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5 PR Trends CMOs Need to Watch for 2022

[6 minute reading time]
There’s no shortage of uncertainty in marketing and PR planning for 2021. But there are some trends happening that are sure to impact PR and Marketing in 2021. At Avaans PR, CMO’s love us because we know consumer trends impact where our target audience will be, the frame of mind they’ll be in and what journalists will write about.  On a tactical level, trends impact our content creation, journalist relationships, and campaign recommendations we’re making now and in the next year. We’re ready for 2021 to require agility, but we’ve found that even agility requires forward-looking and yes, some planning. These are 5 of the marketing and PR trends for 2021 we’re watching on behalf of our consumer-forward brands.

PR Trend #1: Techlash Continues

From a PR trend perspective, this has a tremendous impact. Now is the time to reimagine how you’ll use social and digital media in 2022, from both a marketing and PR perspective.

The sting of social media won’t soon to be forgotten by consumers, regardless of political affiliation. During 2020, in particular, during the pandemic, social media took on outsized importance, but also affected consumers in new ways, and not all of them positive.

Yes, consumers continue to spend time and even buy on social media, but they are spending more and more time in micro-groups of their own on platforms like Slack or Messenger, or in like-minded platforms. This means brands will have to be extremely smart about their placements and presence in 2021. The separation also requires brands to be exceptionally clear about who their customers really are.

Further, the coveted 25-55 college-educated, earning $100,000 or more per year are using social media for customer service. This coveted group will not support companies who don’t support customer care. If 2020 was the year of pandemic-related customer acquisition for your brand, 2021 will most definitely need to be about keeping them happy and engaged. Part of that will most definitely be a branding effort to existing customers, ensuring your values align with theirs (more on purpose-driven initiatives below).

But it’s not just customer service affecting social media in 2021.  e-Marketer reported:

We have increased our forecast on mobile messaging and now believe time spent by US adults will grow by 4 minutes in 2020, to 24 minutes per day, not only due to the pandemic but also data showing strong engagement on messaging services like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Apple iMessage.

 

PR Trend #2: Work With Media in New Ways

Whether it’s TV, programmatic, or print, all media outlets are bracing for reduced advertising revenue in 2021. This will have very real implications for public relations initiatives.

First, according to Edelman, trust in media actually increased in 2020. This means you should absolutely be leveraging the trust of other outlets, particularly in lieu of the distrust around social media. However, you should do so with earned media and branded content.

Expect to see more “branded content,” in 2021. Well done branded content can be very effective in both PR and branding, so consider these options carefully. Branded content is better received than traditional ads, in fact, Second Street Lab reported in June that branded content through premium publishers sees a 50% brand lift.

Further, outlets will need to keep eyeballs on their content, to help drive ad revenue, brands with media relations campaigns should be looking at ways to support outlets who support them. At Avaans PR we are actively doing this for our clients already and seeing great brand lift and also enhanced journalist relations.

 

PR Trend #3: Purpose-Driven Buyers

Trusted brands saw huge increases during the pandemic, up to 50% growth, according to McKinsey. This is due to an unprecedented shift in brand loyalty during the pandemic.

Even pre-pandemic, affinity for brands who take a stand and align with consumer’s values were seeing real ROI on purpose-driven initiatives. As Americans slog through the pandemic, they are consistently re-evaluating priorities, this is especially true for Millenials and GenZ.

PR trends for 2021, include self-love and body positivity will be a purpose for many buyers, especially those who emerge from isolation hibernation with a few extra pounds. GenZ is feeling stressed. While some are still below the age of 18, they remember the great recession. Right now, self-care and home comfort are top of their list. Pre-pandemic, GenZ was actually returning to malls, but the pandemic has left this generation feeling a bit powerless and reconsidering purchasing behavior, at least for now. But 51% of GenZ’ers say they will return to in-store shopping. But when GenZ returns to stores, according to Retail Dive, they’ll do so with the expectation of safety and a frictionless environment that mirrors the ease of online shopping.   GenZ is also moving towards “thoughtful consumption,” especially those brands with responsible sourcing, environmentally friendly policies or support social issues. Local businesses and minority-owned businesses are also on their radar in a whole new way.

As for Millenials, the eldest of whom are in their 40’s already, are leading the way, followed by the often forgotten GenX, to continue online shopping across almost all verticals from essentials to alcohol, according to McKinsey.

Plus, record low-interest rates have created a whole host of new home buyers. In September 2020, 60% of U.S. homebuyers were Millenials, they’re likely to spend an increasing amount of time at home, items that allow them to spend more quality time with friends and family will be attractive, so delivery and home-based products will take a new focus for that generation.

