Communications priorities for 2021 and beyond

Ragan’s Communications Leadership Council Benchmark Report reveals new areas of focus for communicators that add to more traditional concerns.

2021 comms benchmark report

New priorities have emerged in the communications discipline this year, all of them related to the shocks of 2020. They include diversity, equity and inclusion, communicating with the remote workforce, workplace wellness and communications via mobile technology.

These 2021 priorities come in addition to traditional concerns like media relations, internal comms, crisis management, new technologies, and thought leadership. They’re in addition to honing brand journalism skills, and focusing on measurement.

These are among the key findings from Ragan’s third annual Communications Benchmark Report, an exclusive study from Ragan’s Communications Leadership Council. The Benchmark Report is based on responses to an online survey conducted between Jan. 13, 2021-Feb. 7, 2021. The survey yielded 755 qualified responses from internal and external communicators worldwide.

The results paint a picture of a dynamic time, one where communications professionals have very much moved to center stage in an anything-but-typical year. Nearly 71% of respondents in the Benchmark Report indicated an increased focus on DE&I-related communications this year. “We need to be more outward spoken on social issues,” was a typical sentiment.

In addition to a new focus on DE&I, 53% of respondents said they’ve increased their focus on communicating with remote or non-desk workers, and 41% said they anticipate more communications via the mobile channel. Virtual communications, which is an effect of remote work, was a priority for 41%, while personalization was cited by 37%.

In the end, the survey clearly reveals a widespread consensus that a staggering number of changes are coming to the industry—in tech, in new channels and techniques, and in wellness and personalization—all led by DE&I and remote work.

But a common challenge in the DE&I realm is that organizations get caught talking the talk with no effective way to create real and lasting change. The Benchmark Report findings indicated that communicators are committed to that lasting change, and that their major DE&I priority is to engage in conversation. This applies both from the C-suite to the workforce, and also among workers themselves, through ERGs and other means.

Meanwhile, a significant subset of respondents, nearly 22%, did not increase DE&I activities last year. There were two primary reasons for this, respondents indicated. One was that at many organizations, DE&I policies were already in place. The other, cited less frequently, was that COVID became the 2020 communications priority and overwhelmed everything else. “We’ve been working to increase our DE&I efforts over the past four years, so there wasn’t a strong need for additional programming in 2020, though I do think we could be doing more,” was a typical response.

What changes do you expect to see in the communications industry in the next three-to-five years? (Respondents selected up to five.)

  • Increased focus and investment on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – 63%
  • Increased focus on communicating with remote or non-desk workers – 53%
  • More communications via mobile – 41%
  • Virtual communication – 41%
  • More personalization – 37%
  • Greater reliance on social media – 31%
  • Workplace wellness – 26%
  • Increased importance of employee advocacy – 26%
  • More brand journalism storytelling – 23%
  • Use of artificial intelligence – 23%
  • More thought leadership – 20%
  • More focus on influencer marketing – 16%
  • Investment in Intranets will Increase – 10%
  • Consolidation of communications under marketing – 8%
  • Consolidation of communications under HR – 4%
  • Decrease in number of PR firms – 4%
  • Increase in number of PR firms – 3%
  • Investment in intranets will decrease – 3%
  • Other (please specify) – 1%

Which of the following best describes how you increased your DE&I initiatives in 2020? (Respondents selected all that apply.)

  • Held open conversations within the organization (e.g., town halls, CEO chats) – 72%
  • Developed organizational strategic plan on DE&I – 56%
  • Unconscious bias/anti-racist training for employees – 50%
  • Brought in outside speakers – 44%
  • Created and/or expanded the number of employee resource groups (ERGs) – 36%
  • Created new position to lead DE&I efforts – 36%
  • Changed talent, retention and advancement policies – 35%
  • Increased supplier/vendor diversity – 18%
  • Launched DE&I ambassador program – 18%
  • Other – 13%

Check out the full Benchmark Report here. 

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