I believe 2016 will be the year in which many businesses have to pause and reflect on their true social purpose (click to tweet).
My starting point is that several of the macro PR trends we’ve seen over the last few years will continue to build strongly over the next 12 months:
1. The old barriers between advertising, PR and marketing are falling away – and PR is gaining greater influence.
2. Smartphones are embedding the expectation of real-time, short-form, visual communication into our cultures.
3. The blanket use of social media is enabling the public to rally around social and political causes with increasing speed and agility.
4. The public’s appetite for transparency means that senior public figures are regularly challenged regardless of hierarchy.
5. The notion of privacy is being redrawn as people use everything from apps, to big data, to drones to peer into other people’s lives.
6. The risks of crisis issues like financial loss, ethical failure or data breach, becoming global news stories are increasing.
Together, I believe these trends mean we’ve reached a tipping point for how the social contribution of brands will be highlighted and challenged. From now on big brands may face difficult choices in terms of which social issues and causes they are seen to confront and support – and which they choose to ignore.
In 2015 we saw campaigners become incredibly skilled at drawing attention to the how top brands contribute to the communities they serve. Witness this recent campaign at the COP21 summit in Paris, the attack on Chipotle and how the death of #CecilTheLion was used to trigger a ban on the shipment of big-game trophies and the suspension of trophy hunting.
We saw the normalization of brands running incredible campaigns that align them with huge social causes – like the role of women, gay rights and disability – as they seek to better connect with their customers.
We also witnessed brands take a stand on global events. For example brands remembered the horrific attack on the Charlie Hebdo with #JeSuisCharlie. Brands celebrated the historic US gay marriage decision with #LoveWins. Then after yet more terrible events in Paris we saw #PrayforParis shared across the world.
In 2016 with campaigners more skilled, brands regularly running social issues campaigns and brands actively taking a stand on societal subjects, I predict we’ll see a new level of interest in what brands confront, support and ignore.
Knowing your brand’s true social purpose will be the only way to present a reliable positive image based on human truths, avoid potentially damaging accusations of inconsistency and prevent a gap appearing between what you say and what you do.
A version of this article can be seen on PRCA.org.