PR Trend #5: The New Corporation

The media loves cultural changes and the radical changes to corporate America as a result of the COVID pandemic are monumental. From new work structures resulting from work from home to updated DEI hiring practices, diverse executives, and the great resignation, the media is covering companies through a very different lens today.

Technology is a considerable sub-topic here. If your brand is using technology or inventing technology to address these radical changes, there are considerable thought leadership opportunities for you.

From a spokesperson perspective, the media is also being more proactive about gathering a multitude of diverse perspectives on almost any topic. If you’re hiring corporate spokespersons or brand representatives, be clear on your objectives, and your audience. Not all spokespersons are useful in PR, and that doesn’t mean they aren’t perfectly good spokespersons for things like ads or social media, but they might not get a lot of lift in PR.

Trust is no longer a trend – it’s an imperative. From a public relations standpoint, you’ll want to be thinking about how your brand will differentiate itself in the media and marketing activities. With trust and security taking new precedence, brands will need to think about how they will reinforce those messages in a brand-consistent way.  Now is the time to explore partnerships and the potential activations, which will create the memorable moments consumers are craving.

From tourism to retail to direct-to-consumer products, brands will need to be thinking about how they will be relevant at the right moment.

From content to media relations to events, now is the time to plan, but bake in flexibility. For example, secure your video producers now, and create three original scripts, secure the time and the talent now, so you can move faster than everyone else when the moment is right.

PR Trend #5: Cross Collaboration

This is the year where everything needs alignment. If you haven’t already, tear down the silos between PR, Marketing, and Branding. Get those people together now so they can be more effective together in 2022. Think about how each department can align on digital and in-person initiatives. Think about initiatives that are word-of-mouth worthy, there will be plenty of industry and even national coverage for brands that are thoughtful about how they align.

A unified, personal experience will be an expectation in 2021. So ensure your messaging, your purpose, and your plans are operating together, not just in tandem, but together.

Use your owned, earned, and paid media together in new ways and your brand can benefit from the realignment of brand loyalty happening right now.

 

If you’re ready to use these and other marketing & PR trends for 2021 in a more customized way, let’s talk. 

This article has been updated

So you want to make your CEO the star? It’s a growing trend and there’s still room for your celebrity cannabis CEO.

The cannabis industry is ready for you, and you can take some tips from outside the cannabis industry to capitalize on the opportunity. From investment opportunities to increased brand value, to policy influence locally and nationally, and even profit increases, there are a lot of reasons why a CEO can be an important brand asset.

We’re seeing celebrity CEOs in the cannabis space, you know who they are. While it might look like those cannabis CEOs became industry household names simply because they’re so brilliant or successful, that’s simply not the case – there are many brilliant AND successful CEOs in cannabis whose names you wouldn’t be able to name. If you look around, you’ll see that cannabis CEOs and even more famous CEOs whose names you know, with very few exceptions, do these things in some combination. Because I’ve had the opportunity to work directly with some fantastic CEOs as well as politicians, I well know the big and little steps creating a celebrity takes.

So how do these CEOs become celebrities? The answer: extreme commitment to repeated exposure in multiple channels. Rome wasn’t built overnight and neither is celebrity CEO.

Close the C-Suite/Consumer Disconnect with Social Media

Edelman’s 2019 Trust Barometer said the majority of people (63%) believe CEOs should communicate with the public via social media and even more (79%) say knowing a CEO’s personal values is important to building trust, and that they trust spontaneous speakers more than well-delivered speeches. Contrast these statistics with the fact that 61% of Fortune 500 CEOs have no social media presence at all. No wonder there’s a disconnect from the C-suite to the Consumer.

These are interesting statistics for cannabis CEOs, who run businesses in an industry not yet federally recognized.

Increased Industry & Brand Trust

Yet this is EXACTLY the reason cannabis CEOs should be using social media. Even more than most industries, we must create trust with the general public. Summer 2019’s vape crisis did not help the cannabis industry’s reputation with the general public.  Social media offers cannabis brands the opportunity to speak directly and consistently. Because social media offers the opportunity to be spontaneous, here’s the ONE THING you can’t get past with social media: if you’re CEO is tweeting or engaging on LinkedIn, she absolutely must be directly involved and engaged on the platform herself, at least sometimes. And she should be using social media as a listening platform too, it will help her feel more connected and more engaged with her clients.

