Happy New Year. 20 years ago, on New Year’s Eve, I was wearing a terrible outfit and seeing the Millennium break in Manchester’s newest hotspot, Castlefield. I’d drawn the long straw there – many of my colleagues at the time were sat in the HQs of some very large corporates, nervously fingering their mobiles and waiting for the Y2k bug to take down mainframes, planes and city infrastructures. We really thought it might happen, and that comms would bear the biggest responsibility it has ever faced.
Twenty years on, I’ve read this piece in PR Week (PR Pros Offer 20 Words on What They Are Expecting in 2020]. Thankfully, considering the short word count, the themes expected stand out very clearly [see image].
My industry peers are hopeful that the campaigns that light up 2020 will be driven differently. What comes across strongly is that PR feels that a campaign won’t succeed unless it is purposeful, authentic. I love the point about speaking to mindset and values. Obviously, I’m inspired by the leaning towards working with integrity.
This piece feels almost like a group admission that PR could have done better in the past when it comes to producing responsible campaigns. Yes. I’ve sat through enough hour-long conference calls discussing product launches that never touch on customer need to know that. And, as I mentioned before, I worked through Y2K, so I have a distinct memory of what we did as an industry to stoke that fire.
It also feels like a communications call to action for the group of businesses that have more reason than any other to produce PR with purpose – companies that supply the public sector. You not only ultimately directly affect the wellbeing of citizens, but, in the UK’s case, are partially remunerated by taxpayers’ money, charitably raised cash, and funded scenarios. What you deliver really, really matters, so responsible and meaningful is essential.
At the end of last year, whilst putting together a national media strategy for a client we were working with at the time, we suggested a campaign that took the opinions into account of the citizens which benefit from a technology used to help a public-facing job-role work smarter. The business lead’s response? “Oh, I’d never really thought about them”. This is the crux of the problem and at Mantis, this year, we’ll only be looking to work with clients that consistently display a focus on changing lives for public servants and the public.
This NHS focus on single-sign on is a classic. What may seem like ironing spaghetti to some outsiders looks purposeful to me – it’s driven by real user need. It tips the clinicians face back up towards the patient instead of buried in a screen wasting time with passwords. It gets straight into the mindset of the harassed nurse and looks at what they value. That’s what’ll ensure it succeeds.
We’re in a unique space. Spending on systems and tech takes guts when you’re using public funds. Change is hard and risk is harder. Tech firms in the sector have to be presenting with a purpose beyond ‘streamlining’ and ‘transforming’. Their purpose needs to be worn as a uniform, showing the buyer why they want to solve the problems and how they truly care about changing the lives of the people using the solutions. Clever tech is great, but authentic and meaningful tech is better.
So here’s to a year of purposeful public sector campaigns. Maybe, in 20 years, on New Year’s Eve, I’ll be taking my grandkids on a heritage tour of a museum of mainframes, server rooms, GP surgeries and police stations.