In a reputation economy, sustainable long-term economic value is harder to build without creating social value. The pandemic reinforced that stakeholders expect organizations not only to produce and protect jobs, but to play a meaningful role in addressing societal challenges. This has increased the importance and shaped the imperatives of strategic communication, elevating it as a leadership priority for our clients. This continued shift from shareholder capitalism to stakeholder capitalism will create new pressures as organizations aim to “build back better.” In 2021, strategic communication can play a key role in delivering intelligence, defining purpose, building relationships and earning social license – all of which help build economic and business value.
Kim Blanchette, SVP Public Engagement & GM, Western Canada
Leadership matters more than ever. ‘Do as I say’ won’t cut it in a pandemic environment where people are wondering if we are really ‘all in this together.’ Checking your privilege will be crucial in 2021, especially for political, community and business leaders. This pandemic and the economic fallout impacts everyone in different ways. Empathetic communications – rooted in an understanding that many people are struggling and suffering – will be crucial for organizations in strengthening relationships with their stakeholders. If not, we’ll see increases in things like ‘travel shaming’ as those stuck at home grow frustrated at those with not only the means but the audacity to flout the rules.
Robert Gemmill, SVP & GM, Washington, D.C.
Post-COVID, Argyle’s traditional crisis preparation engagements are morphing into more wide-reaching mandates that require us to evaluate organizational risk as a whole. This has been a slow-growing trend for some time that COVID exacerbated. Reputation risk strategy cannot operate in a silo; it must be done through a wider lens that impacts other disciplines such as legal, HR and operations.
To manage risk, 2020 demonstrated that to defend and enhance their reputations, organizations must do more than seek profit and satisfy shareholders; they need to engage and speak to social and political issues when required. Companies who understand this expect their PR firms to deliver expert consulting strategies, not merely communications tactics, and they want data and analytics to demonstrate success.
Alison George, SVP Agribusiness and International Trade
The primary consumer is changing. Driven by millennial ideals, we are seeing more value-driven consumers who seek to support local products and socially driven brands. Plus, we need to consider Gen Z consumers – who now make up 20% of the population. They are still a largely unknown audience to many organizations, and yet they are establishing their values in the marketplace. We do know that they are a diverse generation who collectively seek positive change via advocacy in a predominantly digital environment.
Terri McBay, VP Strategy and Integrated Planning
COVID-19 has re-kindled the primacy of social good in product marketing. Consumers now expect companies and organizations to put their purpose over profit, which means that those who continue to focus solely on profit will fall behind. Those who focus on purpose will likely be more profitable over the long term.
Communications can play a fundamental creative role in supporting companies and brands to identify where they can authentically play an active role in helping to make our world a better place. We also need to think about the role brands and companies should be playing to help consumers navigate this changed marketplace. How can we help alleviate the pain points from lockdowns and restrictions through the customer experiences we are creating?
Rob McEwan, SVP Health and Wellness
As we manage and gradually emerge from a global pandemic, the most important communications imperative in 2021 is trust. They say trust is like a mirror. You can fix it if it’s broken, but you’ll always see cracks in the reflection. In his December 7, 2020 op-ed, Why we can ignore anti-vaxxers, at least for now, Globe and Mail health reporter André Picard (@PicardonHealth) foreshadowed the vital importance of building trust in order to fully recover from COVID: “Trust is the most important currency we have in battling the pandemic in the months to come, especially given that we will have to redouble our public-health efforts while awaiting vaccines for all.”
Whitney Siemens, VP Creative
Creative will need to continue to adapt to our new virtual world engaging audiences with digital focus. Alongside market leaders such as Facebook and Instagram, TikTok is emerging as a key platform. Digital storytelling will be key, and consumers will want to engage with brands that stand for something.
Jessie Sitnick, VP, Corporate and Public Affairs
This year we anticipate greater momentum behind the climate change conversation, and also an evolution of that discourse. The pandemic—a global crisis that lit up systemic injustices and failures—has served as both an allegory and an alarm bell. No longer siloed under ‘environment,’ climate change will permeate almost every critical conversation we have: the future of our economy and industries, health including mental health, food security, infrastructure and energy, and social justice— to name a few.
Climate communicators will continue to grapple with how to impart urgency, hope, and the role for individual action. As well as how to engage new audiences, creating space from extreme polarization and partisan politics. But instead of pushing against the winds, our prediction—and sincere hope—is that climate communicators will find the currents of 2021 on their side.
Matthew Stradiotto, VP & co-GM, Digital
We’re seeing a new culture of consumer behaviour, driven by a huge acceleration in online shopping. in 2020, for example, ComScore reported that US mobile spending on groceries had grown 150% vs. 2019, and it was also the first year in which mobile spending in the grocery category surpassed mobile spending in the apparel category in the first quarter. The lockdown has increased mobile grocery spending, pushing it to $13.1 billion USD in the second quarter of 2020, driving the launch of new grocery store brands, new apps, new delivery methods, and thus new behaviour. Will we go back to walking the aisles, to queuing for cashiers, or to self-checkout? For many shoppers, no – at least not nearly as often. In 2021, we’re watching for a ripple effect on retail footprints, digital development, and the supply and logistics chain.
Patrick Thoburn – VP & co-GM, Digital
The pandemic taught us that we – as employees, citizens, customers and stakeholders – require leaders who can demonstrate vulnerability and empathy. In 2021, leaders of organizations will increasingly bring a human face to their communication. Corporate executives, especially, will emphasize centring business around people, rather than the other way around. LinkedIn will grow as a primary platform for leadership communication, while podcasts, video and other personal storytelling media will convey the message.
What trends are you watching most closely in 2021? If you would like to gain more insights, and how the above trends might affect your organization, please contact us at [email protected].