One of the biggest roles of a publicist or PR agency is identifying and acting on media trends. Nothing could be more true in 2020—in the face of a pandemic, brands that have kept up with trends have thrived, while others have floundered.
What has been the difference between the winners and losers? Winners ask the questions in order to spot what’s trending:
- What matters most to our constituents?
- What are my brand’s biggest challenges and opportunities?
- Where can we find a strategic advantage?
- What topics are trending?
- How can we get in on that topic in a respectful and relevant way?
After answering those important questions, it’s up to the public relations team to create a plan to ensure your company’s story is being placed in the best spot to not only get covered but ideally, be shared, liked, commented on and reposted on social media.
The biggest trend of 2020 that has shaped not only our everyday lives, but how we work with the media, is the COVID-19 pandemic. Below, we’ve compiled some case studies of brands that have gotten it right and brands that should have stopped and asked those important questions listed above.
Winner: Pharmaceutical Companies
For as long as I can remember big pharma has received a bad rep (rightfully so). While many of their woes are not likely to go away, I believe they have gained a huge win with the successful development and deployment of the various COVID-19 vaccinations. More than ever, people are listening, watching and reading about pharmaceutical companies and learning more about the players and with the onslaught of PR campaigns around the vaccination’s development, its effects, and the daily live streams of high-profile individuals getting their vaccinations live; I believe they are checking all of the boxes when it comes to understanding and implementing media trends.
Loser: (Hypocritical) Politicians
Nobody has made more negative headlines this year than politicians acting in a way that goes against what they have asked of their constituents. I’m not talking about politicians who enacted stay-at-home orders and then had negative articles written about them by reporters and pundits who don’t believe in COVID, but rather, politicians who have imposed some of the nation’s toughest restrictions only to ignore them soon after. For example, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock tweeted out safety recommendations for Thanksgiving and then proceeded to board a plane to visit his daughter in Mississippi. Austin Mayor Steve Adler was vacationing in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico when he asked Austin residents to stay home via Facebook video. San Francisco Mayor London Breed and California Governor Gavin Newsom both made headlines and received social media backlash after they ate at a Michelin starred restaurant (individually) with large groups of people. All of these people (who are actually brands) could have avoided backlash and possibly losing their job had they just asked themselves the questions above.
Winner: MacKenzie Scott
While MacKenzie Scott may not be a “brand,” so much as Amazon CEO Jeff-Bezos’ ex-wife, she made headlines around the world in December when she announced she had donated an additional $4.2 billion (she had already donated $1.7 billion in July 2020) to 384 organizations from September to December 2020. Not only was this altruistic move life-changing for countless organizations and individuals, it simultaneously shone a bad light on her ex-husband (who has possibly profited more than any human on earth during the pandemic while seemingly helping no one else in return) while also building her own brand as well as the brands of hundreds of nonprofits that need as much help as possible right now.
The New York Post summarized what Scott’s donation really meant from a PR perspective,
As stated above, Jeff Bezos has stayed relatively mum during the pandemic besides stating he had donated $900 million to charity in the past year—less than one percent of his wealth. And, while Amazon has rarely been on the positive side of PR, its employees’ poor working conditions, tax avoidance, and unfair competition have only been amplified during the pandemic. One example from Business Insider: Amazon is facing a lawsuit that accuses it of violating civil rights laws by failing to protect Black, Brown and immigrant warehouse workers from COVID-19 while looking out for its mostly white managers, after at least 19,000 of its warehouse workers in the U.S. tested positive for COVID-19. Amazon’s role as an “essential” business may have allowed it to win financially, but it has absolutely lost the PR battle.