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Top 5 Public Relations Takeaways from 2020

Let’s be honest. 2020 hasn’t been a great example of how to live our best lives. Social injustices, the effects of COVID-19 and a polarizing election have left many of us feeling on edge both personally and professionally, with our stress at an all time high as we head into the new year. But here is one thing about me- I’m an eternal optimist, and a firm believer that there are lessons to be learned from every challenge.

As we finish out 2020, we are looking back at five of the biggest PR takeaways, and how to apply our learnings to build success in the new year, While we can’t always control what happens in the world around us, we CAN control how we plan and how we react.

1. Video communications aren’t optional, but necessary.

Prior to the COVID pandemic, many of us reserved our video chats for personal interactions- saying hi to our kids when traveling or catching up with friends and family back home. 2020 thrust platforms like Zoom, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams into the spotlight, replacing not just in-person meetings, but turning what used to be phone calls into events, where we needed to dress the part, look the part and sound the part.

Cultivating relationships became more challenging as we have strived to build connections with those we have never met or nurture partnerships we have worked so hard to secure. Becoming a connector and strategic communicator via video has its nuances, but with some practice, training and refinement we improve the way in which we not only present, but how others perceive and understand us.

Video isn’t going away anytime soon, so when looking at the year ahead, ask yourself how you are going to up your game and improve your video presence.

2. Over-planning is a waste of time.

We have all heard the phrase “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” made famous by Benjamin Franklin. As a PR professional, planning is like breathing- necessary if we want to survive a world in which we have little control. Plans followed by contingency plans have always been the rules to live by, but if 2020 has shown me anything, it’s that planning too far in advance can be a waste of time.

Our clients often want to see our 12 month plan, to which we tell them “we will give you three.” Sometimes we are met with opposition, and I get it. When you are entrusting an agency with the reputation and visibility of your company you want to know what to expect and when. But can you imagine if this year, we would have laid out a plan for you in January? We would have developed our content themes, pitch angles, media outlets and speaking opportunities we wanted to target? Bi-line articles and thought leadership we wanted to produce?

When we plan too far in advance, we are leaving out a key component of PR: relevancy. Aligning to world events is paramount if we want audiences to engage and take notice, and without a crystal ball, planning too far in advance is putting your money on the line in a bet you are sure to lose.

These 12 months look NOTHING like we could have planned for, and if we had developed your plans for the entire year, we would have had to completely rework the strategy- which costs us time and you money. We aren’t saying you should just fly by the seat of your pants, rather find a PR professional who you trust and listen to their perspective. Pushing out your agenda is going to fall on deaf ears if it’s not done in the correct way. Timing and messaging is everything.

3. PR is not a DIY project- you need to hire a professional.

Every year, PR professionals see blunders that leave us shaking our heads, and 2020 is of course no different. Whether it’s CEO’s making insensitive comments or politicians stating claims that are easily disprovable, this year has proven time and time again that there are just some things you need to hire- and listen to- a professional for.

I know there are a lot of subjects that people feel uncomfortable talking about, for fear of saying the wrong thing. As executives struggled to find words in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, to difficulty communicating policies around mask-wearing and safety guidelines or what their responsibility is as leaders, one thing is for certain: saying nothing is not an option.

Words have always mattered, but now more than ever, business leaders need to be working with professionals, not only to craft their messaging but to also make sure it’s segmented, and reaches the right audiences, through the right channels, at the right time. As communications professionals, it’s our job to bring varying perspectives to the table, and challenge you to dig deeper, while speaking to your audience with both humility and strength.

Trust me- you would rather hire us to help with your strategy than to do damage control after the fact.

4. Putting off crisis communications planning will lead to disaster.

Planning is the lifeblood of PR- without it we are dead in the water. Now we aren’t talking about opportunity and content, which is dependent on our distribution to be seen. This is about a crisis- when events that can negatively impact your business come knocking, uninvited, on your door.

Though no one may have been able to predict the exact severity and nature of this pandemic, I CAN tell you there are two categories you can fall into: Being proactively prepared with a crisis communications plan and training, or flying by the seat of your pants and having to react every time the wind blows.

When we create crisis plans, we never know what the exact scenario is going to be. That is why we plan for a variety of dangers, including natural disasters, technology disruptions, malevolence and yes, even things like pandemics and plagues. Not only are there plans, but contingency plans, where we address a variety of possible scenarios and outcomes, and take business leaders and their teams through what to say, when to say it and to who, should an emergency strike.

Sadly, many don’t reach out until it’s too late and they are in the throws of a crisis and need us to pick up the pieces, often resulting in a loss of consumer confidence, profits and sadly, even life. I can assure you that it’s not a matter if a crisis is going to happen in your business, it’s simply when. Don’t make the naive mistake of going into 2021 unprepared.

5. You need relevancy and creativity if you want to succeed.

To ensure coverage and story pickup this year, public relations professionals had to think outside of the box when formulating story angles. While our lives were flooded with COVID information, many journalists put settings on their emails to filter out those that contained words like pandemic and coronavirus- they were simply receiving too many pitches that were tied (often loosely) to the subject. To put out timely information, stories needed to reflect the current state of the world but in a unique and powerful way, while not trying too hard to fit an already explored narrative. It’s been a challenging year for media relations to say the least.

Relevancy and timing are the name of the game. To ensure you don’t sound tone deaf, acknowledge what’s going on in the world and be empathetic. Do not capitalize on the misfortune of others, rather try to put out helpful, insightful stories, lessons learned and best practices. Don’t copy what everyone else is doing and think you will see the same success, or believe that just because you can tie a story to a headlining issue you will have guaranteed media interest. Future forecasting, contingency planning, statistics and being a step ahead are crucial to producing newsworthy story ideas, and nothing has brought that more to light than the year that was 2020.

Did you find yourself shaking your head “yes” to all of the above points but feel overwhelmed beginning to implement these practices into your business? Reach out to us at to talk to us about your goals and strategy for 2021.

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