So, after a year like no other, what follows? In a word: solutions.
For many, seeing solutions right now is difficult. Pre-pandemic problems remain, and many have worsened. The grip of Covid-19 on social and economic life will continue. Inequalities have deepened. Life in a vaccine year means that while normality is on the horizon, it is still six to nine months away, perhaps more.
Meanwhile, the changes triggered by the pandemic—in outlook, perspectives, and practices—continue to take root in many aspects of our lives. For some, this is invigorating, for others, it is unnerving.
This backdrop has prompted some to point to the financial crash of a decade ago as a sign of history repeating itself, and sooner than expected.Given the magnitude of both periods, such comparisons are understandable.
However, there is one fundamental difference this time around, and it is a game-changer in solutions terms: debt, or, more specifically, where the Covid-19-related debt burden sits.
Unlike 2008, when the debt mountain weighed heavily on the shoulders of people, businesses, and governments, this time governments everywhere are footing the bill. If the last crisis was a choice between austerity and stimulus, limited options, cheap capital, and political expediency mean that, for now, austerity has been confined to the annals.
Life in lockdown has allowed many people to amass considerable savings. As Ibec’s recently published economic outlook shows, with consumption dramatically down and economic caution in the wind, people have accumulated up to 40% of their income in savings in the second half of the year. European households have an unexpected €250 billion in the bank.
A solutions-based climate is emerging. Personal savings are growing. Vaccination numbers will rise month by month once the rollout begins. Caution is slowly giving way to creeping optimism. How do businesses and leaders capitalise?
How to prepare your 2021 communications strategy
- Know and accept that the game has changed.
Seismic global events like Covid-19 change the decision-making landscape profoundly, and you must accept this.
In the world of influence, this matters hugely. If I am seeking a favourable decision—from a prospective buyer of my product or service, a potential employee, a politician—the pandemic’s impact on them personally and professionally will be a key determinant in their decision. If you cannot appreciate this fundamental, you are doomed to fail. There is nothing more damaging to achieving solutions than misjudging the mood and mindset of the decision maker.
- Think benefits.
Make the solution you are seeking beneficial to the many. Self-serving asks fall flat for good reason.
If the solution you are seeking cannot be shown to demonstrably deliver broad rather than narrow benefits, while also syncing with the objectives of the decision maker, then success is harder to attain.
- Do your homework.
Detail matters. Whatever your ask, back it up with substance that will favourably inform the consideration. It is neither acceptable nor sensible to allow the decision-maker to decide what form the solution takes.
For example, if I am seeking government backing that will cost taxpayers, particularly at a time of strained public finances, I better be able to provide compelling evidence that supports my ask.
- When is as important as how.
Timing is key. Sometimes, no matter how brilliant the solution, decision-makers just aren’t ready for it. Often, for a myriad of (frequently frustrating) reasons, the timing is just off.
Knowing how to strike is one thing, but knowing when to strike can be more important. You can be banging on a closed door day in, day out and then, all of a sudden, events unfold to make your solution new, shiny, and timely. Underestimate this factor at your peril.
Applying these solution fundamentals in 2021 will not be straightforward. For the first half of the year, Brexit and the sequential nature of vaccine programmes mean uncertainty will linger.
The best business and communications strategies will be attuned to this. Being adaptable, with an ability to think in bitesize, quarterly phases, while keeping your eye on the overall bigger picture, will make solutions more achievable.
Technology will also drive and define solutions in 2021. Big Tech has played a central role in managing the response of governments and others to the pandemic.
Google Maps provided useful alerts and information to help people make better, safer journeys during lockdowns. Oracle developed both a system that allows doctors and patients to record responses to promising Covid-19 drug therapies and a screening registry to identify and screen volunteers who want to participate in Covid-19 clinical trials. These are just two of many similar examples.
However, as we’ve described in this magazine previously, the digital divide debate has erupted in a manner that may ultimately hinder the part technology can play in solutions. That is why understanding the use of technology and how it can be harnessed to deliver solutions in healthcare, education, and other vital services is more crucial than ever.
Technology is often the solution, particularly as it can be the most cost-effective means of meeting such challenges. But policymakers are cautious, not helped by the fact that many of them are of a contrasting age and mindset to digital innovators and natives. Squaring this circle next year will not be easy.
2021 won’t be straightforward, but it will be better. We are edging towards that handshake. Those with a solutions-oriented mindset, supported by an adaptable, timely plan, will grip first.
About the author
Dan founded 360 to deliver intelligent communications as a service. Since 2011, he has cultivated a team of almost 30 professionals who share his vision, ethos, and passion for redefining and reshaping PR. Dan works in close partnership with some of Ireland and Europe’s leading CEOs and senior executives to build their organisations’ communications cultures and equip them with the tools to succeed in fast-changing political, commercial, and social landscapes. Previously, Dan was a senior government and political advisor during Bertie Ahern’s term as Taoiseach, and communications director for the Irish Tax Institute.