What Communications professionals need to know to navigate 2017
As we stumble into 2017, it’s fair to say that we are entering the most uncertain period of political, economic and social history since the end of the cold war.
That might only be 26 years, but in that quarter of a century we have enjoyed increased global stability and levels of prosperity not experienced before.
So on the eve of the inauguration of President Trump, and as the UK attempts to negotiate itself out of the EU, in the face of rising economic instability and increased global terrorism, 2017 really is a leap into the unknown.
This is the backdrop for communications professionals, and it doesn’t even begin to touch on the issues of their specific industries or sectors, but will undoubtedly have an impact all the same.
So what do communications professionals need to know to navigate these tricky times? What are the specific challenges they are going to face and what, if any, opportunities exist for them in 2017?
- Preparation is critical
The first thing comms professionals need to know is that ‘it’ will happen this year. There is so much going on that is outside of their control that it’s become hard to predict events, and there are increasingly unforeseen outcomes.
So whatever the biggest ‘it’ is for a business or organisation do not put off planning for it, as 2017 is the year “it’ll never happen” happens. Get crisis communications prepared, practiced, and do it now.
- The truth will out
2016 was the year we were forced to admit the phrase ‘post-truth’ into common vernacular. This was, in part, due to extremely misleading campaigns for votes on either side of the Atlantic. 2017 is the year that many of the promises made in those campaigns will need to be delivered on. Questions will be asked and will need answering, fact-checking will become the norm and this will filter through from politics into the business and corporate worlds.
- The return of the ‘experts’
After Michael Gove’s now infamous quote “the British people are tired of experts”, and with Donald Trump publicly rubbishing his own intelligence services, we predict ‘experts’ will make a comeback in 2017.
One of the aspects of dealing with the unknown is that opinion can replace fact (see statement above). As we’re in unchartered territory there is an opportunity for knowledgeable commentary and speculation on strategies, solutions and outcomes, because we just don’t know the answers. That’s where the public and the media need the help of the experts and offers PR professionals plenty of opportunities.
- Emotions will run high – again
A key trend in 2016 was just how strongly emotions played a part communications. From emotive images to inflammatory remarks, the gloves well and truly came off.
It was hard to look at any media without being bombarded with claim and counter-claim, to the point where households and families were left divided on lots of major issues.
This isn’t going to go away in 2017 as uncertainty breeds fear and anger, and as the inevitable “I told you so” arguments ring out at every level of life. This again presents challenging times as communicators try to pit reason against emotion.
- There is a massive opportunity
For all of its challenges, 2017 should be the year of good communications and good communicators. But I fear this won’t be the case.
In uncertain times people seek information; it provides direction, clarity and security. We’re in an age when any void in that information will be filled with what arrives first, regardless of where it is from and how accurate it is. It’s an age where social media is a legitimate, if unchecked, source of news.
The opportunity is that audiences have got their ears and eyes open and are prepared to listen; they want informed comment and content as they look for answers.
Effective PR, therefore, has never been more necessary and should be recognised and represented at Board level, now more than at any other time. Organisations that get this will survive this year in a much healthier state than those that don’t, and some of those won’t make it to 2018.
While 2017 will see communications professionals, both in-house and in agency, working harder than ever before. It does offer an unusual opportunity to get messages heard – as long as it’s done with intelligence, insight and a high degree of empathy.