The power of the pivot: agile digital PR in a changing landscape

Olivia Wiltshire

From a burgeoning climate crisis and global pandemic to social movements, clapping for the NHS, Captain Tom’s 100th birthday walk and unbelievable scenes in the United States, I think it’s safe to say 2020 isn’t a year to be forgotten. 2020 shook things up for every industry, and this couldn’t be truer than for the Digital PR industry.

“Typical” news stories and headlines abruptly became redundant for a world in its survival mode. And fair enough! Who wants to know what the most eco-friendly destination is when you’re ordered to stay at home?

The challenge for Digital PRs:

Create relevant campaigns and brand stories of genuine interest to a world that is only occupied with the unmentionable C-word.

The way forward? Pivot and adapt strategies and thinking to ensure ideas, campaigns and outputs cut through a turbulent landscape. Or, to put it another way, maintain momentum and growth for our clients.

A note on sectors

Before I get into how Builtvisible approaches pivoting, I think it’s important to acknowledge that different verticals are affected to varying degrees.

While some may consider travel, fitness/leisure, personal care and hospitality as the most difficult industries to navigate in the present day, each industry, sector, and vertical comes with its challenges.

Yes, the global pandemic will upset the apple cart for many, but what about if there’s a sudden resurgence of the high street thus impacting online retailers? Or some awful data breach heavily impacts the trust in cloud-based brands?

My point is, no one sector is safe, pandemic or no pandemic. We must all be prepared to be agile, and if 2020 was the year that made you think that way, then that’s a great outcome!

Flexibility is key

At Builtvisible, we encourage a flexible approach to all activity. In Digital PR, we champion working with agility and our opinion has been for quite some time that it’s better to have streams of different activities at different levels rather than invest everything in one ‘big idea’. Our rationale for this comes down to a set of core objectives:

This is not to say we won’t suggest a ‘big and shiny’ campaign or a particular approach. But, it’ll more than likely go alongside a stream of on-going and distinct activity to keep the momentum going (should there be any unforeseen hurdles along the way) and ensure we’re making the most of all brand building opportunities available to our clients.

Despite our flexible approach, there are still going to be times when we are presented with new challenges to overcome, enter Covid-19 as a case in point.

Challenge one – Better

In March, my wonderful colleague Dan was leading a campaign involving several fitness influencers discussing how to make the most of your workouts at the gym for charitable social enterprise, Better. Of course, all UK gyms were told to close with immediate effect following the Government announcement on 23rd March. The campaign, which was on the cusp of launch, became irrelevant in seconds. This was far from ideal, but the steps to salvage the campaign were simple:

  1. Quickly regroup with the Builtvisible Digital PR team and Better to understand what the immediate impacts and pain points were to their customers.
  2. Closely monitor evolving stories with relevant publishers and across engaged fitness communities to better appreciate what’s securing column inches and recognition.
  3. Capitilise on the huge interest in at home workouts and rework the focus of the campaign to help people keep fit in lockdown. At this point, we reengaged our influencers to ensure their tips supported the re-angled piece.
  4. Update our tailored outreach strategy and push out for active promotion.

The result? To date, the story has yielded 125 relevant, authoritative and diverse links directly to Better’s website.Better home workout coverage

What’s more, this campaign has evergreen potential. With or without enforced gym closures, there will always be at-home workouts, therefore interest in how to make the best of them with informed experts.

This process did not involve any additional spend from the client’s side, allowed us to continue moving forward with Digital PR activity and importantly, provide a campaign that was (and still is) completely attuned to their customers’ and audience’s needs.

Challenge two – Icelandair

When travel was grinding to a halt, we were in the process of teeing up some larger campaigns for Icelandair. Rather than ploughing ahead with full research and production, we refocussed efforts on our lighter-weight activity. This allowed us to get to know the evolving situation for travel, therefore ensuring the larger campaigns would still work despite a total industry shake-up.

This situation led to two key challenges, with two key solutions.

ChallengeSolution
Overcome limited client resourceLean on existing client materials to minimise the need for review
Be sensitive to the rapidly changing situationCreate something fully adaptable no matter the state of travel

Fortunately for us we knew Icelandair has a wealth of incredible imagery and video footage we could get our hands on for Digital PR. Not only that, but we were well aware people were hungry for escapism content which led us to create a multi-media campaign showcasing the delights of Iceland to enjoy in our homes.

