Less talk and more walk is the foundation for top 2020 communication trends, each with significant implications:
1. Social good drives business and attracts employees. Competing on social purpose will be a winning strategy for many organizations. Almost two-thirds of employees think their organizations should focus on communicating strategy, value and purpose, and eight out of 10 consumers say they want their brands to have a social purpose, with millennials expecting it as a point of entry before they even consider a brand. The chief communications officer can help define their company’s purpose, values and actions and ensure all audiences understand what their company stands for.
2. CEOs in turmoil. 2019 saw a record number of CEOs leave their positions, many in conflict with their respective companies’ values. Whether by choice, poor performance or alleged misdeeds, more than 1,300 CEOs in U.S.-based companies departed in January through October. The pace is likely to continue in 2020. Getting organizations ready for a new CEO will be a crucial strategic and operational communications skill set. Pitfalls include failure to clearly explain the process or rationale behind the leadership choice and overpromotion of the new leader.
3. ESG drives investment decisions. Acting on ESG—environmental, social and governance issues—was often considered a nice but not business-savvy priority. No more. Investors are more focused than ever on companies with strong track records in these areas, and companies are more clearly defining their efforts, including linking executive compensation to ESG goals such as fighting climate change and ensuring data privacy, cybersecurity, and diversity and inclusion. PR and IR must join forces to tell their company’s ESG stories.
4. The new voice of activism: kids. The younger generation has a voice, and it’s getting louder when it comes to social issues. Time magazine named 16-year-old climate crisis activist Greta Thunberg its Person of the Year. Walkouts to promote gun control are being led by youth groups including March for Our Lives. Social-media-smart, socially conscious youth will continue to drive awareness of and action on key issues. Communicators can court these admirable advocates and help amplify their messages to support authentic company values, as well as anticipating negative engagement.
5. Female board members become less elusive. California required publicly listed companies with headquarters in the state to have at least one woman on their boards of directors by the end of 2019. Even without the legal requirement, companies are waking up to the benefits of a gender-diverse board. Communicators can help explain the business case, and support senior female leaders, by partnering to hone their executive brand, positioning and networking with board candidacy in mind.
6. Tackling unconscious bias takes center stage in D&I efforts—and in AI. It’s not enough to provide equal opportunity and equal pay. Ensuring that white male executives, among others, learn to recognize and eradicate hurtful unconscious behavior will be a cornerstone of diversity and inclusion training this year. Equally important, company and branded AI voices must also be developed with these same sensitivities. Communicators should be part of the team that promotes behavior we want to see, informs employees about corrective efforts, and makes bias in AI a corporate social responsibility issue.
7. Data privacy regulations intensifies. New regulations such as the California Consumer Privacy Act put more pressure on companies to get their cybersecurity policies right. Employees and consumers are aligned in their demands: Keep our data safe. CEOs are being called to testify before Congress to explain their strategies and safeguards. It’s an opportunity for a comprehensive proactive and reactive communications strategy and plan.
8. Companies build powerful customer ecosystems for seamless experiences. Enabled by cloud technology and data sharing, businesses are collaborating—sometimes with competitors—to solve customer needs holistically, forming ecosystems that cross product and solution boundaries. The dynamic raises challenges and opportunities for communicators who must preserve brand identity while conveying the benefits to customers in meaningful ways.
9. Employees demand the Marie Kondo approach to communications. It’s all about decluttering. For years now, internal communications have gotten too complex, and it is ripe for reinvention. There is too much information via too many outlets. The result: Employees tune it out. Companies should adopt strategic, less-is-more approaches to sharing the company’s mission and vision, focused on answering employees’ No. 1 question: What does it mean for me?
10. Election fever makes everyone ill. Vitriol and negativity continue to impede constructive, positive discourse during the 2020 election season and the ongoing impeachment trial of a U.S. president. Communicators can help their organizations take the high road and stand for issues backed by reason and, yes, social purpose and action.