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Synergies will be key in 2020

It seems fitting at the start of a year – a decade no less – to take some time to look forward and think about some of the key issues that might be on the horizon in 2020 for people in the financial and professional services PR and comms space.

Whilst reflecting on what I see coming down the track, it strikes me that the key themes for me this year are all linked by a common theme – synergy.

The world we work in is as fragmented as ever, but my sense is that businesses are increasingly getting serious about nailing down what their role is in this fractured landscape. Getting to where they want to be, though, will require organisations to work collectively, in a joined-up way and with a genuine commitment to drawing on synergies, both internally and externally. So here we are, my 5 thoughts for the year ahead…

1) Maturity of purpose. Last year I suggested that CSR in its traditional sense was dead, and that organisations should be thinking more about why they do something rather than what they are doing. They are both features of the concept of ‘purpose’, and in 2020 I fully expect organisations to become more mature about how they treat and manifest their purpose.

I’ve been encouraged over recent months through the conversations I’ve had with clients and contacts about how seriously they are taking purpose. Rebadging traditional CSR – planting trees, painting fences, raising money - and calling it purpose won’t cut it. Integrating purpose into everything an organisation does with a view to addressing societal and environmental needs will be critical, and it can’t be owned by one function alone – it will require teams right across an organisation, including PR and comms, to work in synergy, with clear direction from the c-suite.

2) Internal comms becomes critical. Again, last year, I talked about a convergence between internal and external comms, and I continue to think this will - and should – be an absolutely fundamental area of focus for firms, particularly in the international financial services space. The scale of consolidation, mergers and acquisitions we have seen in the trust, fund and company administration space in recent years, for example, has meant that previously disparate teams have come under one umbrella, and are suddenly expected to share a focus, culture (and yes ‘purpose’), but doing that from scratch is tough. Bringing employees from different backgrounds, in multiple jurisdictions on a shared journey requires a real focus on internal comms and employee engagement.

It’s important because employees can be vital ambassadors for an organisation – listening to their needs around key issues like mental health, diversity, inclusion and wellbeing, and acting appropriately on them will require comms teams to work closely with HR in particular.

3) Transparency. Organisations have generally been very accepting and worked hard to respond to the need for greater transparency and how being more open and accessible can help engender trust. I’ve been lucky to work with CEOs recently who have understood the need to be available for interviews, be candid about issues and acknowledge the merits of making information available.

In 2020 I’d like to see that momentum carried forward in a more proactive way, so that organisations are not only responding to an agenda, but are driving change – by publishing gender pay gap or carbon footprint figures for example. I also think there’s scope for firms to take a more proactive stance on tackling disinformation and the proliferation of fake news through social media. That will not only require collaboration between marketing, PR and IT teams, but across different firms too.

4) Sophistication of storytelling. A trend I’ve seen emerge throughout 2019 in the international financial services space is a general understanding that firms need to be part of the wider conversation if what they do is going to resonate with global audiences – green finance, sustainability, diversity, governance. It’s a positive development, and I hope this sophistication of storytelling will continue in 2020. To do that, firms will need to be alive to global sensitivities and issues, and be brave enough to take a stand on something.

There’s still a reluctance to do that, but I wonder if in 2020 we will see firms realise that sometimes they will need to be brave, and that actually not taking a stance could undermine their purpose. Getting to this point will need marketing and comms teams to work closely together, and realise that the PR function is not just a press release at the end of a process, there needs to be joined up input all the way through, so that everything an organisation does can be demonstrably authentic, watertight, meaningful and with substance.

5) Ethical digital. Firms have been investing heavily in digital solutions in 2019, and with good reason – failure to do so now could be catastrophic in terms of failing to address productivity, servicing clients and customers better all over the world in real time, and in addressing the very pressing threat of cyber security and hacks.

But there’s a very different side to digital innovation too. Now more than ever there is a need for organisations to think carefully about how they implement and use digital tools and AI – corporate digital responsibility. What are the ethical implications of using a certain platform? Should we be collecting and using data in this way? This tool might solve an immediate issue for us now, but does it tally with our view of the world, or does it have the potential to drive polarisation? These can be quite challenging philosophical questions and will require joined-up thinking between PR, marketing, IT and operations teams, but I sense they will become more important, as firms’ approaches to purpose continue to mature. Which brings me back to point 1...

Happy 2020 everyone!

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