In the world of public relations and elsewhere, 2020 has been a year like no other.

Even the Macquarie Dictionary has been at a loss for words to describe it. If we could wipe it off the calendar and start again, most of us probably would.

But like it or not, what the pandemic has brought about are some significant trends in communications and public relations which are likely to remain with us for some time … if not ongoing.

Communicating with compassion

Given the emotional roller coaster of a year we’ve just had and  given that COVID-19 isn’t going away any time soon, compassion will remain the centrepiece of our communication effort.

We have and will continue to see a growth in authentic, value-oriented communication. Organisations will increasingly take a stronger stance on social issues and we will see the use of storytelling as a critical public relations device for communicating empathetic stories about their organisations.

We will also see more and more CEOs and business leaders emerging from behind the anonymity of their brands to become the “human face” of their organisations. They will be the ones communicating directly with their customers and shareholders, creating and sharing content and raising awareness on issues relevant to these audiences.

Where it comes to publicity, reference and tie-ins with COVID and the post COVID rebuilding effort will need to be included in all communications strategies. If your pitch, announcement or company news is not relevant to the pandemic and issues post pandemic, it will be hard to find media coverage.

Thought leadership will continue to be on the up and up

Personal branding and thought leadership will continue to grow in Australia as more and more businesses and individuals seek to become the recognised authority in their industry or field.

According to many of the PR gurus I spoke with, the key driver for the trend will be the need to build trust, particularly in the B2B space where purchasing decisions are a complex process and where trust is an essential ingredient. Being the recognised expert and the individual or organisation providing valuable information and advice, will prove to be the best approach to winning this trust.

In a recent LinkedIn study, 89% of decision-makers indicated that thought leadership was effective in enhancing their perceptions of an organization. Not only did these decision-makers vet a company’s capabilities based on its thought leadership but compelling content most definitely influenced their decisions to buy.

Given that content is a primary component of thought leadership, during 2021 we will likely see an explosion in blog posts, e-books, business books, videos, infographics and podcasts that help thought leaders connect with their audiences, showcase their expertise and provide audiences with valuable insights and information.

Story-telling will be bigger than ever

Already we have seen story telling going well beyond TED Talks and increasingly being woven into business presentations, financial year-end reports, media stories, articles, social media, video and podcasts.

This will accelerate even further during 2021.

According to the pundits, storytelling will increasingly take the format of mini narratives highlighting people or specific initiatives, success stories, relatable heroes (people your audience can cheer for) and include the use of figurative and emotive language which paints pictures we are less likely to forget.

Bottom line it will help audiences feel a stronger personal connection with brands, drive engagement and positively impact purchasing decisions.

Ultimately it will be the thing people remember most about brands.

Podcasts to continue to grow in popularity

2021 will likely see an increase in podcasts, with more brands, institutions as well as the media harnessing the power of this very intimate form of communication.

As many are finding, podcasts are not only providing a forum for long-form interviews and storytelling but are an excellent vehicle for delivering credible information and analysis.

Organisations are also finding that regardless of their industry or size,  podcasts are helpful in positioning them as thought leaders while at the same time providing a unique opportunity to reveal the ‘humanity’ of their brand.

According to University of Canberra research, podcast listening in Australia increased from 27 percent in 2019 to 32 percent in 2020, the most popular topics being consumer information, lifestyle, news, contemporary life and sport.

And the key reason Australians listen to is podcasts: to get a  broad range of perspectives on issues. By contrast US listeners consume podcasts to ‘get a deeper understanding on specific issues’ than is possible from other forms of communication.

Media coverage more important than ever

The pandemic has also driven a renewed interest in trusted media sources as the public turned and continues to turn to the media for answers. Whether or not the trend will continue is hard to tell at this stage.

However there is cause for optimism with the Federal Government announcing significant support for struggling regional news media and pushing forward with a draft mandatory bargaining code that could force tech giants Google and Facebook into negotiations with news providers to share their advertising revenue.

Also in keeping with the move to more compassionate communication, we have and will continue to see a big trend to more human stories in the media rather than those centred on corporate or brand narratives.

Greater leveraging of live streaming

Although live streaming has been around for a few years now, it is enjoying a big surge in popularity and could become bigger than traditional video, according to top PR pundits.

The key reason for this is that it enables a more authentic interaction with audiences and is likely to garner more comments than regular video.

So according to the gurus, in 2021 we are going to witness more brands shunning well-rehearsed, scripted videos and opting for more relaxed, natural-looking live streaming videos.

We are also likely to see organisations stream interviews, discussions, panels and events live … even make announcements and launch their products in this manner.

Hope you found my crystal-ball gazing useful and that 2021 proves to be a truly productive year on the communication front!

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