Three key themes for communicators from #Globe175

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What should an organization older than the country itself do to celebrate a milestone anniversary? If you’re the country’s paper of record, you use it as an opportunity to bring some of the most insightful and recognizable individuals from all corners of the country together to look at some of the most pressing issues of today and tomorrow.

This week the Globe and Mail held the Canada Future Forward Summit, two packed days of panels and interviews featuring a top-tier lineup of participants discussing many of the trends, challenges and opportunities facing every Canadian business, government and citizen.

Keynotes from Justice Rosalie Abella, Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire and CIGI’s Jim Balsillie looked at Canadian justice, citizenship and prosperity. Presentations and panels featured a Who’s Who of recognizable names and faces, from Ipsos’ Darrell Bricker to Harvard Law School’s Dr. Ruth Okediji, North Inc.’s Jacob Glock and Canopy Growth’s Bruce Linton. 

They touched on everything from the future of work and education in Canada to the need for better collaboration with Indigenous communities and for more support for scaling high-potential businesses. Also key topics of discussion: 5G technology and the state of surveillance, housing and immigration and the changing face of Canada both at home and as a part of the broader world.

But throughout the entire two days and literally hundreds (if not thousands) of timely, relevant and insightful pieces of information, three key themes came up across conversations around employment, education, national security, innovation, competitiveness and Canada’s current and future identity as a country and as an economy: data fluency, data privacy and cyber security.

All three factored into many conversations focused on different sectors during the summit. And they all play a key role in how communicators need to think about brand building and reputation in this digital-first age.

Data Fluency

The way our media, consumers and stakeholders consume and retain information is changing drastically. 

Now more than ever, the business of words is critically dependent on numbers – notably, identifying relevant data and understanding and communicating how that impacts or supports a POV or a product message. Data-backed storytelling has become the standard to reinforce a position, and to spur retention by audiences. 

For communications pros, embracing and understanding data as a central part of storytelling is paramount, from the first stages of developing strategy to the final stage of reporting, and at every stage in between.

Data Privacy

We don’t seem to know a good thing until it’s gone, and privacy has left us quickly in the digital era. But it’s making a comeback.

Routine data breaches and various scandals (Facebook, Sidewalk Labs) continue to prompt the average consumer to consider the value of their own data. That puts organizations and brands under scrutiny, both in terms of how they’re protecting that data but also how they’re using it and why they need it in the first place.

Smart communicators should realize that data privacy and data governance have moved away from being an IT-specific afterthought, but are now part of key corporate messages -- and they can have a serious impact on reputation in both good times and bad.

Cyber Security

When it comes to data breaches, it’s not if, but when.

Corporate boards are finally demanding better IT security measures, but most companies are still not investing enough in cyber security – even with more stringent regulations imposed.

What’s more, most communications teams remain woefully underprepared to effectively respond to and manage a cyber incident that can have serious impacts on reputation and the wellbeing of its customers, partners, employees and the organization overall – in large part due to a lack of planning.

As our recent Crisis & Consequences report showed, only 40% of Canadian companies have a reputation recovery plan in place. In an if-not-when scenario, lacking this type of robust plan before a cyber event occurs is akin to planning to board up the windows after the hurricane has passed.

Smart communicators don’t put their organizations at risk of being caught flat-footed, and are lobbying internal decision-makers to invest in crisis planning that includes vigorous measures specific to cyber breaches and events.

Organizations that invest the time and effort in scenario and response team identification, message and statement development, response protocol mapping and scenario training will be covered ahead of an incident. And they’ll be the ones positioned to succeed when ifturns to when.

Only a few short years ago, these three trends were afterthoughts for communications professionals (and many others, including boards and senior management). But they’re critical to succeeding today – and tomorrow.