Integrated communications, technologies and analytics: key PR trends revealed in Sabre Awards 2017 cases

In May 2017, the winners of one of the most prestigious awards in public relations — The Sabre Awards 2017 — were announced.

After analyzing more than 100 competition cases from the EMEA region, a member of the jury panel and a Managing Director of Buman Media communications agency, Natalia Bucelnikova explains how changes in the industry affect the PR manager’s profession and describes how technologies, analytics, corporate social responsibility and communications impact business in modern PR.

It is hard to deny that in recent years the PR specialist’s profession has changed almost beyond recognition. According to the Global Communications Report, only 27% of respondents in the industry agreed with the statement that in a few years the term “public relations” will competently describe their work. Traditionally a PR manager’s work was to interact with the media, whereas now they are responsible not only for target audience relations, but also for marketing, advertising and lead generation.

This is highlighted by the cases submitted to the jury of Sabre Awards 2017. They allow us to make a conclusion that there are a number of trends defining the work of PR specialists, and to see how the industry has changed in recent years.

One of the main trends in the sphere of public relations is the active use of analytical tools and new technologies for monitoring communication environment and consumer attitudes. Last year this was confirmed by Buman Media’s analysis of the Russian PR market, which showed that creativity and analytics are the most important components of today’s communications. The overloaded media space and changing interests of the young generation force companies and brands to search for new ways of getting consumer response and engaging their target audiences in a dialogue.

A striking example of this can be found in the “Year of Fixing campaign”, developed by the Unity agency for the insurance company Direct Line. Company specialists were actively monitoring current problems that worried people and offered them situational assistance, affirming their motto “An Insurance company, that solves problems effectively”. For example, the company offered an interesting way to solve the problem of passengers being distracted by their mobile phones in the London Underground. A special high speed track was set for passengers in a hurry at one of the stations; people were not allowed to move on this platform while staring at their phones.

The importance of using analytics in PR campaigns is demonstrated by the case of the energy company E.ON, which created a new energy-saving product only to find that there was almost no demand for it. After some analysis of the situation, it turned out that the direct e-mails used by E.ON to promote the new product were perceived as spam by its target audience. In response to this, the E.ON team decided to personalize their message, changed gender, age and reinforced their initiative with an unobtrusive advertising campaign on Facebook. As a result, the payback percentage of the company’s new product increased by 80%, while their client base enlarged with new contacts.

Another important trend is the digitalization of the PR manager’s profession due to active development of modern technology. Nowadays, a potential buyer has multiple options to test a product before buying it: virtual reality, LED technologies, 3D systems and many other instruments that allow consumers to get a unique experience of interaction with the brand as a part of experiential campaigns, dedicated to influencing feelings and emotions.

A good example of this can be seen in a campaign, developed by Ogilvy Public Relations agency for Volkswagen, aimed to reduce the number of car accidents involving pedestrians. The team created a unique construction with LED screens and RFID chips with automatic object identification, which was placed on a road section with heavy traffic located close to a school. Students were given thousands of individual pendants that were synchronized with the construction so that when a child approached the intersection, the screens displayed the child’s name and requested the driver to stop. As a result, an emotional bond between children and drivers was created, reducing a number of potential accidents.

Another example is an Autism simulator presented by the Seesame agency. 
It aimed at drawing society’s attention to people with autism, which was part of a project called “Autism at work”. With the help of VR technologies, the Seesame team created a simulator allowing ordinary people to see the world through the eyes of people with autism. The results showed that despite the disorder, they are still able to do some kind of work.

One more trend is the necessity to assess the impact of PR activities on business: the coverage, number of publications, shares and likes lose their importance, while sales growth or economically beneficial change of legislation are becoming the priority of PR.

For instance, the “Hands Off My Insurance” campaign from the Seesame agency, built on government’s legislation initiative to introduce 8% tax on large insurance companies. The tax was planned to be included into the buyers’ fee, which could not stimulate people to purchase unpopular insurance services. The strategy of the Seesame PR campaign was to explain to citizens, what is wrong with the legislation act, to show what impact it will have on lives of the average family and business owners, and to invite them to challenge this innovation. They created a special web site and motivational video that broadcasted stories about people affected by this law and gave others an opportunity to speak of their own experiences. The results of the campaign surpassed all expectations — the government changed the legislation act, saving insurance companies about 50 million euros in total.

Also, it is worth mentioning the increased attention that companies give to projects in the sphere of corporate social responsibility. This is confirmed by the fact that approximately 40 out of 100 competition cases, reviewed within Sabre Awards 2017, covered CSR to some extent.

Even though large corporations strive for so-called agile methods of management in order to compete with startups and SME, they do not forget about long term work and investments aimed at solving real global problems, which would consequently have a positive impact on business. Consumers care about the status of companies from which they get goods or services from, which is why any damage to a company’s reputation can bring significant material losses. Creating a positive image by contributing to society benefits the company in the long term, more than a situational product sale.

An excellent example of this is demonstrated by the milk company TINE, which integrated itself into the Norwegian reality, where citizens were indignant over the massive entry of Syrian refugees into the country. In order to resolve the complex relations between local residents and emigrants, TINE invited the Norwegians to a Friendship Breakfast in refugee accommodation centers. Invitations calling for tolerance and mutual assistance were placed on 26 million cartons of milk. The prime ministers and mayors of Norway also took part in the initiative, so the event got coverage across the national media.

“This year we received a lot more competition cases from EMEA than, for example, from North America, but what is more important, the quality of these works was significantly higher. It seems that clients in EMEA are not afraid to take creative risks and make experiments. This is especially true for mature markets such as the UK and Scandinavian countries, where it is necessary to create super-creative campaigns to stand out,” — said Paul Holmes, the founder of the Sabre Awards, — “Russian works are at a very high level. The judges were impressed by the scope of realized activities”.

To sum up, we can say that despite the long history of public relations we are still at the very beginning of our journey. Nowadays the market is in demand for the so-called new generalists — multifunctional experts, able to select necessary sources and tools for certain tasks and to control the result. The future belongs to those specialists, who can quickly access valuable knowledge in marketing and the digital world, whilst being flexible and able to anticipate trends: they are the ones who will be able to influence the development of business and take their place in the top management of a company.