5 comms tech resolutions for 2021

From improving data literacy to getting better at memes, comms tech experts tell Dashboard what’s on their to-do list.

2020 is coming to a close and PR pros are preparing for a hopefully more normal 2021. PRWeek Dashboard asked technology-focused communicators for their goals or new year’s comms tech resolutions for their own work, their agencies and the industry at large. Some have been informed by the pandemic. Others are a reflection of their plans to build on technology advances. 

Here’s what the experts had to say. 

Improving data literacy and other skills 

Michael Brito, EVP of technology at Zeno Group, calls data literacy “a constant for all agencies that take data-driven storytelling seriously.” Because technology can’t contextualize data and provide actionable insights, it is essential that humans can do this work, he argues.

“[By using data, PR pros] can provide an unfair advantage to our clients by helping them tell more relevant stories, prioritize the right media outlets, target the most influential journalists and find unique ownable whitespace in the market,” Brito says.

Zeno’s resolution is to empower all of its employees to do this work “by integrating the need for data literacy into their daily workstreams.” Brito adds that the firm is also launching an analytics training program for all staffers.

Nate Jaffee, Praytell’s head of strategy, also highlights the need for upskilling teams. 

“We’re making investments in tools and skills with a heavier emphasis on skills so that we can be flexible with emerging platforms, new sources of data and conducting unique analysis in-house on behalf of clients,” he says.

Consumer sentiment and brand awareness

Also making a comeback in 2021: surveys, since uncertainty has made understanding consumers more important.  

Using emotional indicators, such as “the number of times I’ve cried,” and visual icons, like the dumpster fire icon, FleishmanHillard hopes to better measure consumer sentiment in survey research, explains Natasha Kennedy, global MD of True Global Intelligence at the firm. The agency wants to use this research to contrast how consumers feel about this past year with their hopes for 2021.

Another resolution for Fleishman is measuring human connection and connectivity resulting from earned or paid communications. The Omnicom Group shop is particularly interested in how this creates compassionate, rather than competitive, outcomes. 

“These emotional outcomes and behaviors will continue to impact how we make decisions and see the world due to COVID-19 and even more climate change,” says Kennedy.

Mike Moschella, director of DKC Analytics, says the uncertainty of this year has “underscored the strategic importance of having a strong baseline measurement of brand awareness and brand health.”

“In 2021, we want as many campaigns as possible to start with consumer survey data that measures these baseline metrics. Then we can better track movement and make smart, data-driven decisions in tumultuous times,” he says.

Listening and predictive intelligence

While some agencies are focused on surveys to understand a specific client base, others are looking to listening and predictive tools, which were also made more prominent by the events of the past year.

“After a year of crises, soul searching and public outrage, our resolution is to double down on listening capabilities, especially predictive analytics,” Jaffee says. “Even as the smoke clears for many industries, we have far less foresight into consumer sentiment and where consumers’ attention will be focused than previous years. So the more we’re able to use data for forward-looking indicators and insights, the better.”

From a different angle, Moschella points to the strides the industry has made on predictive technology. 

“Technology to predict which articles and posts will go viral and impact public opinion is now more effective and affordable than ever,” he says. “We’re working to build this intelligence into clients’ operations and enable faster, smarter responses.”

(Dis)information vigilance

The uncertainty and information overload of this year also means that paying closer attention to the types of sources of information will be critical in the coming year.

Brian Buchwald, head of global intelligence at Weber Shandwick, has two resolutions for the agency for this objective, and he says both will enable his firm to better serve and partner with its clients.   

First, Buchwald calls for “continually work[ing] to gain a deeper understanding of new forms of misinformation and disinformation impacting businesses, and ultimately, their stakeholders.” 

(Disinformation is undoubtedly a concern for everyone this year. Here are some tips for getting ahead of it, or what to do if a client falls victim).

The second goal is to “better leverage the evolving nature of how and where information is spread.” 

That will help the Interpublic Group agency and its clients get ahead of the curve to understand how their stakeholders get information, share it and create perspectives from it, he says.

“With new platforms and mediums rising in public consciousness, it is our responsibility to be the canary in the coal mine and predict tectonic shifts before they occur,” he explains.

Diversifying digital strategies, and memes

Facebook’s decision to shut down issue ads for more than a month forced agencies and brands to reconsider how and where they reach their audiences online. Moschella says they “want to make sure all clients have digital targeting campaigns that consider more options to accomplish their goals.”

One platform where he is seeing opportunity and results is TikTok. Another area is memes. 

“April 2020 was the highest month ever for meme creation,” Moschella explains. “As brands and businesses use more meme-based communication, and consumers speak more in imagery, analytics teams will need strong image recognition technology to truly understand what people are saying, and how they’re saying it.”

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