At a Clubhouse event held with the PRCA yesterday, BBC News and PR and comms professionals discussed the new approaches needed to succeed in a disrupted media environment.
Some of the UK’s leading communications professionals gathered on Clubhouse yesterday, to look at how the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the media, and discuss how agencies and in-house PR teams can adapt in response. Representatives of the BBC, Worry + Peace, 3 Monkeys Zeno, the PRCA and CARMA reflected on an unprecedented year in news reporting, and the effect of a Covid-dominated news agenda on the work PR professionals do, the stories they tell and the ways they monitor and measure PR.
Ed Campbell, news editor at BBC News, vividly explained how as the pandemic escalated, the planned news agenda was thrown out. He recalled how one evening in March 2020 the entire news schedule of the BBC was given over to the virus and all work that he had been researching as part of his special investigations brief (at significant expense) had to be cancelled. Covid-19 alone was the news. Ed explained that the impact of Covid-19 dealt a serious blow to coverage that news outlets could afford to give to brands. “Redundancies and furlough have hollowed out newsrooms, which are operating now at 30-40% of pre-pandemic staff levels. Journalists who have kept their jobs are busier than ever, ” he said.
Of course, this has had seismic repercussions on the PR industry. We know that it’s much more difficult to be heard in a very busy news agenda by journalists who are more stretched than ever. For PR professionals, this means adapting, and quickly. Richard Price, editorial director of 3 Monkeys Zeno discussed the need for PRs to understand that we don’t have the luxury of choosing the timing for stories or campaigns anymore, instead we need to be responsive, agile and work with changing needs.
Richard went on to explain that when it comes to execution, agency, adaptability and speed is crucial. But what stories work best today? In the midst of all the bad news, this year has seen the emergence of ‘solutions-focused journalism’ – the desire, driven by audience demand, to cover good news stories and potential solutions to the problems society is facing. The extensive coverage of genuine good deeds and good behaviour, without an apparent ulterior motive is paramount, with the amazing achievements of both Michael Rashford and Captain Sir Tom Moore being given as examples that we can learn from when thinking of news angles in the coming months. Michael Mpofu, Head of Comms at Worry and Peace concurred, explaining the critical importance of ‘doing… before you’re seen to be doing’.
CARMA’s Orla Graham picked up on Michael’s point stressing the need to research who you might want to use to advocate for and amplify your brand’s position. “The government’s early use during the pandemic of ‘Love Island’ influencers was a great example of how things can go wrong” she says. “They asked these celebs to help amplify their messages around social distancing, but didn’t realise that the celebs weren’t promoting responsible behaviour online themselves.” The appropriate use of influencers in communications campaigns is a topic that CARMA has previously explored in depth with influencer expert Scott Guthrie in this influencers webinar, available on-demand.
For Richard Bagnall, chairman of global communications evaluation trade association AMEC & CARMA’s co-managing partner, the pandemic has had a significant effect on how we should monitor, measure and evaluate communications.
“Since the pandemic, everything has changed and normal no longer exists” he says. “The way that people interact with the media shifted overnight.” He pointed to the doubling of the BBC News web traffic between January and March 2020 and the ‘flight to quality’ of the trusted media brands.
We need to forget everything we thought we knew about our key audiences, what they think, what they consume, what they do, who they are influenced by and what matters to them. This has a knock on effect of how PRs must think about their social listening, media monitoring, reporting and evaluation approach. With ‘no normal’, established benchmarks are meaningless. Targets and objectives need to be reset, reporting needs to be adapted.
Richard affirms the pressing need to revisit benchmarks, reminding us that previous performance is unlikely to be repeated in the near future. Velocity of media monitoring and PR reporting is also crucial. In such a fast paced environment, monthly or even weekly reports are not going to provide rapid enough media intelligence. “There’s a need to think fast and slow” he says. “We need fast, responsive media intelligence – but also we need to take the time to conduct detailed analysis looking at the actual impact of our work on our organisation, and this needs time.”
This detailed evaluation is more critical than ever as in the face of squeezed budgets there’s more pressure than ever for PRs to prove their value. This means doing more than just doing and counting ‘stuff’ – likes impressions, tweets, shares and likes – but showing the impact your work is having to your organisation. “There are CFOs all around the world hovering over budgets with their red pens looking to take out as much cost as possible to help them preserve cash” he explains. “PR cannot afford to be seen as an activity-driven ‘cost-centre’. It has to demonstrate it’s value in terms of organisational impact achieved.” There is an urgent need to upskill PRs evaluation approaches and is why AMEC’s Integrated Evaluation Framework is so important and why its best practice approach is at the heart of CARMA’s services to clients.
It’s a difficult environment out there for PR professionals from all walks of life. But, while the media landscape is shifting, editorial retains a unique power, one which no other channel can replicate. Directly or indirectly, news brands reach vast audiences and shape the country’s conversation. What is needed is authenticity in actions, solutions-focussed communications, supported with evaluation and insights that are relevant and meaningful. Neatly pulling all of these themes together CARMA last year produced a free report on the Captain Sir Tom Moore phenomenon.
Stories that Matter demonstrates neatly the importance to the PR sector of authentic actions, doing before communicating, the ongoing impact of PR and the importance of appropriate measurement, rather than just counting ‘stuff’.
Media researched and analysed by CARMA with insight support of PR and comms experts Catherine Arrow, Stuart Bruce, Andy Green, Anne-Marie Lacey, Emma Leech, Adam Mack, Nicola Osmond-Evans, Kathryn Ruge, Kerry Sheehan and Stephen Waddington, the report identified 6 key learnings for success in this new COVD-19 dominated media landscape:
- The power of PR
- Great stories matter
- Understand your audiences
- Traditional media isn’t dead
- Content is critical
- Measure well
To read all the insights around these 6 key points, download CARMA’s report, ‘Captain Sir Tom Moore, Stories That Matter’.
You can listen to the event in full here.
Our thanks to yesterday’s panelists:
Koray Camgoz, Director of Communications & Marketing, PRCA
Ed Campbell, Special Correspondent, News Editor, BBC News
Michael Mpofu, Head of Communications, Worry + Peace
Orla Graham, Account Director, CARMA International
Richard Price, Editorial Director, 3 Monkeys Zeno
Rob Stone, Head of Digital Strategy, 3 Monkeys Zeno
Richard Bagnall, co-managing partner, CARMA International
3 Monkey Zeno’s report, “Viral News, one year on. Understanding the key media trends accelerated by Covid-19” is available to download here.