With PRovoke17 just days away, we sat down with Paul Holmes, founder of the Holmes Group, to hear his take on global politics and their effect on the communications world.

In a new reality where communication between authority figures and the general public is swift and transparent, how does that impact the communications industry?

I think there are a couple of major implications for senior executives—both communicators and those they work for.

First, they need to understand that transparency is not a choice; the only choice is whether you will step into the light with a clear, well thought out message, or be dragged kicking and screaming into the light by people who infer your position from your actions or inactions. In this environment, communications is now more than ever a critical part of the CEO’s job, and that internal and external audiences expect CEOs to take positions on big issues. If they don’t, the public will infer a position—silence on something like the violence in Charlottesville is not neutrality, it’s implied support. 

Second, they need to make sure that CEOs and their communicators are absolutely clear about an organization’s values. That’s because while you cannot predict every issue, and have a position paper ready for every contingency, values can provide a ‘true north’ that will in many cases tell you what your response to an issue should be and allow for the kind of real-time response that is necessary these days. 

How has Brexit and the populist wave changed communications and the media in Europe?

I would suggest that relatively few UK or European leaders have fully embraced the implications of Brexit for their own communications.

My personal view is that Brexit sent a pretty clear message to companies about how the world has changed: increased uncertainty, rising populism, disdain and contempt for elites, mistrust of institutions.

What is needed is a clear, proactive, decisive public relations initiative on behalf of big business to try to rebuild trust and credibility. This requires business leaders to speak out, to take positions on important issues, and in some cases to change business priorities—to make sure that the us vs. them atmosphere does not continue to worsen. We need some new ‘statesman CEOs’ who can connect with ordinary people and create positive change.

But most business leaders are hiding under their desks either waiting for someone else to do the job for them, or hoping this is just a passing wave of anger that will fade. It won’t.

What are you most looking forward to seeing or hearing about at the Holmes Report Global Summit? 

The pace of change has never been faster, and what I hope to see is some big ideas on how to anticipate and respond better to those changes. I think there is still a lot about effective communication that we don’t understand—we need a better understanding of data, cognitive science, social science—and I hope to come away with some new ideas that will inform and provoke our thinking on those topics.

To learn more about our panel at PRovoke17, click here.

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