Every year, The Worldcom Public Relations Group draws on the knowledge of its 2000+ consultants to predict the environment that its clients will face in the year ahead. However, this year is special. The COVID-19 pandemic heightened uncertainty in all sectors of life.
In these times of uncertainty, we only know one thing for certain—the impact of COVID-19 will leave its mark on the communication landscape all over the world. With that in mind, here are the top 10 PR and marketing predictions for 2021 from Worldcom partners:
1. Post-COVID, experiential marketing is going to be off the charts
Whether it’s hearing a musician at your local bar or splurging on a dream vacation that once seemed too indulgent, the post-COVID era is going to see a bigger shift to focus on experiences. While personal budgets vary, many will be willing to pay more than pre-COVID times for memorable experiences; companies, cities, entertainment venues and others will be discovering ways to market and deliver on those expectations while balancing safety. — Christopher Baldwin, CEO & Founder, True Digital Communications, Ohio
2. Clients must have a climate action plan
The confluence of a COVID-19 vaccine and a Biden victory will put climate change back on the front burner. The US will re-rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, and companies will increasingly come under pressure to communicate what they are doing to alleviate or reduce their carbon footprint. This will matter to employees who increasingly are looking and examining their employers’ purpose and if it aligns with their own personal values and purpose. — Tricia Doyle, VP and Business Strategist, CASACOM, Montreal, Canada
3. Tech’s new ‘wow’ factor will be in its service to society
The tech sector will face a stark new landscape in 2021. Technology companies have seen their fortunes rise dramatically as the pandemic sent millions into lockdown, driving insatiable demand for collaboration tools, apps, cloud, AI, and security. Now governments worldwide are turning up the heat to regulate on multiple fronts—consumer privacy, anti-competitive monopolies, and national security fears such as Chinese-controlled tech. The time for tech to demonstrate it is working in for the betterment of society is now.
Communicators will be wise to connect their brands to the greater good. Don’t simply rely on the technology’s ‘wow factor’ to carry your story. Tell us why it matters for our world’s future—such as fighting future pandemics, driving equity in education, reducing energy consumption, or improving public safety. These will be the tech stories people want to hear, and share, in 2021. — John Raffetto, CEO, Raffetto Herman Strategic Communications, Seattle & Washington DC
4. 2021—emptying and resetting the closet
The crises associated with the global pandemic and social/racial unrest took place far enough into 2020 that most companies pivoted and adjusted as best as they could—modifying existing plans by cutting budgets, changing approaches (in the case of events) or finding different ways of getting things done. I’d equate it to being told you need to downsize your closet and so you rearranged things as best as you could. In 2021, the approach will be different—we will see many companies conduct a full evaluation of their programs and rather than simply adjust, they’re going to empty the closet completely and reset everything in it—getting rid of some programs altogether and altering the mix of programs they do execute. As a result, demonstrating business value in communications has never been more important. — Matt Kucharski, President, Padilla, Minnesota
5. Social selling will be the keyword for 2021 communications
Social media will remain an ideal way to reach customers from every industry. The use and maintenance of company’s profiles on social media serves as a tool to increase the awareness of the brand. With an elaborate profile structure, social selling continues to use topics that set the company apart from its competitors. — Corinna Voss, Managing Director, HBI PR & Marcom, Munich, Germany
6. Leaders who place a refreshed Purpose at the heart of everything they do, will steal a lead on their competitors
The uncertainty caused by the pandemic is a powerful reminder for leaders to ensure they keep everyone in the business aligned and on the same page. This doesn’t mean leaders just need to outline a clear strategy, although that is essential to give people certainty about what the organization will do next. It means that every individual will need to (and wants to) understand their personal role in changing the way the company behaves to meet changed market needs.
This will satisfy the Status, Certainty and Autonomy needs of SCARF (neuroscience framework). And, if these key messages are supported every day at a one-to-one level by line managers, it will reinforce Relatedness and Fairness too. But the organizations that will succeed the most will be those who place a refreshed Purpose at the heart of everything they do. The pandemic has made people hungry for clear, consistent and inspiring leadership and there’ nothing more likely to trigger aligned action than a shared belief. — Crispin Manners, CEO, Onva, United Kingdom
7. Communicate direct-to-consumer
Brands and companies will find themselves in a ceaseless hard news cycle. Unless a brand is making news about something related to current events, it will be challenging to breakthrough. Additionally, 2020 changed the way consumers interact and trust the media, influencers, and social media information. They are less inclined to consume news about a brand or program because they have reverted to relying on the news media for hard news. Communications in 2021 should be made directly to the consumer. Creative and engaging virtual interactions and experiential VR and AR programs will still win the day for the first half of 2021. They can be amplified on social media to propel them through paid social media to reach audiences effectively. — Stefan Pollack, President & CFO, The Pollack Group, Los Angeles
8. The role of corporate responsibility and CSR communication strengthens
The past year has shown that companies that have invested in responsibility have survived better than others. Next year, corporate management will be more strongly committed to the development of comprehensive corporate responsibility. Responsibility determines the strategic direction, links R&D, management and customer insight together. Themes of social responsibility such as diversity, equality, non-discrimination, workers’ rights, pay issues, health and safety will rise alongside environmental issues.
The company’s stakeholders, such as investors, suppliers, customers and employees, are placing greater demands on the implementation of corporate responsibility. In this development, corporate responsibility plays an important role as a mediator of information and an enabler of dialogue. Responsibility communication is not only an annual report, but rather means continuous, open and reciprocal interaction with stakeholders. The role of corporate responsibility communication is growing as an enabler of dialogue. — Maria Pecoraro, Marketing Advisor, Medita, Helsinki, Finland
9. The “human digital” will take over consumer markets
Thinking digital with humanity will be key next year for consumer marketing: digital now drives most processes. Innovative digital tools will be blended with physical presence and will enhance the emotional experience of products: it’s the era of “Phygital PR”. In order to stand-out, brands must provide a seamless, streamlined experience, making the user’s experience meaningful beyond transactional. — Diego Biasi, Founder & CEO, BPRESS, Milan, Italy
10. The emergence of a new communications language that transcends multiculturalism… programming language
Until now, English has been the dominant language among the multinationals. However, today’s widespread use and evolution of information technology has led to the emergence of a new common language that is superior to English in the quest for multicultural relevance—programming language. Developers from multiple countries will use this programming language to come up with ideas for these applications and software.
For example, young engineers from three countries have succeeded in infographics to show the relationship between the number of corona cases and temperature on a computer screen. The idea came from a young Japanese man, who was not fluent in English, who proposed an idea of using programming language. Two young men from India and Nigeria, who could understand the language, collaborated to complete the infographics. It is communication without speech, and not affected by differences in native language. We will see more new and advanced communication exchanges with programming language in the near future. — Shuji Hirose, Founder & CEO, AZ. Worldcom Japan, Tokyo, Japan