PR Comms Tips From 2016’s Key Moments

— Adrienne Leonhardt, WE 

2016 was a tumultuous year in more ways than one. It also brought us some monumental cultural touchstones that will have a lasting impact beyond the year’s end. Here at WE, you can bet we have an opinion about them — and some lessons to share with communicators as well. Whether streamlining across media channels, navigating ways to reach audiences with branded content, or staying in tune with digital advances that enhance user interaction, there was a lot to be mindful of. Let’s dive in.

  •  Beyoncé’s “Lemonade”is the latest surprise album release: Hold up — in late April, Beyoncé released her sixth solo album, “Lemonade,” on HBO. The visually stunning and emotionally raw work holds powerful lessons for communications professionals about how we can rethink storytelling. Constantly changing technology means brands, even Beyoncé, need to reach key audiences in a fresh way to drive a powerful story. (And she wasn’t the only musician to challenge the status quo of content creation in 2016; Radiohead also turned the music industry on its head by “going dark” before releasing their latest single.). THE TAKEAWAY: Branded content presents a unique opportunity to merge your earned, owned and paid efforts in one medium — something Beyoncé proved quite well. We all know (or at least we should know) that brands can’t slap the same content across each channel. Understand there’s a relationship that exists here, and in order to keep your stories in motion so audiences will engage, content must be conceived through the lens of integration and momentum.
  • The ’80s and ’90s are back again with Pokémon Go and Netflix’s “Stranger Things”: The undeniable hit show of the summer was “Stranger Things,” a genre-blending mystery/thriller/sci-fi honoring classic ’80s movies we know and love. The show provided lessons for storytellers looking to shake up their work: namely that we’re all suckers for a compelling narrative, and nostalgia can be a powerful tool — if used correctly. Remember back in July, when it seemed like all humans were zombies walking around glued to their phone, searching for a nearby Squirtle? Pokémon Go gave us insight into human behaviors and showed communicators and marketers that gamification that bridges the real and virtual worlds could be a huge success. THE TAKEAWAY: What these crazes have in common is the winning mixture of nostalgia (childhood games and classic movie themes) and modern technology (streaming video and smartphone apps). Is it any wonder they became so popular in a turbulent election year, when escapism from politics was much-needed? Not every brand is savvy enough to capitalize authentically on ’80s or ’90s retro content. Those that have been successful were able to connect to their audiences by understanding their wants and needs, and by reaching them in relatable and intriguing ways that capture their attention and imagination.
  • Instagram Stories becomes a Snapchat competitor, and Snapchat releases Spectacles: 2016 was also the year of ephemeral, instant communication with the introduction of Instagram Stories. Brands with a large following and an engaged audience have a huge opportunity to interact and offer dynamic calls to action when speaking to their followers using Instagram Stories. And not to be outdone, Snapchat made headlines with the introduction of Spectacles, a $130 pair of fashion-forward sunglasses with an embedded camera that automatically pushes recorded content to the Memories section of the Snapchat app in a circular video format — allowing people to record snippets of their daily life in a brand-new way. Snapchat has long been on the cutting edge of social trends, something brands need to pay attention to. Spectacles raises the bar for companies rolling out platforms, product and content in the hopes of engaging and keeping the lucrative millennial and Gen Z markets eager for more. THE TAKEAWAY: The rise of these new social media platforms has been well-documented as a way for tech-savvy generations to communicate online while protecting their reputations and moving away from the “forever” aspect of the internet their parents warned them about. Brands like Instagram and Snapchat are succeeding at this by focusing on the instantaneous, in-the-moment sharing consumers (especially younger ones) love. Brands can use these platforms to their advantage by interacting with audiences in real-time ways that fulfill their content needs.

So long, farewell 2016

2016 was a year of surprises — and if we’ve learned anything from the moments above, it’s that brands need to find their own element of surprise, and must remain vigilant to stay relevant. Simply reaching out to potential consumers isn’t enough. And while data is great, what matters is how we use the data to flesh out insights that inform engagement, content strategy and channel optimization. Brands need to think of fresh and authentic ways of disrupting their own status quo to keep people interested, provoke impactful customer engagement and ultimately drive real business outcomes.

So there you have it — some insights on what the year’s biggest, most influential stories meant for communications pros. We’re waiting with bated breath to see what 2017 has in store — and we'll be there helping identify trends and telling stories that create impact and connections. Stay tuned.