Grandstanding speeches, flowing rhetoric and lively soundbites suddenly felt less important in an era of crisis and lockdown. Success has more often come from forming intimate and authentic connections with audiences, helped by a mastery of social media and fighting for causes they really believe in. Alongside this, the urgent challenges of COVID-19 have meant actions really do speak louder than words.
Marcus Rashford typifies these trends more than anyone. The football star tops our list of the UK Communicators of the Year for his astonishing campaign against food poverty. As we discuss in our article published today, the 23-year-old has become a voice for vulnerable children and families, forcing two government U-turns with his caring demeanour matched by steely determination.
Our list also recognises the impact of frontline NHS staff in communicating the real, human impact of the virus via their own social channels, framing the debate on the national response.
In a year when race and prejudice have moved sharply up the political and social agenda, Black Lives Matter movement campaigners feature in our rundown. Stars John Boyega and Lewis Hamilton have used their public profiles to campaign for change, while Naomi Smith, a key figure in the Hyde Park protest in June, helped give the movement a UK focal point.
As for politicians, Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer deserves praise for his willingness to face his party’s problems head-on, alongside his forensic dismantling of the Prime Minister at the dispatch box. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has shown himself to be a composed speaker, adept at social media and publicising his achievements - with a serene public persona in contrast to that of many of his Cabinet colleagues. Despite recent difficulties, both men have generally improved their personal standing among the public over the course of 2020. Meanwhile, the image of Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has been revived during his battle against tough coronavirus restrictions in the region.
This year firms have needed to ‘put up or shut up’ when it comes to corporate purpose. Bosses of several companies feature in our list based on how they reacted to the pandemic and other acute challenges. All have shown a willingness to act for the wider good. We give particular credit to supermarket chiefs, who faced intense comms challenges alongside the operational headache of trading as lockdown began.
Meanwhile, in a year when many social media influencers have grown in prominence, we highlight two individuals who fit in this loosely defined category. Fitness guru Joe Wicks and comedian Munya Chawawa have grown their profiles significantly and connected with the public, despite (or perhaps partly because of) the new restrictions. We can’t ignore the power of symbolism, either. Centenarian fundraiser ‘Captain Tom’ Moore and Annemarie Plas, originator of the UK Clap for Carers campaign, both make the top 20.
The latest print edition of PRWeek, which is out this week, also includes profiles of the winning entries in the PRWeek UK Awards, including three focused on COVID-19 responses. They are a comforting reminder of the industry’s ability to adapt to the changing comms demands in these remarkable times.
Congratulations to the comms heroes of 2020 – both within the industry, and outside it.