What 2016 taught us about comms

From a divisive Brexit to a tumultuous US election, if ever a year shone a light on the importance of comms it was 2016. Our exec directors and department heads investigate the after effects of  this complex year with insights for 2017.

Head of corporate, Nick Bishop

In a post-truth era, will it matter if a chief executive lies? Rather than apologise should he be brazen it out and continue the lie until all of us have forgotten fogged over with disbelief? And what if a brand fakes news? If it entertains and no harm is caused, does it matter? The truth after all is boring and for pedants.

Trust in politicians, business, the media and just about everything is at an all-time low. Arguably there’s little to lose from relaxing our grip on the truth. No, the truth, of course, must always remain sacrosanct.

The lesson for brands and business is the importance of emotion. A rational argument counts for much less than one that gets people’s adrenaline going.

Executive director, technology, Will Sturgeon

2017 is going to really throw down a challenge to brands. Society and politics are polarised in ways we haven’t seen in any of our lifetimes. This will challenge the extent to which brands can be apolitical. It’s one thing to say you don’t want to take sides in moderate times, it’s quite another to risk customers thinking you endorse hatred.

Just look at the success the Stop Funding Hate campaign is having.

In such politically charged times, brands will have to give some thought to how their messaging, responses, statements could play into very divisive narratives, whether intentional or not, or even how inaction or no-comment will be perceived. If Article 50 is triggered in April this will be more true here in the UK than anywhere. Any statement about jobs, future prospects, hiring will be seized upon. But those are things brands are going to have to comment on.

Head of creative, Charlie Coney

The Turner Prize winner recently lashed out at the arts world for “preaching to the converted,” saying Brexit and Donald Trump’s election are “fantastic” opportunities to reach new audiences.  He argued that greater diversity – of opinion, background, interest and passion – should be welcomed and encouraged if we’re to challenge the “same old comfortable ideas”.

These words are as relevant to up-and-coming artists as they are to practitioners of creative marketing and communications.  Whether it’s because of our social circles, Facebook friends or the make-up of the communities in which we live, we’re often guilty of believing that our world is the world – and 2016 should be a wake-up call to all of us.  We need to bring new skills, new talents and new ways of thinking into our agencies – so our ideas are relevant for, and representative of, a large cross section of society.

With access to a variety of channels – paid, owned and earned – we no longer need to rely (solely) on convincing media owners or beleaguered journalists to run our stories, but can now engage directly with new audiences, in new ways with new ways of thinking.  So let’s get out of our bubble, embrace diversity of opinion (from the right and the left) and bring in people from different backgrounds and industries to make the work we do in 2017 more creative, more representative, more exciting and more engaging than ever before.

Head of digital, Alex Brittain

There has been a push in digital agencies for some years to go bigger and more global. The promise of a global network with cheaper resources in offshore locations has been seen as the panacea for all digital client problems. But bigger and more global is not always better. With global solutions comes much more inefficiency, more rounds of amends, less control for clients and less creativity.

My prediction is that we will see more brands – particularly digitally savvy challengers – shunning offshore models and rejecting the less creative agencies and consultancies that offer them in 2017.

Executive director, Will Sturgeon

Management consultancies and outsourcers have long offered a wide range of professional services but haven’t really been very interested in marcomms. Until the acquisition of Karmarama by Accenture.

As the line between content, product, creative, marketing and technology blurs and as data plays a greater role in campaign planning and execution – across blurring and consolidating PR agencies, digital agencies, marketing agencies – the likes of Accenture are only going to get more interested in anybody who has a relationship with the CMO.

The CMO now has a huge technology budget (because digital, tech and data sit at the heart of modern marketing) so the cross sell and opportunities for somebody like Accenture are obvious. From interactive outdoor advertising to the use of AI, drones, and data analytics, marketing has become very digital, as has PR. I would expect to see other professional services companies snapping up agencies in 2017.