At times, we really seem to be just one world.
Impressionistically, we are more unified, with trends widely shared, news commonly experienced, and information universally accessible.
The advance of democracy is a stabilizing force, and, broadly speaking, it has become our pervasive political system. The will of the people has been exercised in large-scale elections in more countries than any other time in history. The 21st century looks like the people's century.
Perversely, the same forces that drive unity spawn division. A world in closer touch makes us keenly aware of what separates us. Every generation has had its share of divisiveness, but now the divisions are more public and pervasive. These divisions, borne of complexity, confusion, and change, have a resonance that inevitably conditions how communicators go about their tasks.
Organizations, governments, and NGOs must speak to audiences fractured by dissent. Financial security in retirement is set to become a flash point, as the old dominate the electorate and demand more, while the young in the fastest growing parts of the world resist. We can expect increasing tension as to who owns the global agenda.
The only certainty communicators can count on is that these conflicts will continue to cut across modern societies in all directions. Everywhere, purposes cross. Free speech conflicts with stability. Intellectual property rights fight with free competition. Libertarians seek more freedom of action, while conservatives want more central control to make their total society safer. Rare is it that communicators are not asked to bridge these conflicting views.
How do professional communicators respond to the struggle for voice? The challenge is evaluating this complexity and using it to an advantage. Communicating in a divided world demands more as the newly empowered are seeking validation of their personal views and needs. Success now has a higher bar, and failure has more repercussions. At a time when the need for communications has never been stronger, the barriers to successful communication have never been higher.
So what does success look like? Consider the premise that communication is not a transaction but a relationship, with the end point serving as the starting point. We work backward to consider how communications can help make success happen in a divided world, i.e., we switch from a focus on output to a focus on outcome, which is the only real basis for judgment.
Some guidelines are:
How do you win on a consistent basis? You need to be connected - to the trends, the issues, to real intelligence. PR people must be the eyes and ears of their organizations so they understand the global context. They should be connected to other parts of the organization. And these groups need to be interlinked, to understand the implications of each other's actions. Ultimately, the context for communication is as important as the communication itself.
Bottom line: the demands of our united and divided world make evermore demands of its communication pros. Get it right, and you will be central to your organization. Outcomes, after all, have outcomes.