COVID-19 pandemic: Public opinion shifts on data and tech

hand and speech bubbles to represent opinions

The public is broadly supportive of the application of data and technology during COVID-19 but governance and transparency are critical to trust.

Public attitudes towards data and technology have significantly shifted during the COVID-19 crisis thanks to tools aimed at suppressing the virus and coping with its effects.

Data-driven technology has been used effectively in response to the pandemic and to mitigate the impact of lockdown.

These are the headlines of a report called COVID-19 Repository & Public Attitudes published by The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI).

The CDEI has explored the application of data and technology during the pandemic and documented them in a repository. It also conducted a longitudinal survey of public opinion among 12,000 individuals between June and December 2020.

The report records a broad range of applications including contact tracing and an algorithm to determine qualifications in the absence of exams.

Other innovative applications include drones used to deliver medical supplies in remote regions and the creation of health equipment databases to monitor the availability of assets in the NHS.

The CDEI report suggests that the use of digital technology has increased since the start of COVID-19. It suggests that this trend is likely to continue the long-term, pointing to changing attitudes resulting from the benefit observed during the crisis.

Awareness of technology and adoption during COVID-19

Almost three-quarters (72%) of the UK population believe that digital technology has the potential to be used in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s a view that is consistent across all demographic groups and regions.

However not everyone thinks that the full potential of data and technology is being realised. Fewer than half (42%) believe that digital technology is making the situation in the UK better, and 39% said they thought the technology is not being used properly.

Governance and transparency critical to public trust

Governance and transparency are the primary concern of the public in ensuring trust in data and technology. Almost a quarter of the public (24%) do not believe that the right rules and regulations are in place to ensure that digital technology is used responsibly in the UK’s COVID-19 response. This is largely consistent across age, region, and gender.

More than two in five people (43%) believe regulation is appropriate. 39% of younger people would know where to raise these complaints if governance was failing. This falls to 14% for older people.

Media coverage of data increased during COVID-19

Social media has seen a boom during the pandemic however when it comes to news consumption, traditional news sources remain the dominant source. Media coverage of artificial intelligence (AI) and data-driven technologies is contributing to public discourse and adoption.

According to the CDEI report there has been a 54% year-on-year increase in the number of articles in UK newspapers reporting on topics such as AI, algorithms, and data. The increase is driven by the pandemic notably among tabloid media.

CDEI is an independent expert committee, led by a board of specialists, set up and tasked by the UK government to investigate and advise on how we maximise the benefits of data-driven technologies.

Are communications professionals prepared for a data breach?

Balloons flying away to depict the escaping of data

Are communications professionals prepared for a data breach?

 

During last week’s keynote speech at the DataComms conference, our CEO Emma Thwaites polled the 200 or so communications professionals in attendance, on how prepared they were to respond to a major crisis situation involving data e.g a data breach.

Only 12% of the audience felt they were very prepared, with almost a third saying they were unprepared. 

 

Why this is a problem

Recent analysis has shown fines imposed by EU authorities under GDPR have increased by 40% in the past year, which tells us:

1. Businesses are being held publicly and financially accountable with increasing frequency

2. Corporate communications teams have another reputational risk to worry about

Like any crisis communications plan, having a good understanding of the risks, mitigating these risks, and being able to respond quickly is key. But as our mini poll suggests, if almost a third of senior communications professionals feel unprepared to deal with these issues, many businesses could be at risk of reputational harm.

 

All businesses aren’t created equal

For organisations with deep pockets, monopolistic positions and loyal users (i.e ‘big tech’), the financial and reputational damage of a GDPR fine is likely to have less of an impact, for now, compared with other sectors. 

Where we see a bigger problem in the short term is in sectors with high levels of competition, where consumers can more easily switch to rival brands without compromising on quality, price, choice or time already invested. Businesses that heavily rely on data and AI, e.g supermarkets, insurance providers or banks, face the highest risk, but it could equally include many smaller businesses too.

Customers, users and investors are becoming much wiser when it comes to Corporate Digital Responsibility (CDR) – that is, how seriously an organisation takes its responsibility to use and develop data and AI in ways that are safe, trustworthy, ethical and wise. As awareness of CDR grows, so does the likelihood that people will vote with their feet and their wallets when businesses get it wrong.

Here’s a thought: Just as Skyscanner now highlights CO2 emissions of certain routes to help travellers make more eco-friendly choices, what if we also had a CDR score when it comes to renewing our car insurance, or choosing who to bank with?

 

 

What can communications professionals do?

