Corporate communications in the coming decades won’t be for the faint of heart.
Brunswick Group partner Robert Moran outlined the crises that will give communicators headaches Thursday evening at the Institute for Public Relations Trustees Research Symposium in New York. Here’s a quick overview of the frustrations that will vex the communications pros of the future.
Aging: The world outside of Africa is aging quickly, and a greater percentage of their populations will consist of senior citizens in the coming decades. For one, that means "a lot of countries have made a lot of promises that they will not be able to keep," Moran noted.
Resource scarcity: Ever hear of the element tantalum? It’s an important, but little known, part of smartphones. Conversations that companies have had about "blood diamonds" will be similar to ones they will have about "blood minerals" in the future.
Prosumers and makers: More consumers will produce products on their own. The headache for companies is that many "don’t think about intellectual property like IP lawyers do," Moran noted.
The Napster for things: Remember Napster? Imagine its model applied across products and industries, something that will be more likely as 3D printers become more ubiquitous.
Automation: Forty-seven percent of current US employees are at risk of being replaced by computers. That includes journalists, as companies such as Automated Insights move onto their turf. The media-relations implications are staggering – if PR pros believe it’s difficult to pitch journalists, they probably won’t find a more receptive audience with algorithms.
Automated Insights is no outlier from the distant future, by the way. Just check out the "elements of this story were generated by" tag at the bottom of this Associated Press piece on Walmart’s sales.
Localization: Scotland. Catalonia. Flanders. These are three regions threatening to break away from their current governments. It also means issues like vertical farming will come to the forefront as businesses such as restaurants try to cut down on the distance from food-producer to consumer.
Bioethics: "You only have to see the anti-vaccine revolt" to know this will become a more prominent issue in coming decades, explains Moran.
Extreme transparency: As terrifying as it is for older generations, many Millennials are pretty open about their salary information.
That’s not all. Companies are developing platforms that will allow consumers to rate and evaluate each other – kind of like a cross between Facebook and Glassdoor. The implications for internal communications are enormous.
Big data, surveillance, and nudging: The "right to be forgotten" has generated headlines in Europe in recent months. Companies are placing bets on the direction the US and other countries will go: towards individual privacy like mainland Europe, or in the direction of a more laissez-faire model governing corporations and their collection of data, Moran said.
Alternative economic models: Bitcoin is just the beginning. Get ready for more alternative payment models operating outside of national economic systems.