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The Drum Awards for PR recognizes excellence in the PR and communications industry, celebrating the professionals that guide the communications of companies, governments and organizations. Ahead of judging the 2021 awards, the chair of this year‘s jury, Tamara Pickett, group communications & external relations director at Virgin, spoke to The Drum about lessons from the pandemic, the biggest changes in the media landscape, and sending Richard Branson to space.

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The last year has seen seismic changes in the media landscape, forcing PR teams to find new ways to get their message out. Pickett says: “The editorial landscape has changed so significantly. And, like many other professionals, journalists were on furlough. So unless your story was about the pandemic, or travel routes reopening, or job creation, it became challenging to land even a really strong story in the media.“

She encourages communicators to find unconventional methods, and to really leverage their relationships with the media. “We‘ve all had to learn a new way of working with the media, and understanding journalists‘ appetites when stories that would previously have flown just aren‘t getting the same traction.“ Teams should look beyond the traditional press release. “Adapting your strategy, changing your tactics – that‘s the bread and butter of PR. How do we make sure we‘re doing what journalists want to hear from us?“

She adds that changing audience habits, as a result of the pandemic, have doubled the need for creativity. “I do think it‘s unlike any other time that we‘ve seen. At the height of the pandemic, people were working from home, not getting through the news in the way they did before. We weren‘t getting phone calls from reporters, so we had to work on building relationships with key journalists, and on influencer strategies to make sure our social came to life.“

What does Pickett believe to be the next big trend in PR? “In terms of extra attention, it is that purpose point. What do you want to be known for? You want your customers to know what you stand for.“

This is a focus area for the Virgin brand, which has a myriad of companies across the world. “We‘re working hard to make sure that our customers understand what we stand for now and in the future. It‘s become pretty much the basic amount that brands should do. But the pandemic has changed our mindset, we‘ve got an opportunity to adapt the way we work, change our stressors, and bring our purpose even more to the forefront.“

Watch the full interview on our YouTube channel.