PR’s Top Pros Talk…Brand Behavior Post COVID – Avra Lorrimer
Avra Lorrimer, Executive Vice President, H+K Strategies.
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About the Host:
HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: AVRA LORRIMER
DOUG: So Avra, thanks so much for being with us. What are some of your insights about what brand behavior is going to look like post-pandemic?
AVRA: Sure. Well, it’s great to be here. And it has been an intense year and a half, and a tough year and a half for all of us. And it’s also been a tough year and a half for brands, not all brands. There are some brands, for example, it blows my mind that people talk about Pfizer, Moderna, the way they talk about how you have an Apple or Samsung. I mean, that is extraordinary. But for many brands, I like to think about it this way, which is a woman is in desert. She’s emerging, she’s dehydrated, she’s hot. She comes out, she says, “can I have water?” She doesn’t say, “can I have Evian?” Point being, it’s been a year of urgency and emergency. And when that happens, brands become less important. So, in many ways, it’s been a tough year for brands. But as we are ready to emerge from the pandemic, I think there’s huge opportunity for brands. For brands to be helpful, for brands to be thoughtful and help people in terms of what they might have been missing out on over the past year and a half to create experiences. We’ve all been sitting at home. I think we’re ready to do stuff. And I also think that could be an opportunity where brands can make us smile.
DOUG: And you talked a bit about things getting lighter. One of the things that I wanted to maybe dig a little deeper and what you just said about for a moment, brands less important with the desert example, obviously, any type of water will do in that circumstance. But for many brands, it’s really been a chance for them to show their best. And for others, not so much. We’ll get into sort of a lighter touch in a moment but what are some of the differences and are there lessons learned that will continue in the future because of that?
AVRA: Something that I found interesting throughout the pandemic was the opportunity that many brands embraced to be helpful. And I saw two tiers of helpful. I like to call one of them helpful with a capital ‘H’, and that is so many businesses and brands, if you’ll remember, actually diverted their production lines and started creating PPE. People did anything that they could do in order to support people who needed it. That is helpful with a capital H. There also is helpful with a little ‘h’, which is ways in which they could support people who might have been impacted in a negative way, industries that were suffering, brand actions that brands took, I think made a really big difference. And I would argue that that created a level of relevance, so that once we all get out of the desert, we were ready to ask for our favorite water brands. And that had to do in many ways with what they had done over the past year and a half and how helpful, big and little ‘H’ actually were.
DOUG: Yeah, and the PR function became more important. I mean, we saw a significant uptick as brands really had to communicate both externally and internally. Let’s get back. Obviously, someone like yourself has the skill to sort of help the client navigate through something that might or might be funny, but not everyone can do that. What are some of your advice if they’re looking to have a lighter message as we emerge from the pandemic and as we emerge differently in different parts of the world, AND different parts of the United States as well?
AVRA: Absolutely. Well, it has been a really serious, heavy year and a half. And I think people are ready for some lightness. People are ready to smile, people are ready to laugh, and brands can take advantage of that. My favorite piece of creative right now is that extra piece where everybody is starting to slowly emerge from their houses and all of a sudden, they’re all over each other and they’re banging on the office. And I just think that sentiment of that desire to reconnect is funny, but really, really true. So, I’m looking forward to seeing brands that make us laugh. But you are so, so right. Humor can go so, so wrong. So, I think this is an important moment where you have to think about the difference between a human truth and cultural nuance, and make sure that the humor is based on something which is universally true and experience we all share, but it is being delivered in a way which is relevant and resonant to the culture in which you operate. And I think if we’re going to go back to the gum brand…I should really be doing PR for this brand, shouldn’t I? Fantastic piece of creative, but it plays beautifully in the Western world.
I would argue there are countries where because of the physical proximity, it probably wouldn’t be well received, and it would be executed differently. So, the human truth of the desire to reconnect that is there. But the cultural considerations would have led to a different execution.
DOUG: You actually just were doing PR for the gum brand, so there you go, you got your wish. You just made it happen right there on this show. So great job with that. Another point you make is that brand transparency is at an all-time high. Are there any caution points? I know there are different views here in the US; vaccinated and unvaccinated, you know how that plays out. What is some guidance for brands along those lines?
AVRA: Well, brands should basically assume that they’re see through. There’s no secret, everybody knows basically what underwear you’re wearing. There is nothing that you can hide at this moment. People know about your supply chain. They know and care about how you treat your employees. And they think about the products that you produce and how they live in the world even after they sell them to you. So, there’s absolutely nowhere to hide. And I think for that reason, as we emerge into a world which is very divided in many ways, brands are going to have to make sure that every decision they make is really true to what they stand for. And they’re going to have to be ready to stand by it. And that, I would argue, is the best defense in terms of how you make the decisions you’re going to make in a world where there are many differing opinions.
DOUG: And the pandemics affected people so differently. Do you think brands will continue to make an effort to support those who struggled to a much higher degree than other groups post-pandemic?
AVRA: You know what? I really hope so. And I am personally really worried about children and students who got left behind. Maybe they didn’t have the same opportunities or the right tools or technology or support to make the most of the past year and a half when many people have been learning virtually. So my sincere hope is that this back to school season, which is always a communications moment, a marketing moment, we’ll see brands who are giving people skills and advice and help being really, truly helpful brands to enable those people to catch up on what they missed out on.
DOUG: And one of the things that you’re able to do, someone of your experience and skill set, is get clients to listen and do the best things. Obviously, that something grows, but people who maybe are starting out, not with your level of experience or level of command in terms of messaging to their clients. What advice do you have for them to help make sure their clients do the right thing and they can be effective and persuasive?
AVRA: Well, I had a turning point, NPR, and I think in the first maybe the first decade worked a long time that I really thought PR was about talking. And that persuasion happens through talking and communicating out. But I had this moment where I realized actually truly, truly effective and powerful communication is based on listening. So it’s actively listening with your ears. It’s watching for cues and body language. It’s considering cultural and political contexts. So, every time I interact with a client, and I bring forth a perspective, I am doing that after a considerable amount of listening. So I would say, if you want somebody to listen to you, you have some listening to do first.
DOUG: That’s great advice. And I also think when you have an idea to communicate, even when you’re just starting out, be willing and confident to, but also be prepared to talk about the why you think that makes sense to how it would be implemented and what you think is going to happen and what may or may not happen, because if you put something out there, you have to be ready to defend it. I think people will be appreciative if you can speak from the point of intelligence about why it would work, what pitfalls might be and how it could be implemented, even if they decide to not move forward or capture their attention that way.
AVRA: I 100% agree. And I once had a client who said, if you really like an idea and you’re going to bring me an idea, be ready to fight for it. And that’s what you’re talking about. And I really like that, which is if you want to be listened to, make sure you’re able to thoughtfully use data, using perspective, using your experience, defend and fight for that position.
DOUG: Great. Well, I’ll defend the quality of this conversation, how helpful it’s going to be to the people who watch. It’s been great to talk to you. Thanks so much for participating.
AVRA: Absolutely. My pleasure. So great to see you.