Balance Strategy with Authenticity

Whatever objectives you have to this strategy, there are reasonably straightforward systems that can be employed to overcome them.  Regardless of your strength as CEO, there’s a way for social media to work. Ghostwriters have a place in social media and many executives and celebrities rely on them, but the truest opportunities come when it isn’t exclusively outsourced, where there is a natural balance that remains authentic AND strategic.  Harborside’s Steve DeAngelo does this very well, he uses Instagram to showcase his boundless energy and willingness to engage with the cannabis community. By intelligently committing to a platform he’s comfortable with, he’s able to work it into his daily life. DeAngelo has also been very consistent with his key messages, he comes back to the same topics time and again and he uses social media to reinforce those messages while also adding a sense of fun and celebration to serious industry discussions.

Pick A Format That Celebrates You as CEO

With social media, there are many, many formats and opportunities. For example, you can balance authenticity with strategy with serialized content. Serialized content allows for consistency and systems to be in place while maintaining flexibility enough to jump into action when there’s a particularly timely opportunity. From podcasts to video forums to tweetchats, serialized content offers a direct opportunity for CEOs to showcase their personalities and warmth, which according to Chris Malone of The Human Brand, is an essential factor in increasing trust, “There are two basic dimensions that we judge people on: competence, which is all about how your abilities are perceived, and warmth.” If your CEO is particularly witty or opinionated, live formats offer CEOs an outstanding opportunity for enhanced brand recognition.

Go where your consumers are. What cannabis CEO is going to make waves by being the first to create engaging content on TikToc or even one of the e-sports platform? There are all kinds of digital places where your consumers roam, be there, where you can actively enjoy the people and space.

 

Open the Kimono To The Press

Simply BEING a CEO isn’t enough to develop ongoing coverage. In order to become a celebrity CEO, there’s groundwork to be done.

Prepare Yourself

Show up for the interview on time and prepared. Be clear on what you’ll say, identify a couple of key quotable statements you don’t want to miss and yes, review the journalist’s past articles to get a sense of their voice and depth. When the article is published, be sure to send a thank-you note and make sure your social media outlets share them.  Get yourself ready with a variety of professional headshots and lifestyle shots that showcase how your CEO embodies the brand.

As CEO, you should be ready to share your availability with marketing and PR. When traveling for business, strategize with your team about how you can capitalize on the time your in that city. If you’re traveling for pleasure, stay a day or two extra and give your team ample time to set appointments for you.

Invest in media training, get really good at driving the conversation where you want it to go. Learn how to handle the toughest of questions with elegance and grace. Learn what circumstances produce the best outcomes for you and make yourself available for those oppotunities. For example, some people just don’t do well in person, so pursue opportunities that are over the phone, get comfortable with industry journalists so you can develop some mutual trust. Develop in-person opportunities over time and in settings where you feel comfortable.

Don’t Buy Into Your Own Press

“Fame is other people’s perception of who you are,” said Oprah Winfrey. “In order to remain true to who you are, you have to be aware of it, but you can’t buy into it.”

Stay grounded. For CEOs starting out on the celebrity endeavor, take a step back and treat all journalist opportunities like they are the most important you’ll ever do. Remember that journalists are a tight-knit crowd and if your cannabis CEO isn’t warm or inviting and interesting, word gets out. More importantly, you never know where that journalist will land. Be kind. Be respectful. Be humble.

Lean In on Warmth & Wit

CEOs don’t have to be flashy, they DO have to be open and wise. Linton wasn’t a particularly dynamic speaker, but he always had something interesting to say and he said it with the confidence and authority that left everyone hanging on his every word. He knew his strength and he exercised it.

An excellent example of this is Bruce Linton who was famously ousted from Canopy in July 2019. Linton had been making the speaking circuit and made himself available for comment to press, for the better part of a year, and it seemed no publication or conference was too big or too small for him to share his perspective.

Linton’s availability worked in his favor as his ousting was big news, but Linton wisely got out ahead of the story and used his visibility to tell his side of the story. It’s not just that he got out ahead of it either – he handled the entire situation with class, he was forward-looking and resisted any temptation to slam his former employer.  All this worked out well for his next employer Vireo Health who got a healthy 26% stock bump after naming him CEO.

What’s interesting is a good look at this Google Trends report, which starts in 2016. You can see that Linton was already taking his position as CEO seriously even then, the groundwork was being laid. Even before his firing, you can see that the hard work is starting to pay off. The spike is obviously the news that he was let go, but most interesting is that Linton never took his foot off the gas and searches for him remained high even after his firing:

The Number One Tip for A Celebrity CEO

Planning. Don’t launch a celebrity campaign without using all your resources in marketing and PR. It’s a great idea to have a mix of trusted resources and new people who can see the forest through the trees. By now, CEO, you know who you are, lead your team of advisors by being transparent with them about your strengths and weaknesses. There’s no one who wants you to flop and starting out on the right foot will enable you all to succeed in this very exciting opportunity.