HPL Leadership 2021 Outlook: Looming Challenges, New Opportunities and Cautious Optimism


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While this year has presented many unique challenges for communications professionals, it has also brought new opportunities. We asked our leadership team what they predict the next year will look like. Here’s what they had to say:

“2021 will continue to affect how we work, collaborate and spend time together as Americans. We will continue to live in this closed-off COVID-19 world for the first 6-9 months, until the vaccine has seen widespread use. Then, the workplace and how we experience each other, customers and colleagues in closer quarters will be supercharged for a brief time period. This is because of the need and void that exists and how strongly the urge to come back together will be. 

The net result will be many new/added conferences, meetings, events and a host of other ways people can come in contact with each other to build opportunities and business. 

Eventually, life will change, creating a middle ground because technology has allowed us to operate effectively in a virtual world. But, the initial mad rush to see and experience people close up will be like nothing we’ve ever experienced before throughout the latter half of 2021.”

Ed Moed, CEO

“Taking a page from Charles Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities,” 2021 will be the best of times and the worst of times. The worst of times during the first half of the year will be plagued by the rapid and unchecked spread of COVID-19. Infections, deaths and lockdowns will soar as the country awaits the mass roll-out of the vaccine – all of which will place additional strain on the U.S. healthcare system and economy. However, as vaccine deployment reaches a tipping point where society and the economy can resume more normal operations, which I anticipate will be sometime during Q3, consumers will unleash pent-up demand and spending in what some are predicting will resemble the Roaring ‘20s. This dichotomy between the best and worst of times – and the speed in which it is likely to happen — will create challenges and opportunities for brands like never experienced before. 

With some surveys showing that a majority of Americans are hesitant or afraid to take the vaccine, the public relations industry will play a central role in educating the public, assuaging fears and convincing people that the vaccine is safe and viable. The stakes will be high and the risk of failure will loom large for those who wade into these waters, but it’s also a huge opportunity for the industry (and those who take the lead) to showcase the impact of strategic communications in what is arguably the most significant campaign of our lifetimes.” 

Ted Birkhahn, President 

“Corporate purpose, as an anchor to build out feel good initiatives that serve to better the world is, without a doubt, essential. In 2021, with the tenor of uncertainty and mistrust, purpose must also have meaning. Individuals – be they employees, customers, partners or prospects – have wants and needs that have shifted. People may or may not want to know your purpose; but people need to see that you mean what you say. 

Actions will be rewarded. Words will not. And words that are not supported by positive and direct actions will render purpose meaningless.” 

Mike Friedin, Chief Strategy Officer  

“Leadership communications and actions around mental and physical health – for employees, customers, partners and themselves – will remain at the top of list of 2021 priorities. Pandemic fatigue and prolonged challenges will test that focus and commitment but keeping that at the core of all actions and decisions will strengthen resolve, perseverance, creativity and performance in 2021.”    

Sara Whitman, Chief People Officer

Our outlook for what lies ahead is cautiously optimistic for the marketing and communications industry. The first half of the year will likely present similar challenges to those we have faced throughout 2020, however, this will dramatically shift as vaccines continue to roll out. Mental and physical health will continue to be paramount for informing leadership communication strategies, and corporate purpose will be centered around organizations’ actions, not promises.  

What are your 2021 predictions for the communications industry?