Heather Kernahan
Heather Kernahan

Amidst the challenges 2020 has wrought, I’ve been able to find hope in an unexpected colloquialism to remain grounded and focused. It isn’t advice or reassurance from a great leader in our industry or someone that has persevered through previous trials and tribulations. It isn’t an inspirational saying offering specific guidance or direction, but a persistent reminder that we are wired to constantly innovate—to push our tools, platforms and resources to better ourselves and our experiences.

To be specific, I’m talking about bread.

I’m referring to the bread-slicing machine deemed groundbreaking enough to make front-page news in 1928, automating the bread-making process and introducing the phrase, “the best thing since sliced bread” as a benchmark for technological progress and modernization. Nearly 100 years later, the “one-upsmanship” of this phrase still lights a competitive fire, as brands position their newest innovations as “the best” on the market. From the floppy disk to external hard drives to USB keys to the cloud, we’re conditioned to not look back, and brands remain steadfast in fueling our anticipation for what’s now, new and next.

Which brings me back to bread. It isn’t so much the physical act of slicing bread, but what the technology enabled. The United States was knee deep in the Great Depression. It was a time where many had to band together, get scrappy and creative to solve human needs and survive. Outside of the actual task, the bread slicer, in its part, made lives easier, served as a catalyst for other inventions and propelled society forward.

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Nov. '20 Technology PR Magazine
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Considering COVID-19, we now have the same call-to-action. And luckily, we’ve seen the technology industry step up and go beyond being the “next-best-latest-greatest” and in turn focus on the greater good, but there’s still a lot to learn as we enter this latest age of “coopetition” and businesses aim to carefully balance authenticity, bottom lines and real change.

Technologists are problem solvers at heart

Despite everything that’s occurred, we continue to be brought together by the humble truth that technology is solution oriented. Whether that means simplifying the sandwich-making process or using data and resources to combat a global pandemic, technology’s goal is to improve and progress us one step further than we were previously. Regardless of industry, no brand is immune from this notion, with mission statements, slogans and boilerplates pointing to a larger purpose in just a few words or sentences.

“Think Different,” “Just Do It” and “Imagination at Work” are just a few consistent reminders that humans power technology, bringing with them the compassion, understanding and context necessary to create meaningful solutions. This emphasis on humanity is coming to the forefront as many companies set aside creative differences, competitive data sets and market share to be better and stronger together, getting back to the root of their true mission.

For example, we saw early on two typical rivals join forces and align their missions to support society’s greater good in tracing the spread of COVID-19. Apple and Google partnering doesn’t mean seceding power or positioning one company over another, but both recognizing that measurable business results can still be gained while serving a higher purpose.

Our culture, for culture

This is where we come in as communications practitioners. We know that right now, even businesses that have always been or are newly appointed as essential, are re-strategizing. We’ve seen industries and organizations struggling to stay afloat juxtaposed against businesses booming with new or increased demand. We’ve also seen businesses go to market differently, embracing coopetition, recognizing how their tools, data and services can be leveraged to address the COVID-19 crisis.

In March, as we officially listed Zoom alongside toilet paper as vital and essential, we also shifted gears as our clients tossed pre-approved FY20 plans aside and pivoted in real-time as the pandemic dominated the news cycle. Regardless of the current state of their business, they were all eager to communicate something in order to remain, raise or prove relevancy—or show they are in a position to help—amidst all the noise.

In an already fast-paced industry, we moved even faster—recognizing the larger role marketing and communications can play in aiding business objectives. Specifically, at Hotwire, we doubled down on our investment in digital marketing and strategy—knowing that as budgets are being scrutinized, we still need to deliver on customer engagement and message pull-through.

As storytellers at heart, we are meeting the demand to come across as authentic and genuine and not opportunistic. We’re re-shaping how our clients present themselves, omitting aggressive positioning and the narrow-minded “best thing since” approach to instead focus on what is best for humanity and society. It’s encouraging and inspiring to see, and a monumental time to see the sheer power and potential of technology. Or in other words, the best thing since sliced bread.


Heather Kernahan is CEO, North America at Hotwire.