Iceland photography

At the time of launch, however, Iceland was reopening its borders and getting ready to welcome visitors back, which is how we initially positioned the piece. That being said, the campaign is fully adaptable in lockdown or not in lockdown, behold:

No-lockdownLockdown
Content typeInspirationEscapism
Subject line exampleAerial videos show untouched Iceland at its best for much-needed winter travel inspirationStunning aerial videos of Iceland will soothe your lockdown stress
Coverage exampleTrendhunterFrommers
Icelandair coverage examples

Challenge three – ISG

ISG came to us with a research study exploring the importance of a quality workplace for office workers, which highlighted how businesses could respond to ensure they provide the best environments to support the wellbeing and productivity of their people, in turn helping them attract and retain the best talent. This initial research was carried out immediately prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, and by this point, lockdown was in full swing. ISG saw a unique opportunity to explore potential shifts in sentiment driven by changes in human behaviour in the midst of the pandemic, where people’s homes were doubling up as their workplace.

ISG planned to issue out a second round of research to create an insight report presenting the new challenges and opportunities that businesses must respond to – but in the interim, was keen to get a snapshot of just how people were responding to an at-home workplace.

One of our Digital PR Consultants, Kristina, jumped into the research supporting ISG to uncover a number of ways to explore the existing and test current sentiment in this changing environment. As a team, we’re always keeping our ears to the ground to ensure we’re across all trending topics, and with this, working together ISG and Kristina quickly spotted a fantastic opportunity to capitalise upon a trending topic, workplace preferences.

Enlisting the help of a clinical psychologist

To ensure the campaign was backed by the right expertise, we enlisted the help of a clinical psychologist who helped ground the tool with the right theory (The Big Five for those interested) alongside the original data. The outcome was a highly topical tool allowing people to understand what sort of workplace suited their personality best.

Challenges present opportunities

The evolving situation required a fast paced response to tap into a hot topic, and ultimately further the campaign’s competitive edge. By adding an additional angle, and including a layer of further expertise thanks to the psychologist’s input, I believe the campaign was elevated in a live situation that allowed for the continuation of this conversation in real time. ISG workplaces campaignFrom prominent HR to lifestyle publications, the rise of remote working campaign has secured multiple links and generated a real buzz on social media. Importantly, whether our offices are open or not, this campaign can continue to be involved in the conversation around workplaces.

Future-proofing

2020 forced people to think on their feet, adapt strategies quickly and predict the unpredictable. I’m not here to say that you can always anticipate what’s around the corner, but I do think there are some actions to take to give you the best possible chance of success should something unexpected happen to your industry, or worse, the world.

These are some of the team’s top tips:

  1. Be flexible with your proposed activities rather than banking on one particular idea, tactic, data point or angle to work for you. And where possible, think beyond your immediate business objectives to ensure audience resonance.
  2. Build an evergreen culture by asking difficult questions about campaign ideas and specifically considering whether a campaign is flexible enough to pivot.
  3. Pay close attention to general industry perception by monitoring news cycles and public opinion to protect an idea and ensure it won’t come across as tone-deaf. Some of the team’s favourite tools and approaches for this include: scouring Twitter, Reddit, BuzzSumo, YouGov and ONS for invaluable ‘always on’ insights and data.
  4. Don’t panic! As our Content Consultant Chris says ‘just because the world is changing, doesn’t mean you can’t pivot to meet it. Change brings opportunity. Look forward, rather than behind. For example, there are some clear themes ahead for people to own: vaccine stats, life without a lockdown, sport without crowds, the list goes on, and it’s exciting.
  5. Be proactive and transparent with your your clients. If something isn’t working and needs tweaking, be honest – this will allow you to build great client relationships and bolster that trust.
  6. Don’t go it alone. If something needs to be unexpectantly reworked, get a group together to discuss the best way forward. Teamwork does make the dream work.

Looking ahead

I know most of us want to forget about 2020, but I do strongly feel one positive thing it has done is help everyone realise that agility in Digital PR is really important if we want to continue to deliver the right stories and campaigns for our clients. Once more, it’s reminding everyone that we should do everything in our power to protect a client’s investment, especially in times of economic crisis.

I predict 2021 will be the year of enhanced empathy and flexibility. My hope, however, is for the industry to approach change with a positive outlook.

If you’re concerned about how to navigate Digital PR for your brand, please do reach out.

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