Buckle up, it's going to be a bumpy ride: corporate comms predictions for 2017

The timetable may still be uncertain, but corporate comms practitioners must be able to show that business strategies are in place as Brexit nears.

Hold onto your hats in the corporate world: 2017 is going to be a bumpy ride, warns Helen Searle
Hold onto your hats in the corporate world: 2017 is going to be a bumpy ride, warns Helen Searle

If anyone working in corporate comms thought 2016 was turbulent, then it’s time to buckle up as we climb into the roller coaster that will be 2017.

Do you speak Brexit?

Uncertainty remains perhaps the only certainty, but what businesses can be sure of is a need to get more fluent on Brexit. While corporate narratives have notably shifted from giving the impression that the referendum wasn’t even taking place, to "here are some scenarios and implications", the time for stalling is over. The only acceptable position in 2017 will be: "We have a plan – here it is and here’s how it will keep our organisation, economy and employees secure."

With perhaps less than three months until the Government invokes Article 50, pending Parliament’s ruling, time is short to get houses in order. Those who move first to set out their plans will be rewarded by their stakeholders – what are we all looking for at a time like this if not reassurance? Those who are slower to move may feel they are avoiding risk, but reputational advantage is rarely gained by sitting at the back of the pack.

Stop thinking. Start doing

In a ‘post-truth’ world, beyond a clear strategy position, business will need to prove, not just speak of, its commitments. Thought-leadership, that stalwart of so many corporate plans, may be alive and well, but businesses that fail to back it up with a good helping of ‘do-leadership’ will lose ground. This isn’t about CSR. It’s about proving any claim a business has to being able to withstand any turbulence that lies ahead.

Having a good clutch of statistics on business performance is not enough. Expectations will be that businesses can point to what they are doing under the bonnet: whether on behalf of their employees, their customers or, better still, wider society. In 2017 businesses will have to stand up for the things they most want to be famous for in actions, not just thoughts.

Corporate finds its right mind

The corporate world likes to reduce risk, mitigate issues and avoid crises. Fair enough; I, for one, would be out of a job if we didn’t get that right. But a braver, bolder, more challenging and potentially exciting flavour of corporate comms is emerging.

Creativity, long a dirty word, even a guilty pleasure, among corporate communicators, is about to come of age. Businesses that don’t get a slice of this action can admire their issues manuals until the cows come home, but focusing only on risks and issues won’t enable them to tell rich, compelling and engaging stories, connecting their brands to multiple audiences.

Practitioners will need to engage their ‘right brains’ and bring creativity fully into the fold. As news agendas get tougher, budgets get tighter and scrutiny intensifies, fresh approaches, unlikely partnerships, unique perspectives and imaginative campaigns will set apart the winners and losers in 2017.

Helen Searle is managing director, corporate, at Cohn & Wolfe

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