Marketing spend has taken an estimated 23% hit across the year, according to the IPA Bellwether Report, but the PR sector has remained fairly resilient, as companies realised that their image and the way they address consumers has never been more important – even if they’re not selling products and services.
Unfortunately, many businesses have also learnt this the hard way with communications missteps during such a turbulent year.
Despite the challenges faced by the sector in terms of budget and messaging – 62% of marketers pivoted their marketing strategies due to COVID-19 – there have been some impressive PR campaigns as a result, from lobbying government for positive change to generally bringing a smile to consumers’ faces at the height of lockdown.
Lobbying for meaningful change
There can be no doubt that Marcus Rashford has been one of the most effective communicators of 2020. As millions of underprivileged families across the country faced the prospect of a summer without school meals, the 23-year-old Manchester United player stepped in.
Sharing his own personal experiences of growing up in a family that relied on school lunches, his passionate campaign ultimately changed the course of the UK Government’s decision and ensured free meals were provided during the school holidays.
Rashford again sprang into action in October, launching a petition urging the government to “support vulnerable children & #endchildfoodpoverty”. The petition secured more than a million signatures and stirred hundreds of businesses and consumers into contributing food.
There was such an outpouring of goodwill towards Rashford and his campaign that Twitter was awash with praise for the football star, with some even ironically calling for him to be instated as Prime Minister. He is one of a new generation of sportspeople leveraging their public profile to enact real social change in the UK; it was authentic and impactful.
On the other hand, many brands unsuccessfully tried to jump on the bandwagon. Amazon’s tweet calling Rashford “a national hero” invited derision and scorn. Critics pointed out that if Amazon truly cared about the most disadvantaged in society, it should focus on improving its own labour policies, paying more in taxes or donating more of its profits to charity. The reaction showed how much emotion Rashford’s campaign had inspired and the risks involved for cash-rich brands or even individuals, such as a Premier League footballer, when commenting on such sensitive socio-political
With slightly softer objectives, but of nonetheless high importance to its respective industry, RED Driving School
sought to steer thousands of franchisees and learner drivers through uncertain times.
RED remained active in the press even while driving lessons and tests were banned during the national lockdown. They kept learners engaged with practical advice, turned franchisees into ambassadors and supported key workers. Ian McIntosh, CEO, was also mobilised to call on the government to extend financial support to self-employed workers and urged the DVSA to provide clear timelines and advice on safety measures. As a result, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, issued a personal letter of thanks and driving lessons were later reintroduced under the tiered restrictions.
During the period, RED Driving School took a 49% majority media share of voice over competitors and generated 37,000 new learner enquiries to ensure that its instructors had full schedules when lessons re-started.
Finding a new purpose for business
When the UK entered its first lockdown, restauarants across the country were forced to close their doors. With its kitchens unused, Leon had to pivot.
The restaurant chain had already been offering NHS staff a 50% discount as the crisis worsened but it was clear that more urgent action was needed. In partnership with a number of other well-known chains and British actors Damian Lewis, Helen McCrory and Matt Lucas, Leon spearheaded the Feed NHS initiative.
The ongoing campaign aims to raise £1,000,000 for NHS Trusts, to get hot and healthy meals to NHS teams on the front line through public donations. Leon has earnt plenty of positive publicity in the process.
With airports deserted due to reduced passenger numbers, Thai Airlines also realised something had to be done to maintain brand connection with frequent flyers. Its members were offered three million free air miles if they stayed at home. Users were invited to register their home and allow the airline’s app to track their location. They were then awarded one mile for every four hours they stayed put. The stay home miles exchange campaign helped put a travel business at the heart of the lockdown conversation, keeping consumers engaged for their future return – and was smart
campaign that championed public health.
Paying it forward to social media
At a time of great uncertainty, consumers are more than ever looking to familiar brands for reassurance and for escapism. Social media is a key tool for brands to communicate with consumers in a way that makes them smile.
Fast food chain Burger King took to social to boldly encourage customers to order from its main competitor McDonald’s in a show of support to the entire food-service industry. And very recently, Burger King repeated the show solidarity by promoting signature dishes from other hospitality brands, as opposed to its famous Whopper, encouraging the support of small businesses affected by the pandemic. The #WhopperAndFriends campaign supported local restaurants in need and gained the brand a lot of supporters in the process.
In a more light-hearted campaign from 2020 the Getty Museum challenged the public to recreate works of art from home, sharing their photos online. The campaign led to loads of fun and creative user-generated content, as housebound consumers shared their takes on classical, renaissance and modern art masterpieces. It led to plenty of positive publicity and re-engaged the public with exhibitions and museums at a time when they were shut down.
Plenty of individuals and businesses have found and used their voice this year even when they were unable to operate. These great campaigns all became dinner table conversation, anecdotal zoom references – and most importantly translated in positive action for industries and communities. That is the power of great communications.