From the hope that PR’s increasing importance to businesses in 2020 will continue in 2021, to the need for brands to show up and have a purpose at the heart of their DNA to keep consumers on their side, to the shift to more wellbeing and mental health support in PR agencies as employees experienced massive burnout and stress in 2020—here are some topline thoughts from some of the senior team at Clarity PR on what big trends will affect PR in 2021.
Rachel Gilley – Managing Director, UK and President, EMEA
“The statement that comms did well out of Covid is true. We weren’t banging on the boardroom door to be let in, we were invited with open arms, asked to help support businesses that overnight had to pivot on strategy, put in place disaster recovery plans; media-train spokespeople for inevitable briefings and rework branding and messaging that was either positively or negatively out of date and needed rapid re-editing.
“The bigger question is that following 9 months of corporate crisis, will the comms function still have a seat in the boardroom when some form of normality resumes? Have we earned the right and the respect to be involved in all discussions pertaining to the success and growth of a business? Or will we find ourselves demoted to the team that ‘sits under marketing’ where the commercial KPIs that marketing is arguably better at tracking are seen as more important and over time more relevant.”
Jon Meakin – President, North America
“One of the most interesting outcomes of the pandemic in terms of PR, is the effect that it has had on attitudes and the way brands (corporate and consumer brands) behave.
“Even before the pandemic, there was an increasing expectation that corporations behave ethically, but more than that – brands are expected to take a stand on socio-political issues that they would previously have fought shy of. As with so many things, that has only accelerated this year. Suddenly, every organization is under scrutiny for its policies on race, diversity and inclusion—and they are being held to account, with social media making it easier than ever for Gen Zs and younger Millennials to organize boycotts and other forms of direct action. It’s not just racial equality either—see also gun control, abortion rights, LGBT+ rights and, more generally, how brands are behaving in the light of the pandemic and its impact on people’s mental health, as well as economic stability.
“Many brands are struggling with this new landscape. Clapping for healthcare workers isn’t enough. Free coffee for frontline workers isn’t enough. You can’t do the equivalent of greenwashing with this stuff, you have to have a purpose at the heart of your brand’s DNA, and you can’t manufacture it.
“Brands with genuine purpose will thrive in this new normal, and those that don’t yet have a purpose beyond making money for their shareholders, will have to figure out what theirs is, and fast.”
Monica Feig – Managing Director, LA
“Zoom and Slack have #thrived in bringing meeting spaces into your den, kitchen, bedroom, etc. and giving you a ‘face-to-face’ interaction—but it won’t replace the in-person meeting. Great ideas can certainly come from anywhere, but there’s something to be said about the feeling of being in the room for a brainstorm or a pitch. Being confined to a screen simply isn’t enough.
“PR has a reputation of being a grind of an industry and this year has shed light on the mental toll that can take on staff. I talked to a number of PR friends about what was going on at their agencies, and unfortunately there were a lot of negative synergies – vacation time went unused, people worked longer hours, burnout rates were high and morale suffered… and then you throw in a high-stress election on top of it all!! I believe agencies will be held accountable for the mental wellness of their staff, and it’s certainly going to play a bigger role during recruitment.”