PR 2020: Social purpose—backed by action—tops new list of new-year comms trends

by | Jan 22, 2020 | Public Relations

2020 will be the year companies start implementing concrete actions to support their commitments to social good, according to comms and marketing firm the10company’s just released 10 communications trends. And it’s already starting—Larry Fink of BlackRock announced last week that his firm would make investment decisions with environmental sustainability as a core goal, a move that will fundamentally shift its investment policy.

The firm’s insightful forecasts show how social purpose and the actions that make it meaningful will be the preeminent business and communications trend of 2020.

“The Business Roundtable set the stage in August when it declared that companies must embrace social purpose even as they pursue profits,” said Valerie Di Maria, principal of the10company, in a news release. “Now companies need to detail how they will act upon this commitment. Purpose and values are major themes that give communications professionals an excellent platform to drive their companies’ success and to enhance society as a whole. But communicators will also have to be ready to backup social purpose promises with action.”

This is the foundation for the10company’s top 10 2020 trends, each with significant communications implications:

1. Social good drives business and attracts employees

Competing on social purpose will be a winning strategy for many. 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. As a key member of the C-Suite, the Chief Communications Officer has the opportunity to 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 company’s values. Whether by choice, poor performance or alleged misdeeds, more than 1,300 CEOs in US based companies departed January through October last year. 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. Failure to clearly explain the process or rationale behind the leadership choice, and over promotion of the new leader are some of the pitfalls.

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 data privacy and cybersecurity, diversity and inclusion, and fighting global warming. PR and IR will need to join forces to tell their company’s ESG stories.

4. The new voice of activism: kids

The kids have a voice, and it’s getting louder when it comes to social issues. Time Magazine named 16-year-old climate crisis activist Greta Thunberg Person of the Year. Walk-outs to promote gun control are being led by youth groups including March for Our Lives. Social media-smart, socially conscious youth will continue to have a major impact on raising awareness and driving action for key issues. Communications can court these admirable advocates and help amplify their messages to support authentic company values, as well as anticipate and be prepared for any 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. But even without the legal impetus, companies are waking up to the benefits of a gender diverse board. Communications can help further explain the business case, as well as 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 efforts, and make 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 cyber security 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 will need to adopt strategic, less is more approaches to sharing the company’s mission and vision, focused on answering employees’ #1 question: What does it mean for me?

10. Election fever makes everyone ill

Rhetoric and negativity continue to impede constructive, positive discourse during the year-long election season and the ongoing impeachment saga 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.

“The focus on social purpose is raising the stakes for how every company communicates. There are more stakeholders, and they’re more engaged than ever before,” said Clare DeNicola, principal of the10company, in the release. “The CCO, as the eyes and ears of all audiences, can be the most objective member of the C-Suite and hold the company accountable for not only defining their social purpose, but the internal and external programs that deliver on that promise.”

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter