The economic forecast around the world is not very bright right now, and this puts brands and businesses in a vulnerable position—and new research from global integrated PR agency MikeWorldWide (MWW) affirms that, just as it was during the COVID crisis, effective public relations can be the difference between success and failure in challenging times.
Global events such as Brexit and COVID have entirely reshaped how businesses communicate—and in an increasingly digital world, this communication continues to evolve at a rapid pace. As such, companies need communications professionals that can adapt, scale and diversify their programs, particularly in today’s financial climate. The firm’s new research into the PR and communications buyer trends driving decision making explores the challenges facing buyers today, and the ways in which these brands are reacting.
Measuring return on investment and return on trust
After months of high inflation, most of the Western world is staring down the barrel of a recession, and communications professionals are under more scrutiny than ever to show a strong return on investment (ROI). Indeed, cost of service (47 percent) and budget cuts (42 percent) have been cited as the greatest challenges for buyers selecting a PR agency.
However, in today’s world, ROI has a whole new meaning. Three quarters of businesses (75 percent) now place a monetary value on trust. To stay relevant and attract consumers in this post-pandemic climate, trust and transparency are essential qualities that businesses need to either uphold, or in some cases, earn. It is the role of the communications professionals to use their expertise to help establish their clients as dependable, trustworthy brands.
Focus on purpose
Sustainable business practices (36 percent); reduction of carbon footprint (33 percent); diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) (33 percent); and environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) (30 percent) are some of the most popular considerations being built into 2022-2023 communication and marketing program narratives.
When it comes to communicating this purpose, 75 percent agree authenticity is paramount. One of the ways communications agencies can help build an authentic brand is through insightful thought leadership, with 67 percent of buyers viewing this service as critical to brand recognition.
“Brands need to respond not just ‘in the moment,’ but to make serious commitments to their principles. These are things enshrined in corporate policy and in leadership behaviors alike,” said Tom Buttle, president & managing director of MikeWorldWide London, in a news release. “Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen this tested in many ways—in reactions to a host of profoundly important issues, from Black Lives Matter to Roe vs Wade. The brands that have managed to navigate these complex topics are typically those with authentic commitments that they can reflect and reinforce when it really matters.”
Adapting to the digital transformation
Buyers are looking for fully integrated communications professionals which can provide multiple services beyond conventional press office activities. MWW’s research shows that 35 percent of buyers are now prioritizing digital or social expertise in their selection process, compared to just 18 percent prioritizing media relations.
Accelerated by social and market drivers such as COVID-19 and the rise in digitally native consumers, the digital transformation has truly infiltrated all aspects of communications. In 2022, nearly half (48 percent) of businesses agree influencer marketing is an increasing area of brand focus.
To accommodate for these shifts, communications agencies must have their fingers on the pulse of every digital trend and social media move. For example, with short, bitesize video consumption on the rise (TikTok, Reels, YouTube Shorts), agencies must be able to adapt to trends and work out how their clients can add value in these spaces, without resorting to gimmicks.
Navigating the future
Despite budget cuts being cited as one of the main barriers currently facing buyers, 37 percent of leaders confirm they have expanded the scope of work for PR support over the past two years. Fueled by COVID-19 and other transformative global movements, the need to adapt to authentic, purpose-driven messaging is evident. And landing such messaging, particularly in this ever-evolving digital environment, requires strategic thinking and agility.
To help clients understand, uphold and promote their purpose values, public relations firms must become an extension of their clients’ comms teams. By working collaboratively, communications agencies can succeed in elevating their brands to the reference point in their field.
The survey was conducted among 208 interviews amongst UK Marketing, Sales and PR Decision Makers. The interviews were conducted online by Sapio Research using an email invitation and an online survey.