2020’s Top 5 Lessons for Public Affairs

By Sharon Copeland, Digital Director

2020 is almost over, and it’s safe to say that this year has thrown more than a few curveballs at every industry. In the face of unprecedented challenges for many of our clients, The Herald Group has learned from the shifting environment and continued to help our clients achieve their strategic goals. Before we ring in the new year, let us take a moment and reflect on what we’ve learned and what lessons we can take with us into the future.

Expect the unexpected

A strong public affairs strategy should always have a crisis management playbook that anticipates specific contingencies and sets a plan for those you can’t predict. Knowing when to respond, who should be the messenger, and what is critical, will determine the success of an organization and its ability to withstand a crisis. This year emphasized that you can’t anticipate everything and that the organizations with a thought-out plan rise to the top as leaders in crises.

Media and content consumptions habits are evolving

In the midst of the pandemic, many people turned to local broadcast for a less politicized, reliable source of information about significant developments and how they affected their local communities. Organizations looking to broadly disseminate information, messaging, and advertising free of hyperbolic political issues should consider turning their focus on local networks. While some advertisers turned to local politics, those groups with political, influencer-based audiences saw efficiencies go up with traditional cable or digital CTV as well.

Authenticity and two-way communications matters

When the US was first locked down, people were inundated with emails, ads, and other communications about COVID-19. Those that succeeded were personal and made a human connection. As the situation changed daily, the potential to say the wrong or tone-deaf thing grew. We counseled our clients to be genuine and to speak up only when they had something helpful and original to add to the conversation. Audiences liked to see a real person behind the brand or issue, and more freely engaged when asked to share their own stories in return.

Adaptation is the key to sustainability and success

The digital world is an ever-changing field, and we’re continually assessing what new technologies add strategic advantages for our clients against those that may be shiny, but not sticky in terms of securing key objectives. This year was no exception. When policymakers were no longer concentrated in specific locations, we utilized additional historical and third-party data to ensure we hit the right targets remotely in our advertising strategy. With more people spending additional time online, there were increased opportunities for ad placements available. As more impressions were available, competition for certain placements and the costs for ads decreased. Our close connections with different platforms gave us an early advantage, allowing our clients to reach people more efficiently with their messages. When Facebook, Google, and Twitter updated their policies and put restrictions on issue advertising, it threw many advocacy programs for a loop. We had previously tested other advertising and advocacy avenues and had multiple backups for each tactic. With early detection of trends and a quick ability to adjust to viable alternative strategies, we saw increased results when the digital public affairs world shifted multiple times this year.

A team-focused culture is integral

One of our core pillars as a firm is to improvise, adapt, and overcome as a team (courtesy of USMC). We are proud that our firm was able to hire new team members during this challenging year, that allowed us to better serve our clients. At The Herald Group, it is crucial for every member to be communicating with, learning from, and supporting each other. While typically this helps us adapt to policy changes, this year, it meant trusting and aiding each other as we changed how we worked and stepping in for each other and advocating for our clients when individual lives may have been turned upside down. We saw team members shine as they transitioned to working remotely and served clients doing the same. Adjustments turned into advantages. Better internal digital collaboration tools meant we could more seamlessly collaborate with clients and external teams. More than ever, delivering on outcomes, not activity, was the key indicator of good work. With this philosophy, we were able to put people first while prioritizing our clients’ success throughout all the tumult.

When going back into the office becomes an option, we will continue to emphasize the culture and lessons that made remote work a success this year.  As we plan for 2021, most of us are looking forward to what we hope to be a year of normalization and a return to in-person professional engagements. Even when things start to go back to normal, however, we plan on keeping the momentum of growth and innovation that has been spurred by this year’s change. We can close the chapter, but we must always be willing to adapt and learn from the lessons that help us to move forward more efficiently and effectively.

We at The Herald Group wish everyone a very happy and safe holiday season and look forward to working with you in the new year.