PR’s Top Pros Talk…Tips for 2021 – Heather Kernahan
Heather Kernahan, CEO, North America, Hotwire, and Board Chair, PR Council
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About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: HEATHER KERNAHAN
DOUG: Heather, let’s start off with your most important recommendation for PR people moving forward in 2021.
HEATHER: I thought so hard about this question because getting down to just one recommendation is really tough. There’s so many things to think about in our profession. But I’m going to make it a little personal. The recommendation I have for 2021 for professionals is to figure out how to stay inspired. In our jobs there is change every day. We need to be resilient, and first and foremost, we need to look after ourselves. So, if we can find a way to stay inspired, I believe we can bring the best counsel and strategy to our clients, whether they be agency side or internal clients if you work in-house.
DOUG: And given your role as CEO, that’s probably been an important task for you to keep your team inspired.
HEATHER: Oh, yes, keeping inspired, I have to do that every single day, find ways to inspire myself and then inspire the team and keep them engaged while we’ve all been at home for all these many months. But we have come up with some ways to do it. And one of the ways that we’ve done, and it’s very successful, is all team PTO. So, we decided there would be days within the month that we are all going to be out on PTO on the same day. What that did was alleviate the stress for the team of taking a day off, but trying to still get caught up or transition things before they went out on their break. When we’re all in debt together, we can really check out, tell clients that we’re offline and just rest and relax. And that’s been pretty transformational for us this year.
DOUG: That’s been a really great tip. And I think that’s one I think, given that I have a number of team members listening as we’re recording this, that might be something that we’ll be putting into the plan for 2021. A big part of what you do is also advise clients on what they need to be thinking about and doing differently in 2021. What’s some of the advice you’re giving them? And I should sort of give context, because given your role as a top tech agency of the year that you’ve been recognized as tech played such an important role in helping businesses deal with this transition, especially in the communications field as many others.
HEATHER: Yes, it’s true, and I did see two parts to that. When I think about the technology industry, and what’s happened over the past five years, there has been a movement from every business to be a technology business. One example I always point to is Panera. They moved into technology in a major way and they built their whole infrastructure of their business with technology so that they could deliver really quickly and in a way that their customers expected. So, they positioned themselves as a technology brand. So really, every company can be a tech company now. And it’s more important than ever that companies do think about what their technology platform is to deliver what their clients and their customers need, not only today, but in the future, because who knows what’s going to happen then. So, that’s the evolution of the tech industry, and we see that in our client base, not only enterprise technology clients, but every industry now comes to us to say help us tell our technology story so that we can deliver, but also so we can attract the talent and that can help us build the next best technology future for our customers.
HEATHER: You know, that’s a great insight, and I recall Ford doing that effectively after the economic crash in 2008, where they actually rather than being at car shows, they were at the Consumer Electronics Show, the big trade show, CES show, to get their story out as a tech company, because if they were doing it in the context of the car industry, the first question they would get is, will the car industry survive? And who wants that? What additional changes can you see in communications in 2021? You might want to bring us your perspective as board chair of the PR Council, which is a great role of giving back to the industry as well.
HEATHER: Yes, the changes that I want to continue to see because it has started, and I feel a lot of hope around this, is that communications professionals are going to own more of the data and analytics within their companies. And I have seen communications professionals take the lead on understanding what the brand data is, what the reputation data says, and even what the perceptions say about their market. And comms professionals should not be scared about getting deep into the data and really owning those insights, because when you can own the insights, then you’re connecting to the C–suite of your business and also moving the business ahead, you can be part of the growth engine. And that’s more important than ever as companies work their way out of this pandemic and look to the future and what’s going to be available for growth for them. So that’s what I see day in and day out. What we counsel our clients on is be responsible for that, own it and get really good at communicating in a data centric way. From the PR Council standpoint, and we look where we have a membership of 120 PR agencies across the US, and so we’re constantly getting feedback. The things that have emerged for our council members are the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion programs as we head into 2021 and helping them put together programs that they can use to change the face of their business. And we’ve also been working with them on how to have the most successful agency they can. So, talent issues, operational issues, new business issues, making sure we’ve got a strong industry moving forward.
DOUG: Great, and finally, what are some of the changes you expect to implement among your clients and among the way you do work in 2021, as hopefully it’ll be somewhat transitioning to more of a post pandemic environment. So, I don’t think it’ll ever go back to the way it was. And social justice issues, as well as a new administration will be prominent, at least here in the US.
HEATHER: The changes that we’ve already brought in and that we’re counseling clients on are to break down the silos of thinking in their organization and becoming accountable and collaborative with brand and strategy, but also data and analytics so that you really got the whole communications mix at your fingertips, not just, say, media relations or earned media. That’s an old style of thinking, and we’re moving now into a world where really integrated communications and marketing is the way to think about your business. We also counsel our clients to look outside their four walls, and as you said, think about things like a new administration coming in and how policy might impact their business. Some communications professionals might not have been in that realm before, but connecting topics and events to their narrative and storylines for their companies is an innovative way to think. So, pick your head up, look outside and think about new ways to be inspired and to connect to what’s happening in the world.
DOUG: Great. And thanks for inspiring our viewers. We really appreciate it.
HEATHER: Happy holidays.