The prediction game is usually a fool’s errand. Perhaps that’s why I was asked to write this piece.
At the outset of a year, it’s natural to look ahead. Clients ask what the ‘known unknowns’ are and, while being specific about what lurks around the corner isn’t easy, today’s febrile environment means one thing is certain – more uncertainty.
Casting my mind back to a pre-Referendum 2016 – when things felt more stable – time has flown.
Some say uncertainty is good for our industry. However, the extent to which political turbulence will create economic headwinds shouldn’t be underestimated. While this will mean pressures continue to emerge in many guises, it also means opportunities for agencies should be plentiful.
Public scrutiny has never been fiercer; that won’t change. The frenetic nature of online conversation means any fragility needs to be met with agility, but only if it is well-considered.
Cultures of businesses will continue to be turned inside-out. Growing expectations in a society demanding transparency mean that, whether you are royalty or a multinational charity, what happens within the walls of your offices (or palaces) may as well be happening in the full gaze of the public.
Employee activism isn’t new, but it should feature on any organisation’s risk register as both an operational and reputational threat.
Technology businesses will also continue to face enormous challenges: whether it is data privacy or acting as a proponent of propaganda or ‘fake news’, regulators, campaigners and the public will create a swirling atmosphere for these businesses.
Disruptors being disrupted will be a theme in 2020 and therefore a communications battleground.
The energy monopolised by Brexit means our political leaders remain distracted. Add disillusionment in their leadership – not restricted to the UK – and there’s a growing expectation of businesses to take more responsibility to improve the world.
Against this backdrop, whether it is the Financial Times asking for a reset of capitalism or the British Academy urging a rethink of the role of business in society, people want to see change happening in the right places.
It could be environmental, mental health, equality and – given how quickly issues seem to become agenda-setting – any number of other challenges for businesses.
Businesses are well-placed to drive change. This is an opportunity for organisations to campaign and win friends – but only if they mean it and make it a movement, not a notion.
I referred to the Referendum being the start of a period when things felt fragile and unpredictable. If we accept this is the new normal, we should be assured that businesses will ask for guidance in challenging times as much as to improve the future.
Is there a better-placed industry than ours – where we can help with the tricky stuff and positively address important issues through creativity in equal measure? I don’t think so.
Will Spratt is managing director of corporate affairs at BCW London