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How PR should prepare for a testing autumn

The autumn term of 2022 could be a testing time for all of us in the UK. As Paul Maher, founder of marketing agency Positive, says: “Liz Truss, King Charles and those returning to new jobs in the new parliament have a lot to do. The priority will be to bring back a sense of calmness and demonstrate solid progress on the issues, many global in scope, the UK faces.”

Maher believes the first job for The PM is to thread a fine line between what she promised and what she can deliver. “Oddly enough, her slightly robotic presentation could be ideal for delivering bad news and giving us all a sense of control after the chaos she replaces.”

However, Maher says King Charles also has to step up to the job he has been prepping for over the last seven decades. “Let's hope he feels able to keep his instinctive alignment with climate issues and ways to influence, for instance, his charity work, the royal warrants assigned to UK companies and his own carbon footprint. As with all PR, leading by example, is unbeatable.”

Maher concludes the new term should start on a positive note: “Parliament is back with a full agenda, including important bills around digital privacy, a massive concern for our tech clients. Let's hope the mud-slinging and petty politics can be put aside as the nation gets back to business after this extended period of mourning. It's time for a positive view of our country and some optimism, however long-term, would be much appreciated.”

As society changes, PR must adapt. Below comms professionals describe how the industry needs to evolve in the months ahead.

It is impossible to generate positive news right now

Tom Marshall, managing director at Unicepta UK: "As we enter a new era under the reign of King Charles III, the PR industry finds itself in a rather strange position. The media is awash with stories of the Queen’s life, complemented with the latest from Number 10’s new occupant, the advances by the Ukrainian army, and the cost-of-living crisis. We’re in a period where PR professionals are simply unable to generate positive news - at least for the time being.

“As we pass through this extraordinary period, comms teams are no doubt preparing for when column inches return to something resembling normality. What does that mean? It means the usual issues facing brands will return - like customer complaints and product recalls - and that proactive campaigns will once again be top of the agenda. And as businesses look to ramp up their communications again in Q4, boards will be looking to their comms teams, seeking counsel on managing crises and how they will help drive sales and awareness.”

The focus must be on purpose-driven campaigns

Chloe Mitchell, business director at PR firm M&C Saatchi Talk: “The cost-of-living crisis and rising inflation rates will be a huge priority for PR this autumn. It is important for brands to be sensitive to this especially when it comes to doing costly campaigns such as big experiential events. It will be key for PR teams to work with their clients to focus on purpose-driven campaigns that give consumers help and solutions to deal with the ongoing societal issues. These types of campaigns and news stories need to be genuine and authentic to ensure brands aren’t called out by consumers for being insensitive to current everyday issues people are facing. There is still a place for lighter-hearted campaigns, but it is worth doing a sense check to understand if what you are proposing could be seen as inappropriate during this difficult time for many.”

Speed and relevance are imperative

Rachel Fernie, PR executive at interiors firm Hillarys: “Demand for reactive PR in the UK has skyrocketed this year and it’s only going to surge as we enter autumn and continue to be bombarded with news 24/7.

“Speed and relevancy are imperative when placing your brand and experts at the heart of trends and new stories, you’ve got to be quick and it’s got to make sense that you are talking about it. Those who wait too long will get left behind, especially with this always-on approach.

“One way you can support your reactive PR activity is by looking at upcoming events like Halloween or The World Cup and having a bank of comments and adaptable content ready to unleash whenever an opportunity presents itself. This will ensure that you’re ready to get ahead of competitors.

“It’s a tough tactic to master, but when done right reactive PR can deliver low-budget, headline-grabbing unparalleled results for brand awareness and digital PR.”

Watch opinions and trends

Lily Germain. senior campaign executive at agency Bottle PR: “Although it feels like we’ve essentially returned to normal since the first lockdown of 2020, there is a storm of change brewing. All anyone can think about is the cost of living crisis, and we’re going into this with a new Prime Minister. This means new rules, manifestos and opinions will begin to circulate.

“New priorities for PR this autumn are to keep as focused as possible on trends and opinions online. We need to know what’s changing and when, so any stories that go out don’t appear ill timed or tone deaf with what’s happening. With the unknown of the cost of living, keeping an eye on other brands is another key priority for PR. We need to know which brands are getting it right, and which brands maybe aren’t, so we don’t make the same mistakes…

“I think overall the main priority for this autumn is to be one step ahead, as we try to keep nasty surprises to a minimum.”

Pitch to niche influencers

Zach Cutler, co-founder and CEO of PR software company Propel PRM: "With newsrooms such as Buzzfeed seeing drastic cuts to their staff, and with media companies merging and creating shake ups within those organisations, we expect to see many former journalists from these publications and more turn towards freelancing and blogging. Given these shrinking newsrooms and increase in freelancers, we anticipate a rise in pitching not only to freelancers, but also to bloggers and other new-media influencers. New media has been gaining prominence in recent years, and we expect these layoffs by legacy news organisations to only accelerate this trend. Whilst pitching mainstream outlets will remain the backbone of PR, given that there will be fewer journalists to pitch to, we believe that autumn will bring with it more focused pitching to niche influencers, bloggers, and freelancers."

Pay attention to colleagues’ wellbeing

Jon Gerlis, public relations and policy manager at CIPR: “Events of the last few years have acclimatised PRs to working through uncertain times, and they have done so skilfully and astutely. The ability to navigate the choppy waters of the outside world is still very much the order of the day, but as much focus now also needs to turn to the inside of organisations and our colleagues and fellow professionals.

“The ever-increasing demands of PR and the resulting workloads, together with the cost-of-living crisis and a likely recession, means attention to both the wellbeing and the training and development of colleagues must become a priority for leaders across the industry.”

As daylight hours decrease, there is no need for moods to darken too. New terms offer new hope and interesting opportunities as well as challenges.

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