Though 2021 has proven to be a year of obstacles, it has also wrapped as another year of learning, experiencing, and deeply understanding our craft. As this past year winds down, we looked at what evolved or emerged throughout our entire industry. From account service and paid media to content creation and digital marketing, our integrated team provides a complete breakdown of 2021.
We’ve continued helping our clients stay strategically aligned with their plans/business goals in a time where disruptions to supply chain, communications, commerce, healthcare, and basic day-to-day stability have made every day rife with unexpected challenges. How does an organization achieve their business-level goals (culture, growth, communications) when so much energy is being spent dealing with things reactively, and on basic operational levels (logistic, supply chain, employment issues)? These additional factors significantly added complexity to our clients’ normal advertising needs.
Adding digital functionality to traditional media – Using what we know about successes in digital media, and adding that measurement and accountability into traditional media—such as QR codes in TV and print creative, TV attribution and radio, outdoor placements with targeted mobile geofencing ads that encompass a radius around a structure’s location.
Utilizing first and second party data – The impending deprecation of third-party cookies has motivated marketers and ad platforms to find more advanced and effective ways to use first- and second-party data to build new target audiences.
Native and responsive ad formats – Ad platforms and exchanges are more aggressively changing their algorithms to favor dynamic ad formats, and marketers are starting to see a significant uptick in those ads’ performance over more traditional static creative.
The creator economy – Independent content creators, such as YouTube and TikTok influencers, have built a new and powerful way to reach and connect with consumers.
Google Image extensions – Image extensions are going to change the dynamic of search advertising as they bring a new element of visual interest into the SEM arena.
Reels– This Instagram feature was released in 2020 to compete with the popular video app TikTok, and started to be commonly adapted in 2021. Users noticed an increase in followers, reach and engagement when utilizing this new feature. And all Instagram users who haven’t been including video in their content have seen significant drops in engagement and reach this year.
TikTok made me buy – Trending things on TikTok that come up on people’s “For You Page”—trendy items that, due to the popularity of the platform, usually sell out quickly.
Pinterest: Inclusive search – Pinterest released a search functionality that allowed users to choose their hair type and skin type to make sure their search is pulling relevant information. This new feature is more inclusive and tailors to individual search needs.
Brands in Motion – Motion graphics are everywhere nowadays. Whether you’re online scrolling through a website, navigating an app, or walking past a digital billboard, we’re seeing more and more of this trend in client work. It’s a great way to bring flare to your content while capturing the attention of your increasingly saturated audiences.
Retro-Futurism – Really loving the evolution of this trend as it’s been growing in popularity. While many retro styles have made a big comeback in the past couple of years, this most recent trend uses visual elements or inspiration from vintage resources and is then further enhanced with more modern design ques. Creating a whole new vibe.
Increase in partnership with social media department – With the continued rise of social media, the need for collaboration between PR and Social departments has become imperative. Throughout the past year, we have found ways to integrate social media into our public relations campaigns more than ever. There has been a huge increase in the use of influencers, especially when it comes to TikTok and Instagram Reels, which has allowed us to create more integrated campaigns.
Extra push for transparency – After everything the world has gone through in the past few years, consumers are now more than ever calling for transparency and honesty when it comes to the companies they interact with. Whether it is commenting on a crisis situation, or sharing plans for the future, people are pushing businesses to disclose more information that in the past might have been kept behind closed doors. Companies are being held accountable for their actions. This is proving that companies need to stick to their values, share their emotions and struggles, and bring back the human connection that people are longing for.
Need for more flexibility – PR professionals can no longer follow strict calendars; they must now operate in a “go-with-the-flow” style. We are seeing timelines shift, last-minute changes needing to be made, and emergency press releases needing to be sent at higher rates. Through a year of increasing uncertainty, PR has become an industry that brings clarity to confusing situations. Whether it is a response to something happening in the world, one that companies must to take a stand on, or managing responses from consumers, people are looking for their PR partners for help, no matter what day or time.
Content marketing on digital platforms – This year, most digital campaigns included some form of content marketing. With brands looking to increase awareness across multiplatform campaigns, both digitally and traditionally, strategic campaigns have taken the form of having an overarching theme with various components. For example, for a nonprofit client the object may be to increase donations. From a digital content perspective, this might include tactics that are tending to reach larger audiences, like blog posts that explain industry news and mission statements, social media content derived from those blog posts, and paid ads with highlighted phrases that might connect back to the blog and social platforms. They will also frequently include traditional media that remains consistent with the creative used for the blog, social, and digital advertisements. A content marketing strategy allows brands to hit users from multiple facets, thus increasing awareness and, ultimately, donations.
Google Analytics 4 – 2021 was Google Analytics 4’s first full year of life! New reports on audience-building and conversion-tracking have been especially useful to our team. Google has tweaked the platform throughout the year, based on user feedback, and still has some fine-tuning to do. We’re excited to continue to utilize this new way to analyze and optimize campaigns further.
Structured data for stronger SEO – We’ve seen an uptick in the prioritization of SEO in marketing budgets this year. Organic search is a competitive space and structured data is just one SEO tactic that has had a lot of impact on results within the last year. Structured data is markup on a website that allows search engines to understand how to best display your website in SERPs.
Business-generated content now a necessity – Website-hosted blogs or video used to be a nice accompaniment to a business’s online information and offerings. Going into 2022, both are now a necessity to convey any organization’s story, establish field expertise, and create content for social media distribution. Customers now expect this kind of content—much like they expect a robust social media presence—from any company they’d like to patronize. Businesses need to meet this insatiable need.
Agency-aided storytelling can help fill media void – Businesses still expect local and national media organizations to amplify their accomplishments and developments. But with the weakening of traditional outlets and a population now used to getting their information through online and social media sources, businesses are managing their expectations—and have discovered an additional outlet through professional ad and PR agency writers, who are tasked with creating content that’s more expansive than what is being created by print journalists or television reporters. This is a shift, one that connects companies with talented writers and communicators who can package their messaging in an engaging way, connect with a receptive public, and establish their business as a pertinent information source for customers (and potential customers).
Evolving the way wework – Clearly “work” has changed dramatically in the last two years. And all companies have had to adapt. For us, that has meant allowing flexibility in schedules based on employee preferences and shifting needs at home, and adding technology to allow for more seamless collaboration across offices and with our fully remote associates. Still, it’s important to spend face-to-face time with our staff, and we have been lucky enough to host smaller in-person gatherings throughout our footprint this year. We also hosted our first-ever Agency Hackathon to spur new ideas and encourage agency-wide contribution around our efforts to grow and evolve.
Full-service partners – In order to grow as an agency, the focus should be on building healthy relationships; that’s between associates, with clients and vendors, and within our communities. We are finding that fewer companies are splitting work among multiple agencies; many are looking for one true partner who can live their brand across all services. That means doubling down on knowing an industry, either staffing up to fill more services or expanding your vendor partners, and making sure you’re equipped and prepared to handle a wide variety of requests. It also means making introductions between partners, supporting their charitable endeavors, and working on their behalf in the community. And most importantly, it requires comprehensive integration, so knowledge and insights across services work together to influence and inform outcomes.
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