2021: a year that changes corporate comms, and in which corporate comms creates real change

2020 was as horribilis an annus as we’ve had since the 1940s; but if you’re hoping that 2021 will be much better, I’d stop reading now.

Don't expect good news but do expect big change for the sector, writes Gabe Winn
Don't expect good news but do expect big change for the sector, writes Gabe Winn

This will be a year of two distinct halves. The first six months will still be about survival – big businesses holding back investment, small businesses clinging on by their fingernails.

We’ll see PLCs come under shareholder pressure to restructure and cut costs, and lots of smaller businesses will collapse.

High-street retailers, hospitality, and entertainment will continue to suffer most, and the Government won’t be able to rebuff calls for more financial aid.

The Budget in March will lay bare the enormity of the economic challenge ahead and the role that business will have to play in addressing it, just before the recession bites in the second quarter.

The impact of Brexit will have started to hit home, with numerous businesses attributing their demise to the UK’s departure from the EU, and consumers angry about the products, services, or freedoms they’ve lost.

But there is light on the horizon.

Things will begin to pick up from June, possibly earlier. The most vulnerable will have been vaccinated, and the broader roll-out will be gaining steam.

A ‘COVID Passport’ will be put in place to allow those who have been vaccinated to go to theatres, bars and clubs, while the anti-vax idiots are ostracised.

Although the second half of the year will be about recovery, it will also be about recrimination. People will be looking to assign blame.

Government will get the lion’s share for its handling of COVID-19 and Brexit, but corporate Britain will come under the spotlight, too.

Companies that have used the pandemic as a smokescreen to make decisions that are bad for customers, employees or the environment will suffer the ire of consumers, the media and politicians.

So too will those firms on the ‘VIP fast track’ to overly generous Government contracts for PPE, COVID testing, and services.

On the flip side, companies that focus their resources to help society and the economy recover will reap reputational rewards.

It will be the businesses who can demonstrate genuine care, not those who spend a fortune on saccharine marketing campaigns, who win in 2021.

More positively still, the environment will be a huge corporate comms focus in the second half as companies burnish their sustainability credentials to mark COP26 in Glasgow.

Among the bull and bluster, there will be some extraordinary stories of innovation and hope for the future.

This will be a year that changed corporate comms, and in which corporate comms created real change.

Whole industries that hadn’t previously seen the value of what we do will consider it vital; and businesses that had got used to thinking a bit of nice coverage equalled success will understand that the best corporate comms drives outcomes.

We’ll end the year with some restrictions still in place and, as the economy begins to show signs of growth, 2022 will tease us with the promise of normality.

Gabe Winn is chief executive of Blakeney

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