The Annenberg Center's 2022 Global Communication Report, released in March,
focuses on the challenges and opportunities of rising corporate activism.
For years, the Annenberg Center for Public Relations at the University of Southern California was the preferred source for information about the "generally accepted practices" of public relations in the United States because of its biennial surveys of public relations practitioners and working journalists. Then, in 2016, the solely US-centered surveys were discontinued and replaced with new, more extensive, annual, online, world-wide surveys of communication professionals, journalists, educators, and students. Their goal, according to the Center's website, was to track and "provide unprecedented insight into the evolution of the global communications industry by analyzing emerging trends." And, that's what they've done.
The Foreword to this year's report summarized the overall pattern that's evolved since then by saying: "Our reports always paint a picture of a dynamic industry. But now the stakes are even higher. Continued political conflict—on top of an extended global pandemic—has created a new reality for the PR profession. Media has become more biased, information has become more unreliable, and opinions have become more extreme. As a result, our society seems to be permanently polarized."
Inevitably, this polarization and the societal discord that follows in its wake has become "a significant risk factor for global business, posing a threat to corporate reputation, employee recruitment, and organizational morale." It is particularly critical now "because activists, employees and customers are demanding companies take a stand on issues that are important to them." In essence, they are trying to force businesses into becoming social and political activists.
It will be the public relations practitioners working for these businesses who will be responsible for leading them through this risky and unfamiliar territory. For that reason, this year's Global Communication Survey focused specifically on the risks and rewards of corporate activism and the special challenges they present to socially conscious communicators.
According to the survey, 93 percent of the professional PR practitioners who responded are already "spending more time navigating a growing list of complex societal topics" and 77 percent of them believe polarization is a threat to their organizations. Furthermore, "three times as many are partnering with activist groups than three years ago," and 73 percent predict they will increase their engagement with social issues this year.
Most organizations cited by respondents to the survey were said to believe that "the benefit of engaging in social issues outweighs the risk." Among the benefits cited were brand reputation, followed by improved employee morale, and the ability to attract new employees. On the flip side, 10 percent of the organizations were reported to have lost existing employees because of their corporate activism, and only 6 percent reportedly lost existing customers.
The bottom line, according to the Report is: "Public relations has never been more demanding or more meaningful."