Q+A: #1 Key to future proof your brand in 2021

Brand communication has never been more complex. Internal and external communication pose more issues and crisis navigation than perhaps ever before. Today we’re interviewing our founder, Kate Finley, who has just been named one of PRWeek’s Women to Watch in 2021, about how brands should continue to navigate this complex climate.

Communication Marketing Tips for Leaders in 2021

Interview by Abby Papenfus, Account Executive, Belle Communication

Abby:  First, congratulations on being selected for PRWeek’s 2021 class of “Women to Watch.” What does this recognition signify?

Kate: Thank you. PRWeek is our industry’s top trade and news outlet, sharing market-leading insight, so it’s an absolute honor to be selected along with women making positive change in our industry. This annual list recognizes women who are seen as those setting the future of our industry.

We held a session on Clubhouse this week discussing the evolution of PR over the past year and how these changes will likely affect communication in 2021 and beyond. It’s a challenging time and we’ve never experienced anything like it. To be recognized as part of such an outstanding group of women at a time like this is deeply satisfying. 

A: In the Clubhouse session, you talked about the importance of leading with values. I know we’re seeing that with our own clients. 

K: The expectation is that brands prioritize people over profit in their communication. Now, more than ever, stakeholders are ready to hold companies accountable for missteps and blurred lines.

Gen Y and Z have been particularly outspoken on their expectations of the brands they choose. The pandemic has amplified this. 

Brand values can no longer live solely as words on an office wall or company website. 

Values must be the standard that all strategies, tactics and processes are measured against. They should create organizational clarity, foster genuine connection and ultimately drive a competitive edge. 

A: Yes, I read a stat recently that 83% of millennials want brands they support to align with their values. We definitely find this to be true with our clients whether it’s B2C or B2B. 

K: The social, political and economic conversations from the last year have placed businesses in a critical — and unique — position. Consumers are weeding out brands that don’t speak up on the issues that matter to them. It’s vital to lead with values in all communication. 

A: How would you recommend brands lead with values in their communication?

K: Consumers are savvier than ever and can detect when a brand is all talk. The prospect of being temporarily or even permanently canceled should be a part of the modern day crisis plan. 

At Belle our seven core Belle-iefs drive our daily decision making. It’s how we keep ourselves and each other accountable. We hire and coach our team, choose which partnerships to pursue and evaluate each interaction based on our values. Our clients even evaluate our team through the lens of these values though they may not realize it as it’s not a list we’re reciting. It’s how we live out each day. 

I recommend an audit of all external and internal communication against your mission, vision and core values. Consider:

  • Do your values align with your customers? 
  • Do hiring practices, team, board and vendors reflect the brand’s DEI aspirations?
  • What would your team say about your culture to a prospective employee?
  • How often are you soliciting feedback from customers based on values? 
  • Is your marketing representative and inclusive? 

I believe we will continue to see brands built or broken by how well values align with communication. The adage of ‘practice what you preach’ is one I keep in the forefront of my mind.

A: As communicators evaluate their brand’s marketing and communication, what final words would you advise?

K: Take a people-first approach. Be human. Let your team’s well-being and your customers’ needs inform your decisions. Expand your capacity for empathy by surrounding yourself with those who have a greater diversity of experience. Push for more ideas, creative solutions and expert counsel from your agency partners. Brands can and should be expecting more than ever from their PR and creative agencies. 

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Belle Communication

Belle Communication is a woman-owned and led, nationally awarded and top-ranked digital PR agency that helps brands think bigger for now + next. The firm serves the CPG, retail, restaurant, tourism and B2B industries, and has partnered with more than 100 brands including Dearfoams, Nestlé, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams and Nationwide Insurance.