Insight

Communications in 2021: What Does the Future Hold?

Well, no one saw 2020 coming… Picking the bones out of a year defined by COVID-19 can seem difficult – but there have been some clear themes. For example, we’ve seen an incredible acceleration in digital transformation, while tech brands have also been forced to think about what they should communicate.

As technology PR heads put their communications plans together for 2021, I want to explore four themes that will define the near future for communications.

  • The COVID-19 legacy

Despite the rollout of a new vaccine, it’s highly unlikely that we will suddenly flock back to the way things were before the pandemic. I think we’ll see more people working both from home and the office. Work-life balance, support and professional development for staff is going to be a huge differentiator when it comes to attracting talent.

Positively, budgets are likely to pick up in 2021 with increased hiring set to follow. We are also all looking forward to attending live events, and we know nothing can replace the value of meeting face-to-face, especially for the first time. However, the virus has pushed many events to be adapted online, reaching huge audiences at low cost. I believe that we’ll see innovative online events continue to play a key role in tech communications during 2021. Online interactions are not fruitless after all, as we’ve seen at Grayling over the last 12 months, having both won new business and delivered great work this year for clients that we’ve only ever met on Microsoft Teams.

  • Brexit will cast a long shadow

It’s already December and we’re still not clear what the UK-EU relationship will look like, more than four years after the referendum. What is clear is that there will be an impact on recruitment. British PR firms, for instance, looking to access talent from EU countries will face new difficulties that will make hiring from abroad less attractive. The detail is yet to be finalised, but my hope is that Brexit does not impair our ability to hire the best talent, wherever those people come from.

Brexit also has potential impacts on the way we handle data in the UK and is set to dominate the news agenda during 2021, as the pros and cons of leaving the European Union become clear. This will have a knock-on effect for UK-based tech companies and those that do business here. As spokespeople for the tech sector, we should be ready to support the sector as it goes through this uncertain period – and continue to bang the drum for our world-leading technology industry in a post-Brexit world.

Communicators will just need to continue to be flexible.

  • Social media literacy more vital than ever

PR communicators need to think more carefully than ever before about how their campaigns could be perceived to avoid a backlash across social channels. At a time when many consumers and businesses are feeling under pressure, brands need to ensure they have their finger on the pulse and ‘read the room’ effectively. It is important to get a wide consensus on any campaign ideas before you commit to them and open them up for scrutiny with online audiences.

And then there is the rise of TikTok. The platform continues to have real momentum and I think it poses a real threat to the dominance of the other main social networks. We can expect it to play a key role in Europe, although its future direction in the US may well depend on how the new administration views the platform.

Video content is the most persuasive content format for the C-suite, this medium is still under-utilised in business-to-business marketing, in particular. I’m also interested to see how business leaders use LinkedIn’s new Stories function or Fleets on Twitter as we go into 2021.

  • The rise of B2B influencers

Influencers are going to grow in importance and continue to host valuable platforms for tech brands to reach their target audiences, especially for many business-focused brands that may not have considered working with influencers before.

At Grayling, we ran a very successful B2B campaign for Kaspersky this summer with the help of two thought leaders in their field. The webinar we hosted as part of this campaign provided two conflicting viewpoints which really helped us see thought-provoking sides of a critical argument and create a solid piece of long-tail content that continues to deliver coverage and links to our client. The key is to make sure the influencers you choose to work with have reach and credibility, and that they are a suitable brand fit.

It looks likely that we’ll see even more competition for creativity in both B2B and consumer-facing tech marketing.

Recent action from the UK Competitions and Markets Authority led to the Facebook-owned platform Instagram committing to doing more to prevent hidden advertising on the social network. The PR industry must be more stringent on disclosure and make sure it is built into their influencer contracts.

So, those are four key areas that will define tech communications in 2021. Let us see what the new year brings…

If you’d like to discuss how Grayling can support you in 2021, please drop me a line on liz.alexander@grayling.com


In Insight