#PRAwards 2021 spills: Upcycle Communications pushes communication for greater good

Upcycle Communications bagged the gold award for Best PR Campaign: Lifestyle and Travel during MARKETING-INTERACTIVE's recent PR Awards.

The agency also recently underwent a rebranding from its previous name The Mango Agency Singapore, which followed a management buyout. Jennifer Dembitz, who helmed the role of director of Asia, took ownership of the company in December 2020 and created Upcycle Communications together with Andrea Seifert, who was associate director previously. Both Dembitz and Seifert have led the new agency, with Dembitz as managing director and Seifert as director. 

In a conversation with MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, the duo shared about the agency's proudest achievement in 2020, and what can be expected of the firm in 2021.

This interview is done as part of MARKETING-INTERACTIVE’s winners and finalists’ interview series for PR Awards 2021. To find out more about the awards, click here.

What would you say was the biggest accomplishment for the whole PR/communications community in 2020?

Dembitz and Seifert: It has been fantastic to see how, when the chips are down, PR / communications can be the most powerful member of the marketing mix. During a period of extreme uncertainty, nailing the content and tone of communications has been even more crucial for brands across all sectors, regardless of scale or audience. PR/communications professionals have had to manage an ever-evolving landscape with little idea of how the COVID-19 situation would unfold, crafting messaging for both internal and external stakeholders in order to maintain confidence in the businesses we represent.

Conveying and shaping the past, present and future for brands has demonstrated how essential our roles are. Communications professionals can steer business sentiments and outcomes and be real catalysts for success. As an industry, we’ve forged stronger client relationships built on mutual trust and support, and solidified our place in the new normal and on the road to recovery.

What would you say was your proudest achievement of the year?

Our gold award for Best PR Campaign: Lifestyle and Travel from MARKETING-INTERACTIVE was certainly a highlight! We worked closely with conservation and safari specialists andBeyond to push out a meaningful virtual safari experience that captivated the attention of our media, and with the majority of the work conducted across time zones with teams in lockdown, we are thrilled with the results and recognition.

We are proud of our rebranding to Upcycle Communications and our team’s resilience and hard work in support of that change. We took a swift and strategic decision to diversify our sector niche from travel and lifestyle to sustainability and purpose-led brands. We landed our first automobile brand, launching the MINI electric vehicle just after circuit breaker; created a website and key messaging for reusable respirators from Singapore company Gill Mask; commenced work with plant-based pioneers Green Monday and much more – it was a year of firsts!

We innovated along the way and upcycled ourselves, and we’re lucky to have a team that jumped in headfirst along with us.

We are thrilled to see the ‘power of PR’ have a direct impact on our clients’ fundraising success. By securing top-tier media coverage across the region, our work has enabled both GOOD Meat by Eat Just and Flash Coffee to raise significantly more capital than expected, thus allowing them to accelerate their growth.

On a more personal note, we have built and grown a number of valuable and meaningful relationships – with partner agencies and repeat client referrals, to recruiters, freelancers and our own talented team.

What are some communications trends you see carrying on post-pandemic?

Dembitz and Seifert: Virtual / hybrid events will continue to be the norm, as a means of future-proofing in an era where restrictions contract and ease on a near-daily basis. The option to be a digital visitor/guest will become embedded into the fabric of events and social engagements as many consumers continue to practice social distancing for the long term. This also means higher investment in digital communication – from well-crafted copy to beautiful design for social media and video – capturing a captive audience’s attention amidst all the noise demands a more robust content strategy and execution framework.

Conscious communication for the greater good is also a key theme.

Marketing and PR teams are laser focused on ensuring campaigns address what consumers care about and are delivered with tact. We are listening like never before, aggregating insights from user-generated content, using Instagram Story questions to hear what audiences really want and then using those insights to transform what we do and how we do it. If the constant change and isolation of COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that people need empathy and connection from brands, not a hard sell. If there was ever a time when the “greater good” takes precedence over a flash sale, this is it. We will see the effects of this for many years to come, and smart businesses will prioritise communicating their purpose and values, to humanise their approach to marketing.

As our globalised world turns inward, strategies of hyper localisation and hyper personalisation have shifted targeting to our own backyards but have also paved the way for faster digital adoption overall. Data and analytics are playing an increasingly important role to personalising offers and messages on a granular level to ever-narrower customer segments.

How will the role of communications professionals evolve as we move into a rather uncertain future?

Dembitz and Seifert: While we have always worn many hats, communicators are fiercely multi-tasking providers of creative solutions for any number of issues. We are operating like business consultants navigating unique challenges to counsel clients, teams, customers and other stakeholders experiencing this crisis in different ways and at different times.

With such a fluid Covid environment, communications professionals need to invest in both long-term and short-term scenario planning; from crisis comms to recovery plans, corporate reputation building and everything in between, navigating the complexities of how and what to say, where and when. As an agency, this means diving deeper and broadening relationships from beyond the marcomms and HR teams and working closely with sales, IT, government relations, CSR and others in order to provide truly strategic counsel as an extension of the client team.

Clients will continue to seek advice from external agencies who can provide perspective, competitive best practices, offer tried-and-tested solutions, and provide input into business development and new revenue streams.

What can we expect from your company in 2021?

Dembitz and Seifert: Growth! Both in terms of our business capabilities, sector expertise and size. Upcycle is welcoming new team members as well as forging alliances locally and internationally with partner agencies and consultants to help bolt on capabilities and expertise so that we can provide seamless 360 solutions for our clients across all areas of the marketing mix.

We are also looking to grow and better ourselves through upskilling and training, deepening our knowledge in sustainability, CSR and environmental stewardship.

Our vision is to empower brands with purpose and communicate this effectively, and we see ourselves working with businesses big and small that want to make a difference, even amidst this global pandemic. We want to inject positivity into everything we do despite entering the next phase of uncertainty, and that starts with fostering a company culture that remains true to both our DNA and vision.