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It’s the time of the people - Get onboard or be left behind

Like many others fortunate enough to be starting a new job amid a pandemic, it has also opened new challenges to overcome. Think Microsoft Team meetings galore.  

From the moment I accepted the job offer at Milk & Honey PR, I was made to feel incredibly welcome and a part of the ‘Hive’. I received a personal message of congratulations from our Managing Director, Kirsty Leighton, and multiple welcome messages from team members on LinkedIn. Having joined in mid-December, I was invited to attend a Secret Santa call. To my surprise, a gift arrived at my door. Despite joining after the names were called the team went out of their way for me to be included.

These examples might not seem important to some, but they helped me feel like a part of a community. Demonstrating how a little personal touch can go a long way; especially when human physical connection is scarce now. This got me thinking about how the spirit of community has grown in other areas of life during this tumultuous year.

You might remember a few months ago a viral tweet posted by a father of two, Edmund O’Leary, amidst lockdown. It was a cry for help asking people to reach out and say hello. Within 24 hours the tweet gained over 200,000 likes. Currently it has over 100,000 replies from people all over the world offering love and support. Demonstrating a fostering culture of community and solidarity.

On a corporate level, this community culture is also being demonstrated in various ways by brands. Early in the pandemic, I was impressed to see beauty brand Glossier directly ask their customers what content they wanted to see, thus building a brand-consumer relationship. Meanwhile, Uber has been offering free rides and meals to health workers, and most recently Burger King UK launched its #WhopperandFriends campaign, offering space on their Instagram page for small independent restaurants to advertise whilst forced to close under current restrictions.

It’s campaigns like the this that really put into perspective how atypical this year has been. In 2019 it would have been unheard of to see a brand let competitors advertise through its channels, unless through a partnership. But it shows they are in touch with the livelihoods of their customers, rather than focusing solely on self-interest.

It’s becoming ever more apparent that it is not enough for businesses to merely be a corporate entity – there needs to be a human element to them too. Coupled with a sense of purpose. 2020 will go down in history not only because of the pandemic, but also as the year social and racial injustice were pushed front and centre. Peoples’ priorities are changing. For instance, Gen Z, the soon to be largest generation of consumers and workers, are known to place greater value on brand purpose and social justice than older generations. People are seeking better ethics, empathy and need to feel close to others. With that, a sense of community is growing and will continue to do so. Take the individual investors who proved how powerful collective action can be as they caused GameStop prices to surge in a bid to address the systemic injustices of Wall Street. As this shift takes place it is crucial for brands and companies to cater to these changing attitudes and foster a culture of community. Not only externally between brand and consumer, but internally within an organisation as well.

Brands that will thrive in the future are those successful in building these relationships, such as Shreddy and Tala – the sustainable fitness brands by influencer and entrepreneur Grace Beverley. Known for building a large online community of (mainly) women supporting each other in achieving their fitness goals. Another worthy mention is the retailer M&S who decided to close over Boxing Day to give their staff extra time to with family. It is businesses like these who place people and purpose at the heart of what they do, that will gain a positive reputation, increase staff retention and brand loyalty.

The trends are clear. Community action is growing. It is time to put people first. The PR industry has its own part to play to push brands in the right direction. Help them to find and activate their purpose. Put ambitions into action. And deliver brave, socially and ethically responsible campaigns. If not, as society moves forward, brands will find themselves being left behind.