Thought Leadership

What does a reset mean for the communications industry?

Emma Fenny explores how brands can navigate changing consumer expectations against a backdrop of uncertainty

Emma Fenny

Associate Director Porter Novelli


Whilst we are still in the throws of our long, hot summer, as we steamroller, quite literally through August, the industry cannot help put forward plan to September, when the ‘back to school’ vibe is strong and we all think about what we would like to achieve in this theoretical new school year.

There is also a sense of impending doom with the cost of living set to increase further in the coming months. With this context, what does reset in September mean for the communications industry and how can we help brands with campaigns during these increasingly challenging times and ever changing consumer expectations?

This is a question that we have been looking into at Porter Novelli as we are keen to understand the impact that this crisis will have on communications, and it looks set to be not the one that we would expect. The last major crisis that we have lived through needs no introduction, and what that brought was a real shift towards more purposeful and, therefore, earnest communications, where frivolity and fun were frowned upon. Our recent research showed, with the pandemic relegated off the news pages, people are looking for something different from brands.  69% say that their expectations of brands were completely different to those pre-pandemic, and two thirds saying their expectations had changed in the last six months. Significantly consumers are asking brands to bring back the fun, with 41% stating this as the most important factor when choosing to engage with brands.

The feeling of rejuvenation is needed in the industry, with the landscape becoming ever more competitive, fortune will, inevitably favour the bold, and bold and creative are natural bedfellows

Emma Fenny, Senior Account Director, Porter Novelli

Changing expectations is becoming more frequent and with that, brands’ ability to be agile and respond is more crucial than ever, and as an agency we need to adapt our creative approaches accordingly.  The move from earnest to fun is a significant shift and presents its own unique challenge and we have to look at how we can capture these new found expectations and create campaigns that bring joy to consumers and encourage engagement.

Pre-pandemic the return of the roaring 20s was hotly anticipated, with many excited at a Millennial version of the infamous 1920s. Whist the pandemic put paid to that for a time, we are now getting in full swing, with enjoyment and carefree abandon back at the top of the consumer agenda. Whilst for many this may seem at odds with the impending doom of rising energy prices, this has not reduced the consumer appetite for this. Insight work we did recently for one of our major retail clients revealed that 61% say there are looking for moments of joy, and 71% say this helps them to escape the day-to-day difficulties. These results were key to us sticking to our original campaign plan as it consolidated that focusing on fun would not be considered tone deaf.

Creativity is the core of any successful communications campaign, and as an agency we are taking the opportunity to use back to school as our creative reset and how we can channel this new consumer expectation into platforms and tactics that will engage audiences and drive action.

Our first port of call is brainstorms. How do we use them effectively and how can we reinject fun techniques to tease out these ideas. As the saying goes, fail to prepare, prepare to fail and we are taking that approach at Porter Novelli, with these brainstorming tactics being put into practice for several existing client and new biz pitches. Not only has this reset approach yielded some ideas that have had us all beaming from ear to ear, but it has been fun in the process.  Our new brainstorms have had rave reviews in the office, with people asking to join them and foregoing some of the day-to-day grind for an hour of escapism, where we think big, without concerns around budget and practicality. Developing fun campaigns encourages a culture of fun.

This reinjection of creativity and how we view it has created a feeling of a desire for change, how can we challenge to create better, more creative, and ultimately more effective campaigns and the need to challenge clients and colleagues alike to achieve this. If the new academic year heralds a year of new learning why should agencies be any different? I for one am looking forward to seeing my office as a never-ending classroom to help instigate change for clients and the business, whilst also being sensitive to consumer needs.

The feeling of rejuvenation is needed in the industry, with the landscape becoming ever more competitive, fortune will, inevitably favour the bold, and bold and creative are natural bedfellows.  As an industry the fun, irreverent and iconic campaigns of the 90s are great sources of inspiration and a way to bring more campaigns that will have cult status for consumers of the future.  As a former history student I see the value in learning from the past to create a better future, to be clear I know this is idealistic and may not always play out, but creative industries are well placed for this.  

Let’s look to a September as a month where we can channel creativity to give consumers the light relief that they want and need, and maybe make campaign history in the meantime.

Guest Author

Emma Fenny

Associate Director Porter Novelli


Emma has extensive experience working on range of food and beverage brands, including Aperol, Campari and Grand Marnier. Work has covered corporate communications, press office angle development and activating experiential activities, including two award nominated Apreol events: ‘The Big Spritz Social’. More recently Emma has led the Almond Board of California on the consumer and reputation management side, leading integrated health focused campaigns around almonds as healthy food and developing the sustainability strategy that focuses on education around almonds’ responsible growth practices.

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