Communicators - politicians, corporate spokespeople, charity campaigners - have always faced challenges when trying to get their messages through to voters, consumers and the public. While they have a wealth of new tools available, from social media to targeted campaigns driven by Big Data, new research by research and strategy consultancy Populus and communications consultancy Open Road suggests that the changes to the communications landscape aren't making things any simpler.
Building on research in 2011 and 2012, the study looks at media consumption, crisis management, and influence amongst both the general public and elite Opinion Formers like MPs, business leaders and NGOs. The results are surprising and - for communicators at least - at times sobering.
Take changing media consumption and influence. While some traditional media outlets like printed newspapers and specialist press are seeing their influence decline, others - like radio - are as influential now as ever. Online news sources are increasingly influential, but not uniformly so.
While Twitter grows in importance for elite Opinion Formers it is Facebook that is doing so for the wider public. Blogs are no more influential than they were in 2011, corporate websites have lost ground and online newspapers, perhaps because of paywalls, haven't taken up the influence lost by their print editions.
Responding to these changes is no simple task. Twitter, despite its growing influence and reach, is the platform on which MPs and Opinion Formers are most likely to ignore a negative story about themselves. Local media, in contrast, is the platform Opinion Formers and MPs are least likely to ignore when it comes to responding to hostile stories.
While the media landscape continues to evolve, it has been a year of extraordinary communication crises and challenges too: from horsemeat to corporate tax scrutiny, historic abuse allegations to the energy price crisis. Some have performed well and others could have performed better. Supermarkets emerge as one victor, thought to have responded well to the horsemeat crisis and viewed as some of the most effective of all communicators. Those implicated in corporate tax scandals have struggled in contrast - a judgement, perhaps, on the public's views towards tax as much as on the communications response.
Although media use and influence change, some things seem not to. The BBC, always well-regarded by the public, is thought to have handled the Saville crisis well and the controversy seems to have had little permanent impact in its reputation. For the third consecutive year, it remains the home of the nation's most respected commentators on both politics and economics, respectively Nick Robinson and Robert Peston.
While elite Opinion Formers nominate a diverse range of commentators - from print pundits to bloggers and TV personalities - the public rely heavily on just a few TV personalities, primarily those on the much trusted BBC. Martin Lewis, of Money Saving Expert, makes a strong appearance as the public's second most trusted economics and business commentator but is missing entirely from the Opinion Former list.
With such diverse findings, the research has caused considerable debate ranging from how marketers should best respond to a crisis, to the implications for PR practitioners, and the learnings for political campaigners. With companies as keen as ever to promote their brands and protect their reputations, and politicians eager to gain support in the run-up to 2015, the search for more effective communication continues.
More information on the research, including full findings and methodology, is available here.