This article was originally published by The Blue Book, Newsletter of the Center of Global Public Relations, UNC Charlotte
By Katja Schroeder
Three years ago, the United Nations revealed that the world’s population will increase to 9 billion by 2050. When the UN revealed this staggering number, governments, think tanks, NGOs and corporations started addressing the challenges related to managing a rapidly growing population. We have about 38 years to prepare for the societal, environmental and economic transformation brought to us by a world of 9 billion people.
Or, not quite that long, as for some global issues solutions need to be found rather sooner than later.
Why do those predictions matter to public relations professionals? Those transformations are already happening today and have become part of our daily work as communicators.
Global public relations professionals help organizations prepare and respond to global issues. Many of the Fortune 500 companies have set programs in place to deal with environmental, societal and economic changes, such as the aging work force, lack of proper health care, and resource depletion. Those programs are often part of their sustainability or corporate social responsibility programs and require close collaborations with all departments, from Human Resources to Supply Chain Management and Information Technology. The issues are selected based on their immediate and future impact on the business and also their ability to make changes due to the nature of their products and services.
Obviously, some issues are more prevalent to some companies than others.
In his recent Op-Ed for the Post-Bulletin Thomas Friedman writes that if the dream, “ for China’s emerging middle class — 300 million people, expected to grow to 800 million by 2025 — is just like the American Dream (a big car, a big house and Big Macs for all) then we need another planet.”
Already today, one billion people have no fresh water; two million lack basic sanitation. A recent study by the Interaction Council of former leaders stated that by 2025, the world needs to find the equivalent of the flow of 20 Nile Rivers to grow enough food. The greatest growth in demand for water is expected to be in China, the United States and India due to population growth and economic growth.
Granted, those are bleak numbers and not the full picture. Advancements in science and technology will open up new opportunities to millions of consumers and businesses.
The Economist editors Daniel Franklin and John Andrews offer a positive outlook in their book Megachange – The World in 2050: “There is every chance that the world in 2050 is richer, healthier, more connected, more sustainable, more productive, more innovative, better educated, with less inequality between rich and poor, men and women, and with more opportunities for billions of people.” The Megachange authors also foresee the encounter with alien life forms and the rebirth of extinct species, like the mammoth.
Considering the plethora of trends and issues, following are three trends that will impact global PR professionals. Those trends will also create opportunities for PR practitioners to help shape the agenda of a sustainable future.
1. Global Inter-Connectivity
We will be more connected. According to anthropologist Robin Dunbar, the maximum number of stable relationships that a human being can have is about 148. While we might not have 9 billion personal friends, Mark Pincus, founder and CEO of the online gaming company Zynga, predicts that within a few decades people could have 500 quality friends. That’s about three times more than Dunbar’s number or the today’s average number of 130 solid Facebook friends.
Interconnectivity is a huge opportunity. Social media and cloud technology will allow Global PR professionals to build relationships with larger audiences across continents in their native language, using their preferred social networks and channels. While corporate communications pieces, such as earnings press releases, will still be an important part of the communications strategy, companies will be engaged in more social conversations. Similar to social media listening exercises and engagement today, communications professionals will be able to engage conversations on specific issues that affect their company and its stakeholders.
2. Economic Power Shifts
China will surpass the U.S. and rise to the top as the world’s largest economy by 2050, according to HSBC research. A PwC report expects that this economic power shift can happen already by 2025. The United States will be the only Western power to remain in the top five agrees Goldman Sachs. Citigroup predicts that the economies of China and India will together be four times as large as the United States. The World Bank predicts that the U.S. dollar will lose its global dominance by 2025 as the dollar, euro, and China’s renminbi become co-equals in a “multi-currency” monetary system.
International companies continue to build their presence in the emerging markets. We will get the opportunity to work with more colleagues in China, India, Brazil, and South Africa, among others. We will change the way we go about product launches and international roll-outs. It is possible that in the future global communications will be led out of the country with the largest market, as opposed to the country where a company was founded.
Many consumer technology companies and luxury goods companies are already launching their high-end products in Asia Pacific first, where most of the purchasing power is. Companies also expand R&D centers in a number of emerging markets. Innovation can come from everywhere. This will also apply to best practices in global communications. It will make our job more interesting. There are already great collections of international case studies. An example is the well-known series “The Evolution of Public Relations: Case Studies from Countries in Transition”, by Judy VanSlyke Turk and Linda H. Scanlan.
3. Real-Time Data for a Bigger NIMBY
By 2050, our backyard will have gotten a lot big bigger through interconnectivity and social media. Or smaller, depending on how you see it, considering that we will share it with more people. This means issues such as waste, energy use, water scarcity, youth unemployment, urbanization, and lack of health care access don’t happen in far away countries; they take place in our new backyard.
Part of our responsibility as communications professionals has always been to listen to stakeholders and provide strategic recommendations to the management team. This role will become even more important. As stakeholders are more impacted by global issues, our role is to facilitate this discussion with an even larger, and more engaged, audience. Working with the sustainability team, we not only need to know the immediate impact of the organization, but also the impact of the organizations’ supply chain, its network of suppliers and business partners. This will require getting different types of information than before.
Similar to other corporate functions, in the future global communications professionals will benefit from analytics and have data at their fingertips that will replace monthly dashboards. There will be new ways to integrate data streams to measure communications output, channels, and outcome globally. Engagement will become a more decisive factor.
By 2050, most PR professionals from large companies will have a continuous feedback mechanism in place that analyzes stakeholder sentiments whether or not they see the company making process in reaching its triple bottom line goal. This will help to identify and close potential gaps in a company’s global communications strategy faster and to focus on the topics that matter the most.
Making a difference starts with communication. So, despite some tough global challenges, the world in 2050 will be an exciting place for global PR professionals. We will have more data and more ways to engage with stakeholders on the topics that matter to our society. With sustainability on top of the CEO agenda, more than ever we will have the opportunity to guide the conversations around issues that shape our future.