Darlene DoyleDarlene Doyle

The past eight months have challenged communications professionals on a whole new level. In some ways, the work has never been more engaging and more rewarding as we help our clients navigate truly unchartered territory.

However, it has also required us to pause and evaluate how our current state of affairs has changed the media landscape, what stories resonate in today’s environment and what falls flat. The fundamentals of what makes for a great story—and enticing trendjack—haven’t changed. But the care and thoughtfulness in how we approach this has.

Varying media strategies from across the pond

I’ve asked two members of our leadership team in the US and UK to provide insights into what has changed and what has stayed the same when it comes to pitching in their respective markets. In this article, Senior Vice President Nikki Festa and Managing Director UK Gareth Thomas dive into the nuances that communicators should consider as they approach media outreach across the globe.

Isn’t every story a COVID story? Are there other tech narratives that are still cutting through?

Gareth ThomasGareth Thomas

Thomas: Certainly COVID-19 continues to dominate the British media agenda, and there are many sub-themes highly relevant to tech brands. For example, the launch of the NHS Test and Trace app has fueled debate around data privacy, the explosion of cybercrime has heightened awareness of security and there is a compelling need to reskill workers whose jobs have evaporated.

Away from COVID, Brexit continues to rumble on as the UK scrambles to sign a trade deal by the end of 2020. Fintech companies are watching closely, whilst also responding to a slew of investigations from our financial watchdog, the FCA, and focusing on rebuilding trust in the wake of scandals around FinCEN or Wirecard.

The climate crisis also means interest in green tech remains strong. For example, the centerpiece of British PM Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party conference speech in October was a pledge that offshore wind farms will generate enough electricity to power every home in the UK within a decade.

Festa: In the early days of COVID, there were some obvious and immediate entry points to the broader media conversation. For example, managing a remote workforce, the impact on the supply chain, and the focus on security and remote learning dominated the US media.

Nikki FestaNikki Festa

As time has progressed, the intersection of COVID and the election environment has demanded even more care and thoughtfulness. The fundamentals haven’t changed; trendjacking can’t be self-serving or an advertisement for your product or service. However, today’s environment has pushed even more focus on listening first and evaluating where our clients can bring value, education and solutions to the conversation.

Finally, we’re seeing companies and their executives play a larger role in speaking out on broader global issues like the economy, systemic racism and climate change.

Has COVID-19 changed the overall approach to trendjacking for technology brands?

Thomas: Journalists have always been intolerant of poorly thought-through trendjacks, and quite rightly so. But as many companies found in recent months, the bar has been set even higher in the face of a tidal wave of breaking news.

This has forced brands to move beyond offering opinions and canned quotes. Actions speak louder than words and there have been multiple examples of brands going beyond commentary to swiftly adapt their product or service (or release entirely new ones). They’ve then used their owned channels to highlight what they’re doing to respond to the news agenda and why.

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Nov. '20 Technology PR Magazine
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Festa: If your trendjack reads like an advertisement or ambulance chase, it will most definitely fall flat. The media is looking for provocative points of view and tangible customer success stories to support each narrative.

We have also seen more demand for commentary on broader social issues. Big companies typically shy away from these topics, but we’re seeing more and more leaders joining them.

How can technology brands ensure they’re sharing content that will be well received by media?

Thomas: Stick to what you know. Specific, niche commentary from experts goes down well, especially when supported with credible and proprietary data that can’t be found elsewhere. If it’s vague and generic, it won’t make the cut.

If you don’t have your own primary data, mining public data, making sense of it and highlighting trends is a smart option. With news desks stretched, comms. teams that do the legwork will be well received. We did this for a fintech client by looking at the lack of insurance refunds during lockdown and generated more than 250 articles.

When it comes to commentary, speedy, punchy and personal commentary, rather than an academic essay is likely to hit the mark. Some UK-based titles, like the FT-backed Sifted, for example, encourage a bit of humor too, and they welcome counter-narratives that go against the grain.

Festa: I couldn’t agree more on supporting your content with data, facts and customer success stories. We talk about finding the white space—what the industry and your competitors are talking about, and what you can speak to that brings a new perspective to the conversation.

I also encourage clients to consider what stories stand out to them. Who are their trusted voices in the market—either in their space or another—and why does that person or company stand out? Sometimes that can help reinforce the kinds of stories and content that is really compelling to the media.

With all the negative news in the media, is it possible for technology brands to trendjack with positive stories?

Thomas: Many people have bemoaned the incessant negativity of the news, and we have seen some examples of media trying to buck the trend. The BBC, for example, dedicated a full day during lockdown to positive news. Certainly, some journalists are interested in positive or inspiring customer stories, whether that be a business that has used tech to respond to the challenge of COVID, or an individual who has overcome adversity with the help of tech.

However, the old adage “if it bleeds, it leads” still holds true. We’re all programmed to pay more attention to bad news, and I can’t see that fundamentally changing anytime soon. So, framing good news as a response to a problem remains critical.

Festa: The US media is hungry for positive stories. The stories that illustrate how technology is solving a real-world problem, driving change for good, helping companies survive or thrive when faced with multiple challenges—that’s what the media wants to write about.

Also, corporate social responsibility has become more important than ever. People want to understand the role a company and its executives are playing in speaking up and out on topics that go far beyond their product or service to impact social, global, environmental and economic issues.

What stance should brands be taking on COVID-19 and how to control the spread as attitudes become more polarized?

Thomas: The first lockdown instilled a strong sense of community, unity and “Blitz spirit” across the UK. In the face of the unknown, almost everyone backed the Government measures and tolerated the restrictions on daily life, making it a no-brainer for brands to echo public sentiment in their communications.

However, opinion is now far more fractured, and brands should take stock of their stance. The proportion of Brits who say the Government is handling the crisis well dropped from 49 percent in March to just 32 percent in September, according to Ipsos MORI. As the second wave hits and job support measures taper off, voices arguing for different approaches have become louder. Brands need to be listening and thinking carefully about where sentiment is at among their audiences, rather than rushing into a supportive position that may miss the mark.

Festa: What each company does in its own four “virtual” walls is more important than its external stance on COVID-19. Each company can play a critical role in protecting and supporting its own employees, and communication should start internally to ensure employees feel protected.

From there, companies can share best practices they’ve discovered during the pandemic: how they’ve kept morale up, ideal virtual environments for employees and rethinking current office spaces. Sharing best practices and providing education is where the focus should be.


Darlene Doyle is Executive VP of Client Relations at PAN Communications.