As I’m sure we can all agree, 2020 has been quite the year and it feels safe to say we’ve seen it all. A global pandemic, political battles, social injustice and unrest, devastating wildfires and so much more. The one constant in this chaotic year? Uncertainty. Uncertainty found a way to pop up at every turn and is something we’ll likely see more of in 2021 across the board, including in business strategy planning.
For those like myself working in fields such as public relations at a brand strategy agency, robust planning is the norm and also essential to our clients’ success. However, when the pandemic hit in March, the PR “rulebook” went out the window and we needed to adapt fast. We continued to pivot our PR, marketing and digital campaigns on a day’s and sometimes hour’s notice throughout the year.
With all this uncertainty and change, it would be easy to look back at the events that upended our calendars and think how are we going to plan for 2021? But as October comes to a close, we’re already deep in the process of brainstorming and building out robust strategies that suit each of our clients’ needs. In the midst of the unknown that surrounds the year ahead, there are some things we can be certain of.
Holiday’s Don’t Change, Use Them to Your Advantage
Even when it feels like everything else is in a constant state of flux, we can count on the major holidays happening. Does your client, product, service, etc. typically perform well during the holiday season? If so, continue to count on that as a driver and brainstorm creative avenues for your brand to fit into those conversations. Remember, it’s 2020 so there’s a ton of innovative holidays to choose from! Those working in food and beverage PR know that quirky food holidays abound (looking at you, National Taco Day!) and have proven successful for clients. Along with the majors like Fourth of July, Black Friday and Christmas, go ahead and incorporate food, retail, social media and other smaller holidays into your plans and capitalize on them.
Creativity is a Must
As mentioned, most of the strategic planning “rules” were flung out the window in 2020, making 2021 a critical year to let the creativity flow. During the pandemic alone we’ve seen brands go above and beyond to meet consumers’ needs. Take Taco Bell, for instance, debuting its own wine (who thought we’d ever see that day?!). Imagine there are no brand guidelines/walls, no budget parameters and forget about the “how” for just a second. Use 2021 planning as your time to shine and be creative, think outside the box and include ideas that will truly make a difference for your brand or client. It’s less about the why, how, or how much and more about prioritizing ideas that will ultimately result in brand and client success. Those logistical questions and answers will come.
Riding on the heels of creativity, virtual events boomed in 2020 and will continue to do so in the new year. The time to go big and stay home is likely still upon us. Because of this, virtual events are a safe bet in terms of planning and are a perfect way to keep your target audience engaged and connected when unable to meet in person. Cooking classes with notable chefs, museum tours, trivia nights and the like are all smart virtual additions to next year’s marketing plans.
In the age of uncertainty, contingency planning is the most important section of a marketing strategy or PR plan. Having a backup plan, and a backup plan for your backup plan, can certainly seem tedious but during these unprecedented times, you can never be too careful. As an agency that has worked in franchise public relations for over a decade now, we know what it is like to draft multiple versions of annual plans to accommodate a variety of unique scenarios. This year’s global pandemic majorly affected restaurants and franchise businesses across the country, causing executive and marketing teams to race back to the drawing board to come up with new plans and alternatives for brand success. Staying nimble and creating contingency plans for various possibilities ensures you’re prepared — at least more than you would be without one — should something happen that causes your previous plan to tailspin. The more built out and robust your contingency plan is, the better. If it turns out you didn’t use the contingency plan in 2021, save it. You never know when it could come into play and all you would need to do is make tiny tweaks to keep it relevant to the current times. Plan, plan, plan!
While we certainly can’t predict everything that’s going to happen in 2021, planning for the future is always a must and this time, we have the opportunity to satisfy all our “what ifs.” Allow yourself to change your mind and change it again in the planning process because these days, there’s no such thing as overdoing it. When you’re finished, you’ll have a robust plan (perhaps multiple versions) that is creative, secure and best of all, a guide in times of uncertainty.