Does any of this sound familiar?
Your company spends months developing a massive nationwide public awareness campaign relying on a slate of carefully planned events to engage the media, the public and key stakeholders on a critical issue that impacts every American. Each event requires significant advance planning and logistical execution: Allocating staff, shipping materials and assets, pitching media, training spokespeople, and lining up venues and accommodations.
Suddenly, everything changes. All of your plans come to an abrupt halt and you’re asked to come up with a Plan B – and you have less than a week to do so.
If it sounds familiar, you’re not alone – the COVID-19 pandemic has put scores of companies in this exact position this year. Though we’re past the early days of the pandemic, the evaporation of traditional public relations tools, such as live events and in-person conversations, has forced a longer-term recalibration in how we approach events. Most importantly, it underscores the necessity of digital as a driver of public affairs campaigns and communications strategies more broadly.
From media interviews and press events to massive conferences and conventions with hundreds of speakers, breakout sessions and activities, organizations have had to do a full-scale reimagination of media relations and PR event programming to adapt to a virtual venue environment.
When it comes to public affairs campaigns, BCW focuses on four factors as we guide clients through executing successful virtual media campaigns and events:
As we worked through this transition with our clients, one observation was abundantly clear: Shifting to virtual events was a bigger hurdle if digital strategy and organizing was not already integrated into plans. Regardless of where organizations are on the spectrum of digital operations, the pandemic has more than proven the value of digital as a cornerstone to our communications, media relations, and increasingly, events.
As we head into the “Next Normal”, communicators must continue to place strong emphasis on digital planning and strategy from initiation. A digital strategy should not be a Plan B — it should be an integral part of a communications and campaign strategy from the outset. That way, in the event of a crisis, there is less pausing and paralysis and more adaptation and action.
There are myriad examples from the last several months to learn from and be inspired by as we continue in this “Next Normal.” Fortune pushed back and changed its entire slate of in-person events to create a fully virtual lineup for the fall; the 2021 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) will be all-virtual in January; the NFL hosted a virtual draft; and the Library of Congress’ annual National Book Festival will host all author talks online this month.
These trends are here to stay in some capacity; hybrid events, livestreams, and in-home/virtual media interviews and trainings will become streamlined and widespread. It may take a little longer for businesses and organizations to fully embrace a true digital-first approach across the board, beyond the age of social distancing. Even as we return to the old normal, whenever that is, companies will need to continue to find innovative and smart ways to leverage learnings and best practices from the past few months for event planning and beyond.
Jenna Sauber is a Strategy Director in Washington, DC, in the Public Affairs & Crisis practice. Before joining BCW, Jenna supported a variety of domestic and international advocacy campaigns, with a focus on digital communications and marketing.