There’s an old saying that I think it’s time for us to retire, particularly with regard to the world of the communicator: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Take a look around you: How we work, where and when we work, what skills and knowledge we need in order to do our work, who can help make our work the most accessible, relevant and effective as it can be; all of these factors and more are transforming professional, cultural and social climates in real time.
Framing and defining this shift is the fact that communications professionals are increasingly influential at all levels within their organizations. For example, Edelman’s recent The Future of Corporate Communications research study found that 77% of CCOs surveyed say perceptions of the role of communications as a strategic business driver shifted within their organizations in 2020.
Moving forward, communicators need to think more holistically about how and where we can continue to make (as well as expand) our impact. With that in mind, here are a few tips on what we’ll need not only to keep our seat at the table, but maybe to even add an extra chair or two:
1. Tech talk. Digital transformation, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, the metaverse. These are just a few of the areas in which communicators will need not only to be knowledgeable but able to provide guidance, strategies and best practices. Gartner projects worldwide IT spending to hit $4.5 trillion in 2022, an increase of 5.5% from 2021, so the future is…now.
2. Data points. KPI. ROI. What are the best ways to assess the effectiveness not only of what we do, but the tools we use to obtain the results? Seventy-two percent of communications professionals say that their top challenge is measuring business impact, according to a Muck Rack survey. We need to ensure that we know what success looks like.
3. Brand purpose/social justice. Fifty-nine percent of Americans say it is no longer acceptable for companies to be silent on social issues, and 49% say they assume companies that remain quiet on social justice issues don’t care, per the 2021 Porter Novelli Business & Social Justice Study. Our clients and audiences are watching closely to see if we really mean what we say, and this will continue to be a crucial element of any comms strategy. It’s not a fad.
4. DE&I sooner, not later. As communicators, we must understand the cultural nuances of our target audiences, which means making DE&I in all its forms part of the organization’s DNA. A recent Diversity Action Alliance survey found that 78% of employees within the communications profession are white, and only 21% identified as racially/ethnically diverse. Among companies as a whole, it is estimated that fewer than 5% of companies consider the employee experience of those with disabilities, according to a Global Disability Inclusion/Mercer study representing 12M+ global employee responses. As with social responsibility, progress in improving DE&I will continue to be a key indicator of how an organization is perceived and whether it can be trusted.
5. Remapping where we work. The concept of “where we work” as we knew it as little as two years ago continues to transform. A recent The Future of Work study from Accenture found that 83% of those surveyed favored a hybrid work model, but there’s no one definition for what that looks like, and flexibility will continue to be key.
6. Internal comms affects external outcomes. Make sure your internal team understands the role comms plays in the organization and their roles within that framework. And take advantage of their knowledge and experience to help inform what you do as everyone’s learning curve continues to grow.
So, it’s time to coin a new truism: The more things change, the more urgent it becomes to recognize and embrace those changes to ensure that things don’t stay the same. As the world continues to open up, some are anticipating a “new normal,” but I prefer to see it as an ongoing healthy and rewarding transformation.
Michelle Olson, APR is the PRSA Chair for 2021. She is managing director and partner at Lambert, a full-service communications firm with offices in Michigan, New York and Arizona.