The Attention Recession: Surviving in PR & Communications

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The other day I was sitting at our kitchen table with my wife when she diagnosed me with ADD (attention deficit disorder). 

It’s worth pointing out my wife isn’t a doctor (she’s not even a dentist) – though the diagnosis did help explain some of my many personality quirks.

Later that week, a headline in the Press Gazette caught my eye. The story covered the headwinds Reach plc were facing in which bosses identified an “online attention recession” as a contributing factor to the publisher’s hardship.

Déjà vu, I thought, before looking at a 90’s wrestling meme my mate had sent me on WhatsApp, reading a Very Important Email and rewatching my TikTok duet with Andrew Lloyd Webber. The theme of attention was ringing in my ears. I could barely concentrate.

I felt a blog coming on. What does our diminishing attention span and an attention economy mean for the PR and communications industry and for ourselves at Brandnation?

The implications of the attention recession

There are two areas to touch upon – the impact on productivity internally and the implications on the work we execute for our clients.

Let’s sink our teeth into part one. The marketing and communications profession has been renowned for its varied and fast-paced nature…and that was pre-TikTok. But with variation and pace bring plenty of pitfalls – just think about the number of apps, comms channels, colleagues, and clients we interact with each day – we’re enslaved by algorithms.

The strategic and creative work we produce requires deep and sustained periods of concentration – the ideation, planning and crafting of original stories and campaigns aren’t powered by AI, it’s good, old-fashioned brain power.

I stumbled across the work of professor and author Cal Newport. In his book, Deep Work, Newport defines deep work as a state of distraction-free concentration when your brain works at its maximum potential – harnessing focus and increasing productivity.

The approach is based on four key principals: work deeply (creating a distraction free environment), embrace boredom, quit social media (not quite as easy in our line of work) and drain the shallows (scheduling time for deep work).

Newport’s thinking brings into focus the importance of the environment we work in and the limitations for deep work within each working day. Having applied this approach myself, to overcome declining attentions in the workplace, it’s key to set aside time for highly productive work, reduce unnecessary meetings and calls and work in a place devoid of distraction.

Embracing the attention recession

The other element to investigate is the impact of the attention recession on our audiences and consumers. We have the opportunity to adapt, embrace and game the system – here are three ways to do just that.

We can embrace short-form content and push our story-telling abilities even further to deliver the message in less time than ever. Building a narrative that is concise and compelling is our superpower in PR – we can use it to our advantage.

Capitalise on a captive audience by taking communications offline. Through brand experiences the building of community we can remove distraction and engage with our customer on a deeper level.

In the evaluation of our work, we should consider attention metrics to judge the cut-through and impact of our content – pay attention to bounce rates, time spent on page and length of video views.

And, if we’ve captured your attention for the whole of this blog, kudos to you. You may as well explore some of our work.

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