Tech Talk with FleishmanHillard’s global MD of True Global Intelligence, Natasha Kennedy

“The companies that innovate now are the ones that are going to come out of this as the strongest and best positioned, and AI is a part of the present and future of that.”

True Global Intelligence is a part of FleishmanHillard. Can you explain its objectives?
We’re a global practice group responsible for insights, analytics and measurement for all of FleishmanHillard’s clients. We are part of everything from new business opportunities, where we find insights to drive creative or programmatic ideas and validate strategy options, to existing client relationships, where we refine insights and use analytics to be sure we’re increasing the probability of success.

We use analytics to find smarter, faster ways of doing media relations, thought leadership programs and events. We act as an extension of the client’s team; we sit in on the planning meetings and look to spark ideas. In the COVID-19 world, we try to provide insights into employee minds and consumer minds. We’re very much about looking at behaviors, perceptions and needs.

You draw data from multiple sources to generate insights. How are the insights consumed by your clients?
We have clients that like the do-it-yourself model. We might have an analyst who curates the analytics, using various forms of technology to bring the data to the dashboard, and then the client is able to operate the dashboard directly. But in the majority of cases, we also have our own consulting services, where we make recommendations on the different types of research we might provide. In that case, you have some kind of deliverable that would be going to the client, whether it’s a report or an ongoing cadence of data and analytics served up via a dashboard.

You’ve written about the role of AI in PR. Is that an urgent topic for the industry?
[PR is] behind every other function and department when it comes to leveraging technology. Is it urgent? Yes. Analytics and data are how most companies are making decisions right now, and AI is a key part of making that smarter and faster. It allows us to process mass amounts of data, learn from that data and make decisions based upon it. 

Innovation is really critical. The companies that innovate now are the ones that are going to come out of this as the strongest and best positioned, and AI is a part of the present and future of that.

You recently released a report, COVID-19 Mindset: How Pandemic Times are Shaping Global Consumers. What’s the purpose of the report?
We’re trying to inform companies so that they can help consumers and employees. The audience that has been keenly interested in it has been concerned, not only with consumers and the economy, but also with employees: the return to work, employee communications, the employee safety chain, all of these things.

We also wanted to understand the expectations placed on business and government and other entities — where consumers believe responsibilities lie  and just how people are evaluating the future.

Your respondents take a sober view of the future, believing that getting back to normal could take anywhere between five months and two years. Did that surprise you?
Not if you look at where the data is coming from. China (8%) is really bringing the average [citing that amount of time] down. In the U.K., where some people felt [the government was] very slow to adapt and make changes, they pulled up at 39%. We’re eager to run this again soon, and I really wonder about this number and where it will go from here.

Although 94% view national governments as important players in these circumstances, it’s notable that 85% view major corporations as important, too.
What this demonstrates is an interdependency among these entities and an opportunity for them to work together. Folks believe that it’s not just one party that’s going to come up with a solution. Consumers are going to hold all entities accountable for their responses to this crisis.

Another statistic that jumps out is that more than 50% of consumers intend to change their buying behavior when the crisis is over. Are people finding that there are consumer goods and services they can really do without?
Yes, but which of those will they do without? I saw an interesting statistic from Tesco in the U.K., where people are no longer buying groceries multiple times per week; they’re going once per week, but they’re spending more in some cases than if they were going twice per week. And you think of the other effects of that. Maybe [respondents] used to do a whole bunch of other things when [they] went to the grocery store. How is that impacting other retailers, or other services [they] consumed going out of the house more?

The companies doing well in the pandemic are those that had a service or solution primed for the stay-at-home way of life. Now there are new market entrants and new innovations. What does this behavior do for consumers? Does it make for a happier home life, a happier physical life or maybe a less happy life? That’s the kind of stuff we want to explore: how are things changing, and what’s the result of the change?

Natasha Kennedy is global MD of FleishmanHillard’s True Global Intelligence practice group. 

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