Best of 15 years of research on strategic communication: a look back and ahead
The 2023 edition of the European Communication Monitor (ECM) offers valuable insights by summarizing 15 years of significant strategic communication management issues, while also looking forward to identify five essential areas of focus for communication leaders.
The ECM shows that two issues have been constantly on top of the mind of communicators and they will continue to stay there at least until 2025:
- Building and maintaining trust is continuously rated as important by communication managers in Europe since 2007 and peaking as the most relevant issues each year since 2018.
- Linking business strategy and communication was rated as the primary strategic issue during the first ten years of the ECM. After a sudden drop in 2019, when operational issues gained more significance, it is now on the rise again.
Prof. Ansgar Zerfass, research team
It’s nice to see how this project has evolved. I still remember the first study in 2007 – when you compare that to our current surveys, it’s a world of difference.
The ECM 2023 report identifies five areas that will shape the future of strategic communication and need specific attention.
Digital technologies, artificial intelligence and big data change everything. On the journey toward digital maturity communication practitioners across Europe face various challenges:
- The adoption of Communication Technology is hindered by challenges such as communication tasks and processes ill-prepared for digitalization, inflexible organizational setups and cultures as well as a lack of support from IT departments and similar structural barriers that contribute to the difficulties.
- Implementing artificial intelligence encoutners challenges at individual and societal levels, requiring user and stakeholder acceptance, support from top management, and societal infrastructure development.
- Communication departments and agencies are vulnerable to various types of cyberattacks, including data theft, disruptions of digital infrastructure as well as website and social media account hacking. Communicators should develop security protocols, backup plans, and crisis communication strategies to safequard their operations.
New opportunities for communication practitioners emerge from serving as advisors or consultants in their organizations, but they need to develop competencies to address the challenges and unlock the full potential of digital opportunities. Drivers for high-performance communication include various competencies at the individual level:
- Effective communication coaching requires social and empathic skills, while research and organizational management skills involve knowledge in software, research methods, and relationship management. Additionally, an understanding of society and politics aids in meeting public expectations.
- The Communicator and Ambassador roles are traditional “outbound” roles focus on communicating with stakeholders. The Coach and Advisor roles are “inbound” roles focusing on supporting executives, middle managers or other members of the organization. The Manager role includes dispositive tasks relevant for operating the communication department or agency itself.
- Competency gaps affect all demographic criteria and organizational type. Communicators must engage in continuous professional development and learning platforms to address existing and future competence gaps.
The visual turn in strategic communication calls for new approaches and solutions. Effective and efficient stakeholder communication must be conducted omnichannel across all suitable platforms and media.
- The mediatization of organizational communication has passed through three phases: 1. mass media as intermediaries, 2. organizations as media producers, 3. Strategic mediatization to address audiences.
- Changes in both media and organizations have brought a hybridization of media content on one side, and an amalgamation of communication practices in organizations on the other.
- Visual communication will grow in importance for European organizations and enhance a post-literal society.
Concepts like diversity, equality and inclusion shape the political agenda in Europe and influence organizational policies and communications alike.
- In Europe is an inclusive leadership style among communication executives preferred, which focuses on shared power on collaborative decision-making.
- High performing communication departments are more often characterized by inclusive leadership, empathy, and a supportive culture.
- Empathic leadership is positively correlated with work engagement, raising commitment and the mental health of team members.
A trend of information disorder raises among communication professionals concerns over the perceived legitimacy of strategic communication practices and of the profession as a whole.
- Especially for communicators in the political and non-profit spaces as well as in contexts of online crisis communication dealing with information disorders is part of their daily business.
- 2/3 of the communication practitioners in Europe rely on individual competencies/ experience of their communication staff to identify (potential) fake news. 8 % installed specific technologies/ systems.
- Enhancing trust among key stakeholders has become a central overarching goal in the daily work of communicators and public relations professionals.
About the study
The European Communication Monitor is known as the world’s longest running empirical study on current and future developments in strategic communication and public relations. It is based on surveys of almost 40.000 communication professionals from 50 countries. The project has been conducted and supported by a team of renowned communication professors from universities across Europe led by Prof. Ansgar Zerfass.
The ECM 2023 Report concludes the successful phase of this transnational study based on a broad quantitative research design. The research project will recommence in 2024 with the support of the Academic Society for Management & Communication.
More information and previous studies are available at www.communicationmonitor.eu