That was the year that was…

Like many people who are blessed with 20:20 hindsight, I am much better at explaining the past than defining the future. Which is a shame because as Kierkegaard said: “Life can only be understood backwards but must be lived forwards.” But when thinking about the world of communications it is important to try and separate the fads from the trends. Many of the trends that we’ve observed with our clients have been bubbling along for a while but have gained strength over the past year. Here are some of the lessons that we’ve learnt that might prove instructive in the year ahead.

Integration is key. With every year that passes, clients are expecting their communications to be more joined up. They recognise that audiences no longer exist in silos and that they need to be influencing and interacting across the whole spectrum. They also are expecting their communications teams to be actively supporting their business and marketing strategy to an even greater extent. This means not only protecting and supporting their brands but also helping to drive sales. To this end the PESO model will become even more important.

Internal is all about tech. We’ve seen the employee audience move inexorably to the centre stage over the past few years. But now it has moved on from engagement and communication to helping people do their jobs more effectively. Companies are looking at the behaviours that they need their people to exhibit for them to be successful and they are introducing social channels to help them work smarter. Intranets are out and Enterprise Social Networks are in. Portals are being replaced with BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) where employees use their own smart phone to work, share information, learn, and play. Internal Communications used to see HR as their business partner; now it’s the CIO.

Video is key. Whatever the question the answer is likely to include video. Short, snappy well-made (ie properly framed, filmed, edited, lit and with good sound) are becoming integral to all communication campaigns from internal and consumer to financial and public affairs.

Data is dashboards. Crunching data to produce real insights and brand stories is still in its embryonic stage for most businesses. However, data for measurement and evaluation is likely to become even more ubiquitous. Companies are looking for bespoke dashboards that can help them understand the effectiveness of their campaigning as well as providing a one-stop source of inputs.

CSR is now sustainability. PR puff campaigns are so last year. It’s not about reports and community events (it never really was, of course) and it’s now about re-engineering operating models to put sustainability at the heart of the business.

Print is still alive. Books are not dying; but ebooks are declining. Great news for bibliophiles and lovers of print. Next year more people will realise that digital is only part of the communications mix rather than the only channel.

Radical is the new Authentic. Being authentic no longer means being true to yourself in the existing world. It means changing the world to fit your perspective. Think Corbyn. Rather than merely being content to be himself in the role that others have designed, he is changing the role to fit his viewpoint. It’s time to be disruptive and change the model.

Reputation is all about behaviour. For too long PR has been about managing and creating a reputation. Thomas Cook and Volkswagen have reminded us of what we’ve known all along: that it’s not what you say it’s what you do. No amount of reputation management can make up for getting it right in the first place.

2016 will present its own set of challenges. Like its predecessor it will throw up issues that no-one has predicted. To continue to be influential in helping organisations navigate their way through the inevitable complexity, communication consultants will need to refresh their attitudes and skills to maintain their relevance. And who knows, perhaps some of these insights may even prove useful on that journey.

Written by
Tim Johns, Consultant