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The importance of keeping up thought leadership during the crisis

As the national lockdown continues, the PR industry is one of the lucky few that can potentially operate as close to normality as possible. As a primarily digital venture these days, most PR workers can carry on armed only with a laptop and a decent internet connection.

The media is mostly in the same boat, and many of our journalist contacts have told us they are inundated with work. Some areas such as medical technology are even busier than normal as they share vital information about the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Other areas of the media have also seen a surge of activity, with, for example, our focus area of cyber security seeing an increase in stories and opinions around keeping a remote workforce secure. Likewise, there has been endless speculation about how the cybercriminals and nation-state actors are pivoting to capture key credentials and intelligence from privileged users forced to work on less secure networks.

Budgets on the brink?

Juxtaposing this however, many PR and marketing teams within some of the industry’s most promising start-ups find themselves facing budget cuts and lay-offs as new business falters and they lack the deeper pockets of their more established competitors. 

PR and marketing usually helps to fuel growth and expansion and keep a company front-of-mind. But with the economy grinding to a halt and so many businesses facing an uncertain future, many organisations have started to slow their PR activity, or even halt it altogether.

Nonetheless, this itself represents an opportunity for those who continue to invest as their competitors go into hibernation. Smart business leaders will realign their PR and marketing strategies to keep up their hard-won reputations while also adjusting to the new reality of both their own resources and those of their target prospects. One of the most effective ways of achieving this is to focus on thought leadership.

The power of thought leadership

Even in more ordinary times, thought leadership is easily one of the most important aspects of PR and marketing activity. A recent survey of more than 200 senior IT decision makers, commissioned by Code Red and conducted by Sapio Research, discovered that a whopping 84% would be more likely to work with a vendor that publishes thought leadership content over one that doesn’t.

Our research also found that three in five decision makers believe thought leadership increases their respect and trust of an organisation, as well as their perception of its capabilities. Although fewer companies will be finalising sales contracts in the short term during the pandemic, with an eye to the future, those decision makers still working as normal will have more free time and more flexible schedules, while even those that have been furloughed will likely want to keep their hand in by keeping up with the breaking news.

We also found that senior decision makers spend an average of three hours and 20 minutes consuming thought leadership content each week – already a remarkable amount of time amidst a busy schedule. With an audience that is now potentially more available and receptive than ever, companies must ensure they are doing what they can to stay front-of-mind.

Rethinking your strategy

To achieve this, PR and marketing teams will need to balance the creation of quality thought leadership content against their own potentially precarious budgets and more limited resources. Teams should look to optimise their existing resources and create new thought leadership content that is easier and more cost-effective to produce.

Many businesses have reallocated event budgets to other activities such as digital marketing and thought leadership related activities. For media-centric PR activity, this can mean pitching and writing thought leadership byline articles, as well as keeping up rapid response and feature comment activity. Getting involved in the Covid-19 news agenda can be worthwhile for those with something useful to say, but the world is still turning and there are other stories to tell.

When producing other content, accessibility should always be a major focus. Our research found podcasts to be one of the most popular types of content thanks to the fact they can be accessed at the listener’s convenience, whether they’re getting on with other tasks, taking a breather to make a cup of tea, or tidying the house. Podcasts also have the benefit of being fairly low-cost to produce and they can be recorded as easily over a Zoom meeting as they can face-to-face.

Engaging with your community

Firms should also look to focus on interactive ways to engage with both the media and their business community wherever possible. With most people getting little social interaction outside of their own households right now, we can give them the opportunity to stay connected with their peers and the media – albeit via video chat. We have had great success with a variety of virtual events so far.

These can be very business-centric, providing thought leadership and practical advice or they can simply be more of a social activity. We recently hosted a virtual movie night for security decision makers, journalists and white hat hackers to watch the hacking movie Black Hat with the new Netflix Party function.

Even though much of the world is still on lockdown, the wheels of business have not stopped turning completely. Continuing to pursue a strong thought leadership position will help organisations to stay engaged with their target markets and keep them front-of-mind for when normality creeps back in.

Written by Dianne Canham, founder of the Code Red Security PR Network and managing director of agency éclat Marketing

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