Nine out of ten comms leaders are positive about the future of their business

For all the talk of the pandemic being a good opportunity for comms, in reality 2020 was the year when most companies in our industry tore up business plans and sought survival at all costs.

There were, of course, some companies which were able to gain an edge by creating new services and propositions to satisfy the changing needs of clients in this strange new world.

Don’t worry if you weren’t one of those in 2020. But in 2021, as we balance new strains, vaccines, Brexit and necessary growth, we all need to be more like those progressive companies looking to make changes for the better and build belief into their offering.

Positivity for 2021
Carta Communications and The Pulse Business have launched the PR and Communications Tracker, a new quarterly survey of PR leaders.

CONFIDENCE LEVELS How positive are you feeling about the future of your business over the next 12 months?

The inaugural Tracker revealed that the vast majority (87%) feel positive about the future of their business over the next 12 months – with nearly a third of those saying ‘very positive’ and the rest a more muted ‘quite positive’.

Just 4% said ‘not very positive’, and the same number again chose ‘not positive at all’.

Andrew Laxton, CEO of comms agency Mixology, says he is expecting a slow Q1, before “a heightened period for RFPs and full programme activation to come back into play by Q2 as the roll out of the national vaccination programme starts having a positive impact on society and restrictions begin to ease”.

Also cautiously optimistic was one head of marketing, who says her firm has “a lot of new business coming in”, and a strong forecast, but adds: “I am concerned that we are yet to feel the knock-on effects of Covid globally and am unsure where this will leave us further into the new year.”

CHALLENGES AHEAD Which one of these, if any, do you see as the biggest threat to your business over the next 12 months?

Cautious adaptation and product development
Some of the companies feeling most confident were those that had spent last year adapting and redeveloping service offerings. A director at a top ten PR agency says that his company leadership’s approach has always been one of never taking anything for granted. “This is standard for us. We have also developed new products to expand our appeal.”

Another respondent says that continuous adaptation had been key to both survival in 2020, and to a promising 2021, commenting: “We envisage the first quarter of 2021 will continue to be hard work with a need for ongoing adaptation together with the hope of an uptick as the year progresses, vaccine roll-out continues, and a release of some pent-up demand.”

Progressive companies
In March 2010, as the world was recovering from the 2007 crash, the Harvard Business Review published an article looking at the strategies adopted by businesses over the previous three global recessions: the 1980 crisis, the 1990 slowdown, and the 2000 bust.

It found that progressive companies – those which deploy the right combination of defence and smart adaptation – did about twice as well in bouncing back as the market as a whole.

This begs the question of how the communications industry can find the right way to change in these times, in order to achieve growth and sustainability.

We owe it not just to the companies we work for, but to the industry as a whole, to seek out opportunities for sustainable change and innovation. And this means avoiding throwing any babies out with the bathwater in a rush to disrupt.

Expert status and collaboration
Every action that progressive companies take is aimed at creating an important belief in their audiences: that the company can make a real difference, one that their audiences need them to make.

There are two main ways of achieving this belief: by proving expert status, and by forging deep and meaningful collaborative connections with target audiences. This is the methodology that we have set out in our tool, the Carta Quadrant.

If you aspire to lead, everything that you do needs to be focused on making effective changes. Change comes by making a series of small steps, and the first step is always the hardest.

So, let’s all try to more progressive in 2021, and see where smart adaptation takes us.

Methodology
The PR and Communications Tracker ran in late December 2020, at the height of the Covid Christmas flux. Sample size: c700 senior communications leaders occupying both in-house and agency MD positions. This Tracker will run on a quarterly basis and will next go live in March 2021.

Written by Matt Cartmell, director and founder of agency Carta Communications