As we begin to see the end of lockdown we took the opportunity to speak with marketing expert Anna King, Founder & Director of Informare, to learn about how they are helping their contract sector clients through this potentially difficult time.
Please could you begin by telling us a little about yourself?
I am marketing professional by trade and have developed a huge appreciation for design, architecture and manufacturing, it really is a wonderful sector to be part of.
I have actually worked in this sector for 20 years (maybe more!), beginning as a marketing assistant at BDG McColl, that has now transformed into the dramatically different BDG architecture + design.
Please could you tell us about the work Informare does for your contract sector clients?
We are communications agency, so whilst our relationship often starts with the PR element of the mix, we often spill into managing social media, brand strategies and event organisation. Increasingly we are creating unique content for social media in the form of podcasts and film.
We work with some amazing clients in the contract sector, on the furniture side this includes Bisley, Humanscale, Knightsbridge, Agua, USM, FUTURE Designs (lighting), some dealerships too including obo and Welltek, as well as the brilliant Surface Design Show.
How does PR within the contract sector differ from PR in other sectors?
I think the principals of clear messaging and developing strong stories and thought pieces, remains the same for all our clients. We hugely enjoy the contract sector because it is very collaborative, we are very protective of the mix of clients we have and it is important that they can benefit each other and not compete in a detrimental way. This also gives us more clout when it comes to pitching stories and supporting journalists to identify trends and themes.
How has communication between brands and customers been impacted by COVID19?
The main impact is that communication is now centre stage. When some factories have to slow or close completely it as vital that brands still communicate with customers. As awful as this situation has been for everyone, it is temporary and like all storm it will pass, so keeping the dialogue active through all the channels has been essential.
Will these changes in communications be here to stay?
In any game changing moment, there will be heroes and villains. The honesty and transparency with which all our clients communicated their actions to their clients, suppliers and the media, whether the news was good or bad, is to be applauded.
This is not time for posturing and we certainly would never advocate that approach, my hope would be that the overt compassion for employees, clients and supplier relationships that has been displayed will be a lasting legacy.
Also creativity – when you know that budgets are going to be cut or frozen, the first thing is to look at what you’ve got left to play with and have those crazy brainstorming meetings, where every idea is valuable – the resourcefulness of the team has been amazing. We have managed to launch a new business and several new products over the last 7 weeks, without a showroom event and importantly without any reduction in coverage and reach. Arguably it is not as fun and in my view nothing can replace face to face contact but the point is results can still be achieved.
What impact has COVID19 had on how a brand should approach their PR?
Authenticity is the key, in times of crisis we revert to type and you can tell an awful lot about how businesses are run.
I think brands have realised that they need to know themselves, what they are about, what drives them and what they exist for. The self-aware brands will have found communicating far more straight forward.
On a more practical level, the most immediate switch was that digital activities came to the fore very quickly, and we had many conversations with clients to work out the best way to pivot every ‘live’ event to a digital equivalent.
Also encouraging an increase in social media activity, the trade publications sadly will have been hit very hard so finding different ways to cut through the noise is vital.
What is the very first thing a brand needs to consider about their PR as we begin to leave lockdown?
Context is very important, brands must continue to show humility to peers and employees, whilst still focusing positively on the future.
Successful companies haven’t suddenly become rubbish at what they do – this is a world emergency and we have all had to react, manage and get through it. Remember what you are good at and why you are needed!
What are your top 3 ‘do’s’ for PR as we leave COVID19 restrictions?
I. Review the market place and make sure you have a good handle on the mood of the market.
II. Show compassion for the good competition, don’t forget we are all part of a larger profession and right now we need to ensure the whole sector remains relevant, which is why organisations like the BCFA and the trade press become even more vital.
III. PR must be clear, concise and consistent, and the entire company must be on board with the messaging, there is no room for grey areas.
What are your top 3 ‘don’ts’ for PR as we leave COVID19 restrictions?
I. Don’t say “it didn’t really affect us” or pretend COVID19 didn’t happen!
II. Attitudes have changed, and the strategy you had in place January 2020 will need to be reconsidered.
III. Remember that the COVID-19 factor hasn’t gone away, it is just in remission. so have contingencies in place to switch and pivot again in the autumn.
Why is a brands PR tone of voice important and how has COVID19 impacted this?
I think I touched on this above – honesty, humility and transparency are the main ingredients to a winning communication formula and never more so in a crisis situation.