2020 has been a year like no other. We’ve worked with companies and brands across the country to develop communications strategies for the unprecedented events and challenges they have faced. We asked our Linhart PR team to share PR, communications and digital marketing insights and issues they anticipate for 2021. Here’s what to look out for:

Flexibility remains a priority post-pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic forced many companies around the world to adjust to work-from-home set ups. But it wasn't just a matter of employees working from home – it was employees working from home while juggling homeschooling and childcare, managing limited space as partners and roommates worked in the same space, and dealing with the stresses of 2020 and blurred lines between work and home. As a result, many companies created more flexible work policies to help employees manage their new realities. While there will likely be a shift back toward office centricity, employees will want to hold onto some of the flexibility gained in 2020. Companies like Twitter and Square recognized this and extended their work-from-home option permanently. Companies who want to recruit top talent, especially Millennials and Gen Z, who make up the majority of the workforce and already showed a preference for flexible work options pre-pandemic, should consider retaining some of their flexible work options to appeal to changing employee desires. – Shannon Hughes

Focus on the people. While hope is on the horizon with new vaccines, the recovery from the impacts of COVID will continue into 2021 and likely 2022. Next year, brands will need to demonstrate how they are helping the community in that recovery. This can include providing alternative ways to connect while we wait until it's safe to visit loved ones, giving back to those in need and continuing to build on the momentum that started in 2020 with diversity initiatives and sustainability goals.  – Emily Rado

Brand authenticity stays at the forefront. Companies continue to evolve messages and strategies to reach their customers – especially as they absorb more information more quickly from more sources than ever before. One question continues to be asked – is it authentic? Consumers’ thirst for brand authenticity is holding brands to a standard to ensure all messages are true to the brand’s real self. 2020 proved challenging for many, but companies that continued to push forward a real and authentic message will continue to stand out and win customers. – Kelly Brown

Continued growth of non-traditional media. Podcasts are growing in popularity and offer a new way to communicate with audiences. Over 100 million consumers said they listened to at least one podcast a month in 2020, and 54% of them said they consider buying products that are talked about in those podcasts. Podcasts can also build a bridge between your brand and your consumers as they increase familiarity and are highly engaging. – Jenny Nailling

Cancel Culture rules. With the growing exposure to all data and information, the inner workings and beliefs of companies are more accessible to consumers than ever. The light that allows consumers to see within a business’s culture can make or break the business’s reputation. With the help of various social media platforms, consumers are taking matters into their own hands. When a business is believed to be unethical in its sociocultural or socio-environmental principles, the business is then ostracized, or “canceled”, by the whistleblowers and their extended networks. Often the news is spread throughout social media before hitting news cycles. When maintaining a solid consumer base, it’s important to align or realign the founding business practices with the company’s current mission, and to continuously evaluate how these practices impact greater society and environment. Staying current with ethical business practices can save a brand or business from becoming “canceled.” – Kiana Staton  

Get vocal. If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that taking a stand is not only acceptable, in some cases, it's expected. Consumers look to companies across a variety of industries to take a stand on social and moral issues, even those that may not inherently align with the brand's industry or offering. Consumers want to see their belief systems reflected in the brands they choose to trust, and those who stay silent may miss out on important point-in-time conversations, ultimately risking being left behind. – Maddie Taber

Brand marketers must stay flexible. If we’ve learned anything from 2020, it’s the need to be nimble and flexible. As we march toward Covid-19 vaccinations and the gradual resumption of in-person activities like school, dining in at restaurants and visiting family, there will be continued ups and downs and curveballs, too, along that path for brands. As the world around us changes, so does the cultural conversation and the media cycle and landscape along with it, which requires brands to also adapt how they communicate to stay relevant. Savvy marketers will keep in mind the importance of potentially pivoting quickly in 2021, calling on their 2020 experience to be better prepared for scrapping the plan and adjusting overnight, as needed, too.  – Kelly Janhunen

Light at the end of the tunnel? With Covid-19 vaccines on the way, the pandemic’s end may be in sight – but what does that mean and when will it happen? McKinsey says an epidemiological end of the pandemic in the U.S. may be reached in Q3 or Q4 of 2021 and that therapeutic advances may enable a transition toward normalcy in Q2. But unknowns remain, including the degree to which state and local governments will lift restrictions on economic and social activity, and how comfortable people will feel resuming aspects of normal life – dining out in restaurants, traveling by air, gathering for concerts and sporting events – once vaccines are widely available. One possibility is that the resumption of normal pre-Covid life will be uneven, with some intrepid consumers returning eagerly to pre-pandemic activities based on individual risk tolerance, while others remain cautious. Hospitality and entertainment brands will need to continue keeping public health and safety at the forefront of their messaging. – Paul Raab