The ways companies and leaders behave (or misbehave) made major headlines in an unprecedented fashion this past year. In a time of 24×7 real and fake news by professional and citizen journalists, corporations are under exceptional scrutiny—and according to new research from comms and marketing firm the10company, the pace will only intensify in the next 12 months.
“2019 is the year of power to the people—whether you are an impassioned employee or a socially conscious consumer, internal and external audiences are making their voices heard as never before,” said Valerie Di Maria, principal of the10company, in a news release. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for communications to partner with the C-suite to get ahead of important issues in positive ways that will make a real difference to company success and to society.”
Here are the10company’s top 10 2019 communications trends:
1. Culture is job one
With many companies—such as Facebook, Google and Under Armour—in the headlines for culture problems, CEOs and boards are deepening their understanding that culture matters, and bad culture can destroy enterprises, even those with strong revenues and profits. Leaders will want to reexamine the mission, vision and values and ensure that everyone in the company is living these important cultural cornerstones. Identify and stamp out negative practices and behaviors, and champion new techniques to build trust with employees.
2. Employee activism propels change
Employees are speaking up about issues they care about—issues that go well beyond working conditions, pay and benefits. Consider the growing movement of tech employees publicly critiquing industry practices. Case in point: the Google employee walkout in protest of the company’s handling of sexual harassment drove the company—and several other tech leaders—to end forced arbitration in cases of sexual harassment and assault. Communications will want to get ahead of trigger issues by knowing what’s on employees’ minds and being proactive about influencing company policies and behaviors accordingly.
3. Pushing the envelope on brands taking stands
Consumers are feeling especially empowered, and they are seeking more from companies than products to buy. Younger customers, in particular, are pushing brands to engage politically and socially on real issues, in ways that are often polarizing. It’s better for the brand to stand for something it’s passionate about, even if that position alienates a certain portion of the market. Patagonia’s donating its federal tax cuts to environmental groups, Dick’s Sporting Goods’ ban on assault weapon sales are just some examples of companies going bold, setting the stage for more to come in 2019.
4. The conversation about diversity and inclusion gets real—finally
The rise of women’s movements is driving more focus than ever around diversity and inclusion, especially related to promoting women in the workplace and more women on Boards. Companies realize that there’s a business case for change. Opening the conversation to include honest discussions of unconscious bias and other behaviors that block promotion of women and underrepresented minorities is beginning to have an impact. Women are stepping up to claim a seat, and companies will invest more in providing the best leadership and communications coaching.
5. Blurring the lines on social media
The business-to-consumer, business-to-business, and external-internal breakdowns on social media are no longer clear. Facebook Live can be used for an employee town hall, and Instagram stories can be a great way for a business software company to reach buyers. Driven by changing demographics, and the ubiquity of mobile technology, sophistication of artificial intelligence, chatbots and digital assistants, B2B companies are taking a page from consumer companies when it comes to using social, not limiting themselves to LinkedIn. And all companies are discovering how external social media channels are sometimes more effective employee communications vehicles than their own internal platforms.
6. As politics go lower, corporate leaders go higher
With continued claims of fake news and hostile press conferences, relations between the Trump Administration and media are at an all-time low. There’s no better time for corporate leaders to stand out in a positive way—by developing strong, positive, two-way relationships with the public and media. Communicators can help leaders move beyond videos and formal Q&A to build trust by answering questions in open, authentic ways, backed by clear facts and statistics.
7. Transparency 3.0
In the age of televised Oval Office negotiations, non-stop news, and Twitter feed-and-response cycles that make peoples’ heads spin, there will be effects on corporate communications for a long time to come. For several years, we’ve been on a path to greater transparency—in part driven by social media and employee empowerment. Consider this the age of transparency 3.0: internal memos online, a view into company decisions being made in real-time, and more—meaning a greater need for authentic, clear communications.
8. The end of initiative overload
Many enterprises have focused on too many strategic initiatives putting themselves into never-ending cycles of reinvention to stay competitive. But it’s often had the opposite effect, overwhelming leaders and employees. Recognizing that simpler is better, companies will adopt more streamlined approaches to change management. Focusing on fewer imperatives and supporting with robust communications and measurement will deliver better results.
9. Decisions without data dependency
For those passionate about statistics, technology has made a dream come true—the ability to measure views, engagement, impact and to shape the raw metrics into vital insights on purchasing habits, lifestyle preferences, and other parameters that inform communications and strategies. But too much of a good thing can create data dependencies that limit creativity and risk-taking. For example, who can say exactly why a video or story goes viral? Companies that are too data dependent run the risk of not taking a chance on the next big thing.
10. Corporations heat up climate change activities
Political inaction and rollbacks on environmental regulations have set the stage for companies to stand out when it comes to efforts to stop climate change. Global companies have the scale needed to make a difference, and many are engaging their supply chains to address sustainability and conservation of the planet. From eliminating plastic to creative recycling, to reducing emissions and ramping up solar and wind production, some of the corporate world’s best and brightest are tackling big problems with creative solutions and partnerships. Communications can be a crucial partner to engage every employee in the effort and to help tell the story to external audiences.
“There’s a common message for companies: there’s never been a more important time to do the right thing,” said Clare DeNicola, principal of the10company, in the release. “Companies should go all-in on communications strategies that build trust with employees, customers and other stakeholders, and embrace the opportunity to tell their stories in real-time, using simple messages and clear facts.”
the10company is a woman-owned strategic consulting firm, based in New York, dedicated to helping executives transform their businesses through authentic, results-driven marketing and communications. It offers a range of services, including thought leadership, media and social media relations; employee engagement strategy and execution; leadership, communications and sales training, and M&A growth and exit communications.