As we reach the end of an extraordinary year, we sat down with Audience Account Director Daisy Sharp from our Basel office to talk about what we’ve learned in 2020, the challenges 2021 might bring and how our audience-first approach is guiding key decisions – whatever the objectives.
You’d struggle to meet a more positive, upbeat, glass-half-full person than Daisy. As our resident ray of sunshine, who better to reflect on the most difficult year many of us can remember and look forward to what the future holds in the wonderful world of communications? From a safe social distance Daisy talked us through the key learnings she and the team will be taking forward in service of their clients.
First, let’s look back. What was your personal and professional experience of 2020?
“When the first set of lockdowns started in Europe – where two of our offices are – we were definitely taken aback. There was a lot of uncertainty, fear, changing work and personal situations. Even if you weren’t directly affected by the COVID virus, the impact of its presence affected us all in more ways than we realised at the time.
We’ve worked with a range of technology platforms for many years, but the scale of demand for their sudden implementation was unlike anything we’d experienced before. It required a full team effort to deliver the experiences we had promised clients in a way that was still meaningful and relevant, and would still enable them to deliver on their objectives. That meant long hours, going above and beyond, as we supported those who decided to pivot to virtual. We all learnt a lot from those experiences that we’ve been able to carry forward and apply to the virtual meetings that have followed.
From a personal perspective, there was a real sense of urgency among the team as well as excitement, which was tiring but also energising! I’m also always amazed at our adaptability as human beings. We’re like water. We find the shortest path to where we want to be but when that path is blocked, we simply find another way to get there. That being said, I am definitely still learning!
We put almost as much effort into keeping our team spirit alive and team morale high as we did on making sure our clients had the support they needed for their projects. I don’t think we could have achieved one without the other. We were able to be very human and honest with each other, taking each other through the excitement and highs of something new, and supporting each other through the lows and continued uncertainty.”
So what’s changed and has anything stayed the same?
“Our clients’ flexibility, openness to trying something different and consider new creative ideas to achieve their objectives was amazing. In many ways, it was their challenges to us to think bigger that helped us to make such huge strides so quickly.
The notable thing that stayed the same was how people tend to plan meetings and begin their thinking – the traditional ‘format first’ approach. Some of our clients felt it wouldn’t be possible to deliver their meetings with the same level of impact or success when they couldn’t meet face-to-face. That immediate deficit thinking was one of the biggest barriers to embracing virtual but it’s also where our audience-first approach really made – and continues to make – a difference. Considering the audience, the content and the presenter before approaching the format means that format follows function and you’re using the right tools to do the job. It’s so much easier than trying to retrofit an objective into a box marked ‘world café’ or ‘fishbowl’ or ‘plenary’. With an in-depth understanding of who, what and why first we can support our clients in deciding the very best ‘how’ for the job.
For me, the opportunity to help create sustainable behavioural change is really exciting. A meeting is only one touchpoint in time, and switching to virtual forced us to rethink how best to harness the power of multiple touchpoints and increase the availability of on-demand content to support audiences in multiple time zones.”
2021 is the year for festivalisation and even more personalised experiences
And with that in mind, what do you think 2021 will look like?
“While that format discussion will always be there, we’re seeing it shift up a level as lockdown levels change and the promise of a safe and effective vaccine is on the horizon.
Now the assumptions are around whether a virtual, live in person, on-demand, self-guided, multi-hub or face-to-face format is the best way to deliver content and meet their objectives. For us, more importantly than ever, we’re continuing to put the ‘why’ and audience needs first.
If I think back to projects I worked on ‘pre-pandemic’, I could imagine running them now in a completely different way, using a different set of formats, but just as effectively as a one-off meeting. So a two-day offsite with all audience members travelling to one location could now be achieved with on-demand pre-work such as a podcast series, three 90-minute workshops spread across two weeks and a one-off virtual social event to conclude the process and support the sense of community. At Audience, that’s what we call a hybrid meeting. It’s an event in the sense of an experience. It’s about creating multiple touchpoints with multiple forms of engagement in a range of settings and locations with a range of delivery formats and opportunities to collaborate. I think that helps us find ways that respect, reflect and tap into attendee preferences and learning styles and allows them to access all their amazing resources.
This combination of individual and shared experiences, communicated over time, allows for content to be distilled, questioned, challenged, understood, exchanged, ultimately leading to sustained behavioural change.
I’m very excited about what this could mean for our clients and I think it represents a bigger shift towards festivalisation with the opportunity to design even more personalised experiences, and for participants to cherry-pick what works best for them. I think we’ll see this approach develop and become the norm for how we interact until the next major global event forces us to change course again!”
Beyond the format, what do you think will be important in the year ahead?
“Team collaboration and team spirit. As we’re all challenged to do more with less or the same, working together effectively is vital. That requires empathy, understanding, great personal relationships and – above all – trust. I think next year will be about building human connections in a digital world even when we can safely be together again. Interestingly, time for fun and downtime were some of the first things clients challenged in virtual meeting agendas, as we all aimed to spend less time in front of our screens. We’ve really encouraged clients to recreate those spontaneous social touchpoints that disappeared when we couldn’t enjoy coffee breaks, drinks receptions, lunches and dinners together.
We’ve worked on quite a few projects recently where fun is firmly back on the agenda. From our own experience in the Audience team, we’re firm believers in the power of fun! It’s the importance of those human connections and soft ties, that make a positive difference to how we work together.”
Any final thoughts you’d like to leave us with for 2021?
“Stay positive! I know it’s not always easy and it definitely feels like we’re on a rollercoaster of a year, but I am genuinely amazed at how the majority of humans have responded to and supported each other during this pandemic. I’m proud of what I’ve learned as an individual, as a team, organisation, and about the human race! Bring on 2021!”