Are we really getting smarter with our communication strategies?

It is fair to say the events of the past almost-two years have been the catalyst for a serious rethinking of how we communicate and engage. For professional communicators, the changes go way beyond simply embracing virtual means of getting our messages out, although there’s no doubt that is important.

But if we’re serious about being fit-for-purpose communicators of the world, we have to look beyond just sharpening up our Zoom skills. Kantar has released a report on five crucial steps to a smarter communications strategy after getting feedback from 700 in-house communications professionals and 6,000 members of the general public across Western Europe – and there are some important points that deserve highlighting.

The reality-perception gap
The report starts by asking if it’s time to rely on more than instinct. The short answer is, of course, yes. The next question is definitely more challenging: “Industry practitioners are overestimating the speed of change. Is the hype around some channels overstating the current reality?”. Here, we need to pause and to examine perception versus reality.

The internet has revolutionised media production and consumption, but the Kantar report exposed a massive reality gap. According to the report, communication practitioners perceive that people get their news from social networks first, then from social influencers, newspaper websites, TV news and podcasts. But when Kantar asked the general public, TV news is still the top source for how people consume their news, followed by newspaper websites and newspapers, social networks, search engines and radio news. Such responses indicate that TV news and newspapers, whether read online or in hard copy, are still important in the media landscape.

Kantar also found that among people aged 16 to 24, the top five sources of news were social networks, then TV news, newspaper websites and newspapers, search engines and social influencers. While this certainly shows a shift toward social media as a news source for the younger demographic, reports of the demise of TV and newspapers are certainly premature.

It’s about trust
The next point Kantar raises follows on nicely – that it is vital that communications professionals “navigate the complex interaction between news brands and aggregators”. This focuses on the issue of trust. Despite a lot of noise from what is probably a vocal minority who don’t trust “the mainstream media”, Kantar finds there is still more trust in traditional news sources than in social media and news aggregators - ITV, BBC, Channel 4 and Sky News are still the most trusted news sources in the UK so it is worth fostering good relationships with such outlets.

Balancing act
“Don’t compromise! Quality and speed are crucial” is another important point in the Kantar report, linking to the role the internet plays in news and messaging. Striking a balance between quality and speed is a challenge that touches the working lives of every professional communicator from journalists to public relations practitioners. There is no doubt that the internet has sped up news cycles, alongside the rise and rise of 24-hour news channels – they feed off each other.

But speed can be the enemy of quality, especially in terms of accuracy and clarity. High-quality data, as Kantar reports, is important for disseminating credible, trustworthy, valuable information. It doesn’t matter if you are communicating online or preparing a client for a TV or radio appearance – it is always worth taking the time to make sure the data is accurate and can be clearly communicated. Getting this right first time is far more preferable to cleaning up the mess after an inaccurate or unclear message has found its way into the general public’s line of sight.

Smart communications professionals know the media is about striking a balance and engaging across the entire media landscape and in doing so, finding a balance between speed and quality. The rewards will be rich for the communications professionals who take a clear-eyed view of how the general public consumes and trusts the media and, in doing so, provide accurate, credible messages. That way, everyone wins.