3 international challenges communicators should have on their radar

H/Advisers Abernathy CEO Tom Johnson on the biggest international challenges facing business today – and what communicators should know about them.

Many of us know about the butterfly effect, the old adage-turned-Ashton Kutcher 2014 movie, about how a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can trigger a tornado in Texas. While the science is questionable at best, our interconnected world can certainly make that old chestnut ring true. And 2024 is emphasizing just how much impact nations have on one another, not just politically, but also in the business world.

We spoke with Tom Johnson, CEO of H/Advisors Abernathy, a global advisory firm under the banner of Paris-based agency Havas, about the biggest international challenges facing business today – and what communicators should know about them.

1. Fallout from a big election year

More than 2 billion people are set to vote in global elections this year spanning from India to the EU, from the United States to Botswana. The decisions that this mass of humanity will make will alter the business landscape in ways big and small.

Johnson says business leaders have their eye on the big picture of the “global macroeconomic environment, which is driven a lot by political stability and the business climate that’s created in each of these markets.” But there are also smaller economic decisions that are dependent on election results that can have big repercussions for businesses.

In particular, how companies are treated in foreign markets, Johnson said, changing views of mergers and acquisitions, including consolidation and anti-trust, and the growing rise of nationalism.

This shift is changing the calculus on where companies operate or are headquartered, Johnson explained, which could cause a major challenge for communicators tasked with explaining geographic changes. It also creates opportunities for communicators to effectively get their messages in front of governments and other political stakeholders in governments to receive more favorable treatment.

“Our role (as communicators) is really to think about, OK, what is the best way possible to communicate why we’re doing that? How can we proactively get at some of the concerns that may arise from governments and regulatory bodies, competitors, etc., as to why this investment makes sense? How can we proactively message that?” Johnson said. “The good thing is companies are considering that much more aggressively before transactions or investments are ever announced.”

Some of that communication work comes from traditional press releases, press conferences and media interviews. But some of it, he notes, comes from one-on-one comms work.

Increasingly, he says his firm is advising clients to “take this communication directly to the people who ultimately can become advocates or who we think may have some concerns about it and can we proactively and quickly address those concerns before things spill into this dispute in the public domain.”

2. A new, more focused era of purpose

The early 2020s were a kind of golden age of business purpose, where organizations were taking explicit, bold stances on more issues than ever before.

That era is changing, but the sense of purpose that drove businesses earlier in the decade is still there – albeit in a changing form.

“Corporations have found that you don’t necessarily need to have a big public platform on those issues where you’re sort of standing out in front,” Johnson explained. “They’ve found it much more effective to go to the core audiences that matter at the end of the day.”

There’s that theme again: going directly to the audiences who matter most and worrying less about everyone else. But in our global, connected world, the messages you use in one country will resonate in another – for better and worse. So it’s vital to determine what your most important stakeholders need to hear rather than chasing every issue of the day.

For more information on how to access the full story and become a member of Ragan’s Communications Leadership Council, reach out here.


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