Corporate communications teams work as the enhancer and protector of the company’s reputation. Understanding data and AI, and the potential reputational risks when things go wrong is now very much part of the role. As a starting point for any comms professional thinking about these issues, we’d suggest:

  • Have a good understanding of how your organisation holds and uses data and artificial intelligence
  • Make sure your organisation – from the top to the bottom – understands their responsibility around data and AI, and the potential reputational risks
  • Review your crisis management plan, and make sure your response to any data and AI issues is up-to-date and robust
  • Consider your communication strategy around your organisations’ commitment to taking its corporate digital responsibility seriously

 

If you want to speak with us about any of the points in this blog, please get in touch here.

How thought leadership can elevate your brand

To depict thought leadership

High quality thought leadership enables organisations to build their profile, credibility and reputation.

 

So what exactly is thought leadership?

Thought leadership is the demonstration and communication of original or expert knowledge, that can be delivered across a wide range of owned and earned channels, or at speaking opportunities. 

For organisations, it can be a highly effective business development strategy that elevates them above competitors. This can help them attract the best talent, generate leads, and secure investment. Businesses with strong thought leadership programmes can also command a higher premium for their services or products. 

Thought leaders give organisations a human voice that can deliver a message directly to target audiences. The human connection makes this type of marketing potentially more powerful than any other type of advertising or marketing output. 

How communication agencies can help organisations with thought leadership campaigns

Implementing thought leadership campaigns is one of the most effective ways that communication agencies, such as Allegory, can raise the profile of our clients. 

We work with senior leadership and subject matter experts within our client’s organisations to develop thought leadership content, and then use our extensive relationships in the press to secure media coverage. 

As an experienced communications agency, we can manage the entire process, from planning through to delivery. This often includes: drafting of topics to pre-pitch to journalists to assess their levels of interest; interviewing subject matter experts; ghost-writing or copy editing; then pitching the final story to journalists.

Since 2012, Allegory has been helping businesses grow through thousands of pieces of thought leadership coverage in the press and at speaking engagements

We have a team of seasoned experts who have helped to build the reputations of our clients, by using the expertise and knowledge that already exists within their organisations.

How we can help you secure top tier media coverage

Finding relevance to the news agenda (through media monitoring and horizon scanning) is crucial in identifying the best opportunities. But having the agility to respond in time is the key to securing top tier coverage.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, we worked closely with The Open Data Institute, to place several high profile thought leadership pieces. The pieces related to the outbreak and subsequent data issues around privacy and tracking that have arisen. Our speed in pivoting to the current news agenda helped us secure coverage in The Telegraph, Guardian, Financial Times, and the BBC.

Should everyone be doing it?

Thought leadership is as important for younger brands wishing to build their reputation, as it is for more established brands looking to explore new sectors and industries. When the Allegory team is developing a thought leadership campaign for our clients, these are some of the questions that we would try to answer:

  1. How can thought leadership support the goals of their organisation?
  2. What new or unique knowledge can they bring to the conversation?
  3. Is there anyone else already ‘thought leading’ in this space? If they are, then could a collaboration on content have more impact with their target audiences (who are likely to be similar)?
  4. Are they justified in positioning themselves as a ‘thought leader’ in this sector?
  5. Are they aiming for a national audience, or are they trying to target a specific audience, for example through trade publications?
  6. Who actually has the thought leading view? In other words, who gets the byline for the piece?

You can find out more about the organisations that we have helped through media relations and thought leadership campaigns, here

If you want to explore how a thought leadership campaign could benefit your organisation, please get in contact with our business development manager, Simon Davies

Reactive media relations: The Power of comments, statements and letters

To symbolise reactive media relations

What is reactive media relations?

Navigating today’s competitive news environment is a daily challenge for many PR pros. Journalists are increasingly busy and receive thousands of emails from PRs trying to pitch stories, often in quite clumsy ways! Cast a glance at the social media feeds of many a frustrated journalist to find a myriad of stories about how PRs get it wrong!  So PR professionals need to intelligently seize opportunities to showcase an organisation or individual’s expert view on the news of the day. That’s what reactive media relations is about. 

Equally important as the proactive approach to media relations, reactive media relations (or reactive PR as it is also known) gives organisations the opportunity to display proficiency and thought leadership in a wide range of issues. Media monitoring is key to this exercise, as it is what allows PR practitioners to identify key stories where their organisation has something of value to say – the end goal being to position the organisation as a highly respected and knowledgeable expert on a variety of issues. There are different ways to respond to a piece of news, and here are three of the most effective.

