The pandemic has reshaped our lives, especially in our approach to work. We’ve all gone virtual, readapted our behaviours and revisited our needs. But how do we turn challenges into opportunities for clients? Creativity is the answer. Geraldine Bechaux explains some of the ways we’ve been doing this over the past year.

How we’ve been helping clients stay engaged in the new age

In the past year more than ever being creative has not been a choice but a business imperative. While the digital revolution started a decades ago, Covid 19 has accelerated businesses’ digital transformation. But while we’ve all become accustomed to working remotely, we humans aren’t meant to operate in isolation. Quite the contrary, being together, feeding off each other’s energy, ideas and input is fuel for life. And this is something our clients realised too. Our challenge and motivation over the course of the past year then has been to develop innovative solutions that help our clients stay connected to their stakeholders in meaningful ways as we all adjust to the new realities social isolation.

Bringing the virtual to life

Necessity is the mother of invention, as the saying goes. At H+K Strategies we have been developing a range of innovative solutions to empower organisations to continue to communicate and engage with their priority stakeholders in these changed times.

A major innovation we have developed to do this is our sophisticated virtual tour solution. In a period of ever greater supply chain scrutiny and a growing demand for transparency and traceability, our virtual tours provide organisations with a unique opportunity to communicate key messages and policy priorities by using creative, interactive spaces. Through these tours, clients’ stakeholders can visit manufacturing sites, R&D centres and other areas of production and development from the comfort – and safety – of their homes.

This technology allows us to re-design any location into a virtual reality experience for clients’ stakeholders, whether policymakers, supply-chain partners, or journalists. Interactive elements vary, from being able to pick up a product to opening doors to explore different creation and work areas, or joining others in plenary to listento the host’s presentation. A range of options allow clients to tell their stories in different ways, such as via a spokesperson avatar or through a pre-recorded video.  Tours are streamed via a video conference system, and participants can also receive bespoke headsets ahead of the event to experience a semi-virtual tour through their own phone. We have rolled these out to global audiences for clients over the past nine months, providing stakeholders a full sensory experience. A demo tour is available here.

We have also helped clients stay engaged by developing and delivering a variety of virtual discussion and debate fora. What we have learnt from the past year is the importance of building each engagement around each client’s specific needs and objectives, in order to deliver for them the right format that will successfully engage the right stakeholders. From smaller roundtables for a select number of top-tier journalists, to online panel discussions that gather hundreds of attendees, keeping our clients’ communications objectives and priorities front and central has been key to successfully rolling out these events.

Lastly, we have also been active in helping clients develop and manage their participation and engagement at the many industry trade fairs that went fully virtual last year. For this we develop and deploy a range of bespoke materials such as videos, animations, deep-dive documents and microsites to showcase clients’ work and best practices, but also provide hands-on support by for example moderating debates, staffing virtual booths, or fielding and answering stakeholder requests. By providing our clients with complete hands-on support, we allow them to free up their precious time to focus their engagement where it matters most – with their own stakeholders.

A mixed model for the future

Some important learnings have emerged from all of the work we’ve been doing in driving virtual engagement for our clients in the past year. The first is probably that no-one really realised the great potential and value of virtual events to easily and conveniently bring a group of disparate stakeholders together. It’s seems evident in retrospect, but had lockdowns not forced all of us to think differently we probably still wouldn’t be realising the full potential of virtual events. Previously busy agendas and travel time could sometimes represent something of a barrier to event participation. But the ease and convenience of connecting from one’s computer means that stakeholders can more readily and willingly fit such events into their agendas, which helps drive participation.

But there is also a hunger for meaningful in-person contact that virtual gatherings will never be able to fully replicate. Technology has indeed come a long way, with virtual break-out rooms allowing for intimate discussions among smaller groups or on a one-to-one level. But nothing can quite ever replicate the meaningfulness of in-person meetings, where body language is all important, the conversation flow much more natural and the engagement so much more dynamic – in a word, human. Taking the time to meet with stakeholders in person is also a significant marker of the importance of those relationships.

It is clear that we have come on in leaps and bounds in terms of our approach to using virtual fora as a key part of stakeholder engagement, and there will be no rolling the clock back on that even when lockdowns are one day fully lifted. As we look hopefully to a post-pandemic future now with the progressive rollout of vaccines, companies and organisations need to critically think about how they strategically manage the mix of virtual and in-person engagements. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but bespoke hybrid working models involving much greater flexibility are likely to be the norm.