2020 in Retrospect: Lessons Learned from a Year Like No Other

by | 18 Dec 2020 | Insights

As we prepare to say goodbye to one of the strangest years in living memory, let's take a look at 2020 and see our PR predictions for 2021.

2020 has been a year like no other.

But this Christmas it feels like there are reasons to be optimistic at last. We salute the teams of scientists who have worked so hard to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine, and hope that things get back to normal quickly. The sooner the better!

The past year has been hard work, no doubt about it. One of the most popular words of the year – along with classics like lockdown and social distancing – was ‘pivot’, as organisations reeled at the sheer enormity of Covid’s impact and asked themselves: what do we do now?

For PR professionals, the virus plunged our world into crisis mode. Brands had to get urgent messages to staff, customers and other stakeholders about health and safety, business continuity, working arrangements and other important matters, and agencies worked quickly to inform and reassure during those panic-stricken early days.

New opportunities

Then it was about adapting to the new reality of working from home, planning for the future and communicating in the new era of responsibility. Some clients struggled, while others thrived. New business opportunities opened up as brands shape-shifted and re-positioned themselves in the new marketplace.

Throughout it all, we were reminded that this was a very human crisis. People were suffering, dying, worrying, and the business world had to demonstrate not only commercial relevance but understanding; empathy; trust.

One of our highlights of the year was partnering with the Good Grub initiative, a not-for-profit set up by Denis O’Reilly, a good friend of the Cullen family, with the goal of delivering fresh fruit and vegetables to the families of disadvantaged schoolkids who normally get breakfast and lunch at school.

Playing a part

Good Grub launched in April with an ambitious fundraising target of €100,000 and our job was to spread the word. By July, a staggering €500,000 had been raised with almost 100,000 fresh food parcels delivered. We were proud to have played our part, and prouder still when our work for Good Grub was acknowledged with a Silver award (Community Relations category) in the 2020 PRGN Best Practice Awards.


Good Grub is still hard at work! We’re looking forward to re-joining forces with Denis and the team in the new year. We’re also planning some new moves in the world of sustainability. You can expect to hear more from us on that front in the coming months.

What else can we expect in 2021?

For PR practitioners, some of the communications trends we saw in 2020 are, like the virus itself (we hope), a one-off. Some will continue into next year and possibly beyond. Some are with us to stay. As we prepare to say goodbye to one of the strangest years in living memory, here are our PR predictions for 2021.

Brands will be expected to show purpose


From here on, brands will be expected to show a good example. PR clients will need to stand for something on a deeper level. Show purpose, passion, and leadership by giving back to society in the form of corporate social responsibility or sustainability strategy.

The insatiable appetite for content will continue

One of the world’s leading content providers, the streaming giant Netflix, picked up a colossal 25 million new subscribers during the first six months of 2020 alone. Locked-down households turned to the TV for light relief. Content is king and next year will see consumers clamour for blogs, videos, whitepapers, thought leadership, research, webinars, and other forms of content. Good writing will remain at the heart of the PR industry.

Adding value will become a KPI

Adding value will become a KPI

Many organisations and business owners will look back on the tumultuous events of 2020 and remember who their friends were. Who came good, who did what they said they would, who went above and beyond? Strong relationships helped many businesses (especially small and medium ones) to survive the pandemic and going forward, brands will ask the question: what value is there in this partnership?

The concept of influence will evolve

Next year, we will likely see a weeding-out of the nebulous ‘influencer’ scene, with less emphasis on the gratuitously cosmetic aspect of the industry. Nonetheless, influencers are not going anywhere and their PR and marketing role will begin to seep more strongly into B2B communications where brands can leverage their specific expertise and following.

As PR goes digital, data will rise to the fore


This is already happening. PR campaigns are now subject to many of the same metrics as straight-up digital campaigns. These are tracked and analysed against clear benchmarks: visitors, leads, sales, conversions, etc. As we move into recovery mode, cautious clients will want to see clear evidence that their investment in PR is paying dividends. Savvy agencies will ensure to integrate goals into campaigns in advance. We deploy tools and software to track results and accurately measure effectiveness.

Stay agile because things will change

That’s the beauty of PR – our industry is constantly evolving. If we learned one thing in 2020, it’s that things can change in the blink of an eye. This time last year, nobody had even heard of you-know-what and Corona was a Mexican beer with a slice of lime sticking jauntily out of the bottle! 2021 will change the goalposts again. PR agencies and clients alike will need to stay alert and be ready to pivot once again.

Cullen Communications - Insights - Business Recovery Ireland Road Sign

In the meantime, we’d like to finish this blog on a note of gratitude. Many companies have been unable to bounce back from the events of the past year. We are grateful to be still in business with a portfolio of clients that allow and encourage us to do our best work.

A big thank you to everyone associated with Cullen Communications and here’s to the newest of new years!

Happy Christmas!


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