3 Key 2021 Communications Trends


What’s in store for communications for the rest of this calendar year? We survived 2020 and now a hopeful, yet frantic, January and February are in our rear-view mirrors. We have put so much pressure on 2021 to be different, to be better, to bring some sense of normalcy, yet we continue to deal with a global pandemic, social unrest, misinformation, disinformation and the outcome of a polarizing presidential election.

Many thought the craziness would miraculously be behind us, but then we watched the storming of the U.S. Capitol (a site not seen since 1814), followed by an inauguration like no other. Yet, there emerged a glimmer of hope and promise as we were mesmerized by the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, Amanda Gorman. Ahh, the power of communication.

No doubt, we have learned a lot last year and what 2021 has dealt us so far. It is often the challenging, disruptive, anything-but-normal days and situations that we tend to remember the most. And, many times, it’s also when we learn some important life lessons and change our future course.

The past 12 months have changed the way communicators communicate and that will continue to impact 2021 and beyond.

Three key areas that were impacted and what we recommend in each as we look forward include:

  1. Crisis communicationsThe lack of an updated, relevant crisis plan and regular training to test various potential scenarios led many companies and organizations to create and test crisis communications, messaging and crisis management in real time. In some cases, this led to mad scrambles, delayed responses and negatively impacted brands.

    Here’s a better approach:

    • Strategize, plan and anticipate – don’t lose sight that what appears to be an “insignificant” issue can become a major crisis
    • Revisit crisis communications plans to prepare for worst case scenarios and regularly conduct training using various mock scenarios
  2. Diversity effortsFollowing the death of George Floyd and protests related to social justice, companies and organizations rushed to release statements that Black Lives Matter or they remained silent; oftentimes they lacked authenticity in words and, more important, in actions (past and present) that champion diversity, inclusion, equity and equality.

    Here’s a better approach:

    • Build, grow and empower diverse teams and communities
    • Be authentic in words and actions
    • Develop diversity, equity and inclusion goals that can be measured and regularly reported out for accountability and to show steady progress
  3. Nontraditional communicationsSome of the traditional communication channels and in-person events/meetings to reach internal and external target audiences were replaced by video conferencing (Zoom fatigue anyone?) and real-time chat and an increase in video, social/digital communications, podcasts, streaming services (lots of binge watching and ads) and virtual events/conferences. When executed correctly, these events conveyed important learnings, authenticity and communicated a clear call to action. When executed poorly, these events led to burnout and overwhelmed, overbooked professionals or wasted valuable productive time during the work day.

    Here’s a better approach:

    • Expect the reimagined work environment and hybrid conference/shows to last well after a return to some normalcy
    • Think strategically and creatively to create nontraditional communications and channels to reach your target audiences in their diverse, multi-tasking environments – both physical and virtual
    • Explore hybrid experiences or ways to add interactivity to virtual programming

Despite the year that we’d all like to forget, embrace these learnings from 2020, be prepared, plan and communicate, communicate, communicate. But be ready to adapt again. If there is one thing we know, it’s that change and sometimes rapid change, is part of business and life.