact/ESG communications, brands need to have a plan in place that clearly demonstrates how communications are serving a higher, strategic purpose. They may not always get it bang on, but telling the story of the journey is sometimes as important as the impact itself.
Being as transparent with your staff as your customers was also a hot topic. This inside out role of communications to build deep rooted connections with internal and external audiences is helping brands navigate challenging times, and importantly retain staff. As any business leader will know, this isn’t just good for culture, it’s good for the bottom line.
Alison Fisher (Fish), ASICS, outlined the transformational journey that the #1 running brand in Europe has been on. From 36% to 73% employee satisfaction in just 4 years is not short of staggering. This all started with an evolution of tagline and a calibration of company culture towards: Sound Body, Sound Mind. Not your typical sportswear mantra, typically focused on being your best, athletic self. It’s no surprise that now ASICS brand is powered by its highly engaged employee body, who are their most loyal and effective storytellers. Ultimately, when you back your people, they back you.
Another great example came again from Nicola Pearson, who described the launch of its instantly infamous Oswald Boatend line, British Originals.
As well as holding consultations with over 1500 staff in the airlines’ new uniform designs, senior leadership agreed to sacrifice the national front pages (staying under embargo until 7am), so that staff could be the first to see the final designs and release on launch day. People focused actions like this, and their internal #ThankYou campaign has helped BA rebuild trust with its team.
Pearl Saadi, Guy’s & Thomas’ Foundation, gave a unique insight into how internal communications and culture has had a fundamental impact on diversity, equity and culture at the organisation. For any brand with a specific remit to support underrepresented groups, starting with your internal approach to fostering inclusivity, with communications a core pillar of this, is absolutely critical. Otherwise, the way you communicate to the outside world simply won’t resonate with, yes, authenticity.
Kerry Thorpe, Ben & Jerry’s, similarly referenced the activist brand’s B Corp journey. Her emphatic stance that the social impact accreditation shouldn’t be about creating a consumer point of difference, but rather an internal mantra for social and environmental excellence was hugely refreshing (and a position Shape History 100% agrees with). Especially when it comes to recruitment and staff retention, a stamp of approval is only as good as the thoughtful and thorough operations that bring the complexities of the accreditation to life every day for people, inside and out, and planet.
THE POWER OF METRICS
Data metrics are commonplace in advertising, but PR is catching up. A panel moderating by Danny Rogers, Editor-in-Chief at PRWeek, and made up of Derya Filiz, David Child, Thomas Cook, Paul Quigley, Newswhip, and Joanna Oosthuizen, Ogilvy, explored the power that new data metrics can play in not just in evaluating communications and marketing, but in the fabric of their design.
Audience insight should be at the heart of all communications and creativity. Being able to back this up with quantitative evidence and socio-cultural trends can take informed creativity to a whole other level. But the key is not to get bogged down and even lost in the details. Finding the right metrics trumps endless spreadsheets of data sets everytime.
In a very different talk, data played a crucial part in discussions around representation and inclusion communications. Sheeraz Gulsher, People Like Us shared how data can power change from tackling pay disparity to pathways into leadership. There’s so many opportunities for data metrics to inform and evolve effective and inclusive communications, but brands have to be willing to put the work in to unearth them.
LET’S GET EMOTIONAL!
John Harrington, UK Editor of PR Week, Aisha Jefferson, Deliveroo, and Osama Bhutta, Shelter, wrapped the Day 1 with a more relaxed session looking at how humour can play a key role in brand and social impact marketing.
From Chipwatch to using the ridiculous “advice” of politicians to those facing eviction and cost of living crisis, both brands using very different methods highlighted ways they’ve used humour to lighten the mood on subjects that could easily weigh audiences down. This has never been more poignant thinking more broadly about social impact comms, especially in the context of climate fatigue and doom, is a lesson many brands and charities alike could learn from.
Britain has a rich history of comedy to advance social progress – possibly in the best way recently through Joe Lycett’s campaigning, there’s so much potential to bring this rich British tradition together with social issues, opening the door to endless fun brand marketing campaigns.
At the other end of the spectrum was Shervin Behzadi, CALM, who arguably stole the show (and any dry eyes) with his summary of the mental health charity’s latest campaign, The Last Photo. The campaign which launched in Summer 2022 juxtaposed the public’s perception of what suicide looks like with the final photos and videos of men and women who had taken their own lives, showcasing that apparent joy and happiness can simply be papering over deeprooted loneliness and depression.
The rollercoaster of emotion that audiences were taken on, from seeing beaming portraits along the Southbank to the reveal 2 days later on This Morning that these were the last photos of people who had taken their own lives was a deeply poignant reminder of the power of emotive storytelling to change perspectives.
DONE AND DUSTED
Ending an incredibly insightful first day, it’s clear the future of PR is filled with bright, attentive journeys aligning more closely with social impact than ever before. Keep tuned for my roundup of the final day dropping soon. In the meantime, if you’d like to discuss any of the above, reach out to me here.