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Communications trends for 2021: Where do we go from here?

Communications trends for 2021: Where do we go from here?

We are always at the behest of things outside of our control. It’s precisely the reason why the role of PR exists and why it remains such a fundamental pillar of any business. Or at least should be. What people say and think about your company informs purchasing decisions. Whether you are selling directly to consumers or operating a B2B model, your reputation precedes you. Always. 

If 2020 has taught us one thing, it is never to forget how crippling external influences can be on business reputation. Twelve months ago, when we were collectively pooling our trends for the year ahead, few could have done so knowing what was actually to transpire. Yet, some of those predictions would have proven prescient: the acceleration of online and collaborative tools, purpose-led campaigns, transparency in communications, internal communications. 

As we hurtle towards the end of this cataclysmic year, we look towards 2021 hoping to pick up the pieces and regroup. We’re not going to wake up on Jan 1st in a world free of COVID, so where do we go from here? What can we take forward from 2020, and what are we leaving behind? How might we use the lessons learned from this emotionally charged and challenging year to build a hybrid of what might have been, were the pandemic not to have occurred, coupled with our ‘new normal’?

In communications, those who have made the grade in 2020 have been those who have put purpose at the heart of their initiatives. You only have to look at PR Week’s latest cover star Marcus Rashford, who has set an example to us all with his impressive and incessant campaign to combat child poverty. Organisations looking to generate cut-through in 2021 will need to follow the lead of Rashford, and others, with credible, legitimate purpose-led values that permeate across the business.

One important factor in delivering a purpose-led message will be making sure it resonates with employees. Internal communications have been of paramount importance in 2020, from changing work behaviours, checking on staff wellbeing (physical and mental) to updates on fast-changing business scenarios. Listening to colleagues, making them an active part of work decisions and discussions, empowering them to be advocates for business, all stems from deploying an honest, transparent and trusted internal comms. It’s where the PR and HR Venn Diagram must expand its overlap.

The remote and flexible working patterns forced upon us this year has resulted in the uplift in video conferencing with which we are all too familiar. The novelty of the Zoom quiz dissolved with the shuddered realisation that this platform is not just for lockdown. We have found efficiencies in work in the online world but are also starting to ration how many Zoom/Teams/Hangout meetings we join. That selectivity will mean any online experiences in 2021 will need greater value, whether it’s webinars, conferences or virtual events these are not the Field of Dreams, build-and-they-will-logon experiences from the spring; they need to have genuine business value and generate an impact.

In PR we always talk about the things we need to do, how we need to adapt, the growth of communities, the fragmentation of social media, the importance of targeting. Yet, these always seem to be on a start-of-year trends list. In agency land, we need to prioritise the best practice items that will help augment the reputation of our own industry. Use of data and analytics to help clients make informed decisions, targeted communications that reach and resonate with key accounts or customer prospects, sophisticated use of the PESO model to achieve these goals and communications that tell an engaging, emotive and persuasive story, not just rattling out press releases like a ticker tape parade.   

What has the impact of 2020 been on social media use? Are we so screened out that social platforms have become cumbersome? Are the misdemeanours and misbehaviours associated with social channels causing us to reduce our dependence on them? Or are there just so many of them we don’t know how to keep up? The herdlike mentality of social platforms is suggesting we’re reaching saturation point. They are all much of a muchness, so how do communicators deal with each variant of Stories, Fleets, Shorts, etc. Do we really need content for all of them, and how can we work with the mysterious algorithms that can ultimately determine whether your prized content will fall flat or fly high? 

We will look back on 2020 as a year where human stories came to the fore, where new businesses were formed in the most challenging of situations, and where – sadly – the opposite was true for so many. It’s been a year in which we put the spotlight on how we go about our business, introspectively understanding who we are as individuals, as much as a collective. Successful communications in 2021 will continue to favour those with an emotive story to tell, one that contributes to environmental, societal and governance causes, and that engages all stakeholders – internal and external. There will always be things out of our sphere of influence, but in 2021 we can control our own behaviours.