Reactive comment

Reactive comment is a core part of the reactive media toolkit. It is about responding to relevant news stories with pre-defined messaging, to raise awareness of an organisation’s work and communicate a robust position. This requires access to multiple spokespeople who can respond quickly to an identified piece of news. Comment is ideally signed off and shared with the press within one to two hours to stand the best chance of inclusion. Comments that don’t make the cut can be used for letters and subsequent outreach. No content should get lost!

Statements

Statements are used in a similar fashion to comment, but seek to extend the news story, offering a pertinent or urgent insight, correction or evolution of a news story. These should be shared with the press the same day if possible and aim to generate next-day coverage. Although they fall under the category of the reactive media toolkit, in some instances journalists would go directly to a specific organisation for an expert view. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen all the time, it is therefore important that PR pros be proactive in identifying suitable statement opportunities for their clients so that they become top of mind for journalists. Long term, the organisation will be recognised as a highly respected leader in a specific realm and journalists will inevitably contact them to get their perspective on issues. 

Letters

Letters are an often overlooked tactic to get a point across. Inclusion is far from guaranteed, but if responding to an interesting story, making a strong rebuttal or concurring argument, they stand the strongest chance of being included when from a business or from a well-known individual. As with other reactive media relations assets, they have the potential to put an organisation on the radar and help them demonstrate their expertise. 

How a media relations agency can help with reactive PR

Although there is no such thing as guaranteed coverage, leaning on a robust media relations strategy yields great results. Using a strong approach to media relations, Allegory has succeeded in helping our clients’ work and message get the attention they deserve in the media and across complex networks of stakeholders.

How to secure press coverage through proactive media relations strategies

PR has changed over the years – nowadays, the strongest and most proactive PR sets the news agenda, rather than merely responding to it. Long gone are the Ivy Lee days when sending a press release would suffice to spread an organisation’s message. 

Although the press release remains a useful asset for getting the story straight and briefing media and stakeholders, today’s fierce competition for news coverage requires PR professionals to have many more tricks up their sleeves. For greater impact, it is essential that press releases are accompanied by active pitches to journalists exclusive interview offers, strong images (photo/infographic/illustration), videos or other pieces of engaging content that can make stories more attractive and relevant to editors. Interviews, thought leadership, opinion and features can also be successful. 

Interviews

Offering interviews to journalists is the way to  provide questions to the answers organisations are eager to communicate to the public. They can serve multiple purposes and be delivered in different formats. First, they can be used to brief an identified journalist on an organisation’s context, its issues and upcoming projects (especially when that journalist has written about issues that of similar concern or relevance to the organisation in question). They can also lead to coverage of an organisation or individual’s expert commentary on external matters. In some cases, journalists will approach PR teams to have an interview with one of the organisation’s spokespeople as part of a larger story that would not necessarily be focused on the organisation but still help to spread their views to a wide audience. As with features, they work best in conjunction with new research/insight or a very strong point of view.

Features

Features give organisations the opportunity to contribute to the discussion of a key industry issue or trend, usually decided by the journalist commissioned to write it. Inclusion is often alongside other complementary or polarised points of view, to articulate and explore different sides of an argument or issue. Features can be suggested to journalists if it’s to explore a new piece of research in more depth than a news article. Likewise, thought leadership can also be offered to journalists looking for an expert to weigh in on an important industry issue.

Opinion

Opinion sits on the fence of Proactive and Reactive PR, as it can combine recent events in the news agenda, or PR professionals’ own news outreach, to summate a strong response to industry issues or outline what should happen next. A number of defined spokespeople can be used, depending on their area of expertise. 

All the tactics mentioned above can help organisations stand out in a competitive market and position themselves as leaders and experts whose contribution is invaluable for the advancement of a specific field. 

Thought leadership

As opposed to opinion, thought leadership is usually evidence-led, insight-driven, and based on a strong progressive argument in a given industry context. This high value tool not only allows organisations to assert themselves by displaying depth and breadth on key issues, but it also helps them stand out in today’s competitive environment. In a typical PR campaign, news is used to generate the credibility that journalists need to commission or accept pitches for thought leadership opportunities. This should typically be centred around the core spokesperson of an organisation. Although thought leadership is substantially different from opinion, they are often wrongfully believed to be interchangeable. 

 

These tactics have proven successful to secure top rate coverage for many of our clients, including the Open Data Institute, the Medicines Discovery Catapult and the Web Foundation. Not only do they allow Allegory to contribute value to a wide range of industries, it also leads to deepened relationships with journalists.