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What 2020’s Virtual World Teaches Us About the Now and Future of Executive Communications

December 11, 2020
By Diane Poelker and Emily Acquisto

The end of 2020 is near. And if you’re like most of us, you’re still catching your breath.

But it’s time to create communications plans, and that means taking stock of the trend shifts that are most likely to carry executive communications into the year ahead.

The dramatic events of this year have given new weight to leadership voices, while transforming the landscape of executive visibility opportunities – changes we do not expect to turn from when the calendar flips.

Today, executive digital presence sits squarely at the center of making and breaking news. Online engagement is creating more opportunities than ever for executives to connect directly with internal and external stakeholders. But this explosion of possibilities also produces a noisy clamor of voices – not to mention more room for communication mishaps. It’s an environment that requires executives to advance powerful points of view, backed by cohesive strategy and support.

To help you plan for 2021 and beyond, here’s a summary of key trends we’ve identified in our new overview on the future of executive communications.

The New Realities of “Earned-ish”

Even before the pandemic, major media companies were increasing their emphasis on sponsorship-driven moments for brands at their flagship events. The online shift has accelerated this trend.

Financial pressure and the realities of short, remote-audience attention spans have prompted major media outlets like The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and Fortune to reimagine their events as smaller, virtual, bite-sized moments – with organizers curating earned placements more like newsroom editorial, and more corporate brand-centric moments requiring sponsorship.

The shift to virtual events has created a void in human connections, which LinkedIn has eagerly stepped in to fill. With expanded content avenues – podcasts, live virtual conversations and newsletters – LinkedIn has rapidly grown from a social amplification platform to an origination point for capturing earned visibility during an increasingly crowded time.

LinkedIn’s adaptation to a more virtual world has helped reposition it from the No. 1 trusted social networking platform for business professionals to a powerful content engine. And, as its influence grows, major media and event organizers are turning to it to quote and interview chief business and industry leaders and identify speaking candidates.

What This Means for Executive Communications in 2021

Events, media and social networks will continue to find new ways to adapt to this virtual ecosystem:

  • Events: We’ll see the overall number of events grow, as formats diversify. So far, many third-party event venues plan to keep all engagements virtual through mid-year 2021, then pivot to hybrid or all in-person gatherings later in the year. Pay-to-play speaking opportunities will continue to be part of the mix.
  • Media: As the lines between the various media channels blur, we’ll see outlets apply their heightened focus on CEOs and executives to an ever-expanding array of videos, podcasts and contributed articles.
  • Social: As executives turned to social this year, many realized success is no longer measured by the number of followers but by their influence and engagement with the content. A polished and active executive social presence will be more essential than ever in 2021, and for some leaders, it may even become a hub for aligning internal and external communications.

As the virtual environment further integrates events, traditional media and social media, executive communications will need to advance corporate narratives that can rise above the clutter, advance unique points of view and resonate on the virtual stage. This will require collaborative and centralized communications that purposefully align personal executive passions with business objectives across many leadership voices.

Navigating Through the Digital Flux

We’re all eager to return to a semblance of normalcy. But as we close out 2020, we see the virtual environment solidifying new digital preferences and expectations for stakeholders looking to engage with leaders.

At the same time, the rise of virtual events gives us an opportunity to reimagine pay-to-play, as media houses and event organizers innovate through creative, custom opportunities. This transitioning landscape also gives early-adopting brands a unique chance to experiment while building influential relationships with media and event venues, without the expense of travel.

Finally, as event formats evolve, in-person gatherings remain on pause, and leaders and their stakeholders look for meaningful engagement, virtual visibility in 2021 will require communicators to prioritize the influence of an event venue and total reach instead of place or audience size.

As executives look to steer stakeholders through new realities in 2021, the new digital landscape provides a rare chance to put never-been-done communication ideas and creative strategies into practice. And with an opportunity like that, why would we put off planning?