THE BLOG

Corporate Communications in 2016: Monkeys on Our Backs?

05/01/2016 15:18 GMT | Updated 04/01/2017 10:12 GMT

Back to work today, and the Christmas and New Year break is already fading into memory. Like many people I took the opportunity, amongst the turkey and the tinsel, to look back at 2015, and look ahead to the Year of the Monkey. That brought into focus for me a number of issues facing the communications sector.

First, 2015 was not easy. Europe wobbled, economically and politically. Commodity prices plunged downwards, and then plumbed even greater depths. China's economic rollercoaster slowed, and depending on your view of the capability of the Communist Party leadership, is heading out of control for a hard landing, or will be brilliantly stewarded to a perfect recovery. Terror stalked the globe, creating desperate headlines everywhere. And the early stages of the US Presidential election descended into a macabre farce that often left us Americanophiles aghast.

Closer to home the picture was also of great uncertainty. The run up to the General Election made many in business hold their breath. The decisiveness of the result should have been welcome, but almost immediately we moved into a new period of uncertainty as the Conservatives began a process which could see us leaving the European Union. The economy was apparently doing well, but I have yet to meet anyone who thinks we were witnessing a genuine boom. In short, the last 12 months were turbulent for everyone, including investors and company executives.

It is easy to imagine that the big headlines in 2016 will be very similar: the prevailing winds from the global economy look likely to be unpredictable at best, and very probably adverse. The Deloitte CFO Survey reports falling business confidence. Saudi and Iranian posturing will not help the mood; nor will the fact that Chinese manufacturing output has just dropped for the fifth month running. All the evidence suggests that notwithstanding that there will be a few 'blockbuster' deals in the next few months companies will generally be cautious with their money and their activities.

To an extent, plus ca change, plus la meme chose. After all, this has been the backdrop for corporate communicators for some time. Clients are naturally more careful than in the past. Our industry must learn that simply moaning about 'procurement' is lazy, when in most cases clients simply want real value for their money. 2016 will require communications firms to continue to demonstrate that they are delivering real outcomes, and making a tangible difference to their clients. And rightly so.

Thus in 2016 clients will demand even greater creativity in their corporate and financial comms. More and more of them will seek deeper integration across consumer, investor and stakeholder engagement. They will also be looking for greater innovation, particularly but not exclusively in the use of digital and social channels. But at the same time in an uncertain world the 'old-fashioned' trusted advisor will be as much in demand as ever.

In response to this more demanding environment the corporate communications landscape is shifting. Some of the most admired businesses in our industry, such as Blue Rubicon and Portland, now have been bought by much bigger players. In several cases companies have been pushed together - witness Fleishman and Fishburn, or Blue Rubicon (again), Pendomer, StockWell and Open Road - whether simply for scale or to drive integration and innovation by bringing different disciplines under one roof.

In 2016 we will see how these new combinations fare: will they gain momentum, or lose something that previously made them special? Which form of ownership works best for our industry? And which other leading names will be snapped up, broken apart or picked clean of their best people? We can be sure that the Year of the Monkey will bring much change: and we can be equally sure that our industry will look very different by the time we break up for the next Christmas holiday.