Researchers are exploring the impact today's biggest issues, including Covid-19 and attacks on journalism, have on the PR industry, with lessons for practitioners to adapt accordingly. A roundup of some of the most recent studies:

USC Relevance Report:

The Covid-19 pandemic will be the dominant topic for Americans in nearly every aspect of their lives in 2021, according to the latest USC Center for Public Relations’ annual Relevance Report.

The study, which surveyed 1,087 Americans, found 44% of respondents are more interested in news about a Covid vaccine than any other topic, and expect that to be the case through 2021.

37% of respondents are hopeful about the next year, saying the “fingers crossed” emoji best reflects their feelings. That’s more than twice the number of respondents who said they were worried.

Other key findings include:

  • Americans will trust doctors the most (18%) to provide accurate, credible information, followed by journalists (10.5%) and educators (7.7%) — significantly more than politicians.

  • In a future crisis, Americans are most likely to trust public health officials (18.4%) or their governors (17.7%), far ahead of other elected representatives or first responders. Notably, 25% of respondents chose to answer, “None of the above.”

  • The primary behavioral change Americans hope to make in 2021 is to improve their health and fitness (45.7%), which ranked higher than spending more time with their families (37.1%) and social distancing (22.6%).

“In a normal year, many different topics are relevant to Americans,” said Fred Cook, director of the USC Center for PR. “But in 2021, they will be paying closest attention to Covid-19, and it will continue to impact their lives. Information on the virus is what they will listen to, share with others and act upon.”

Fake News:

Journalists don’t expect the problem of fake news impacting the journalism industry to abate regardless of who is in the White House, according to a Greentarget survey of 100 working journalists.

But the same journalists were equally strident that they and their colleagues would be best positioned to fight fake news in the months and years ahead, according to the survey, which was conducted in the weeks leading up to the election.

Key findings of the report, include:

  • Fake news has hurt journalism80% of respondents strongly believe fake news has negatively impacted their profession, and 14% say they somewhat believe that it has. Further, the journalists surveyed say fake news fosters multiple prejudices and distorts the public’s understanding of current events.

  • Journalists still want to fight the good fight: despite their pessimism, journalists surveyed believe they (reporters, editors and news councils or journalism organizations) are best positioned to vet fake news and identify misleading information. Only 12% think the government should call out fake news. Relatedly, only about four in 10 support or strongly support using the law to curb fake news.

  • Fake news remains difficult to define: part of the problem is that fake news can mean different things to different people – even journalists. About a third of our respondents say fake news is disinformation (false information knowingly spread with the intent to deceive), while another third say it is misinformation (false or misleading information spread by those who believe it to be true). 22% equate fake news with propaganda.

Employee Insights:

A new study from Weber Shandwick and United Minds, the firm's management consultancy, has found that 61% of US workers are contemplating professional or lifestyle changes that will impact the workplace going forward. In addition, some form of remote work will be a permanent solution for nearly half of American employees, according to the survey of 1,000 Americans.

The study’s key findings are:

  • A majority of U.S. workers (61%) are contemplating professional or lifestyle changes that will impact the workplace.  

    • 41% plan to work from home either full-time or part-time permanently. 

    • A higher proportion of workers with children (52%) say they plan to work from home full- or part-time in the future than those without children (33%).  

    • 11% plan to change jobs. 

  • Workers are comfortable and productive with remote work.  

    • The majority of workers say they work as productively or better at home (70%) and have the tools and resources they need (85%).  

    • Given the choice, 74% of the employees who are already remote would prefer to continue working from home rather than go to their workplace every day.  

  • Parents feel supported by employers.  

    • The majority of employed parents working from home (88%) say their employer allows them the needed flexibility to take care of personal and family needs.  

    • However, 11% of working parents are considering going from full-time to part-time. 

  • Employees continue to worry about job security and safety. 

    • Half of employees working from home (52%) are concerned about the future of their company and job, and 47% worry their employer will bring them back before it is safe.  

    • If given the choice, 65% of workers will continue working from home until there is a vaccine. If not given the choice, 60% would request to continue working from home until there is a vaccine.  

  • The workplace is a safe haven in an uncivil time. 

    • While a majority of Americans (63%) believe the general tone of our country is uncivil and disrespectful, a greater majority of employees (77%) believe that the general tone of their workplace is civil and respectful.  

    Workers want employers to take stances on equitable work practices and DE&I action. 

    The majority of employees say it is important for their employer to reiterate zero tolerance for discrimination and harassment (81%), commit to a living wage (80%) and fight racism, discrimination and unconscious bias (76%).  Close to half (46%) say their company says all the right things about DE&I, but its actions don’t align.

Missed Opportunities:

Brands are missing a big opportunity to engage Latin American consumers by cutting back on relationships with influencers, who have seen their audiences grow during the Covid pandemic, a new JeffreyGroup study finds.

The survey of 250 Latin American influencers showed many brands reacted to the pandemic by reducing influencer activities, with 75% of respondents reporting a decrease in brand activations and nearly half (47%) experiencing moderate (>15%) to significant (>50%) reductions in brand activities.

Nearly two-thirds (66%) of them reported brand budget reductions, with 29% suffering reductions of more than 50%. The content areas of technology, entertainment and family had the highest percentages of influencers reporting significant (>50%) reductions.

Influencers surveyed, however, also reported gains in followers and engagement, with 54% experiencing an increase in their follower audiences and 58% reported increased engagement with content. Influencers in the wellness category have seen the biggest rise in activity, with 60% reporting an audience increase and 27% reporting follower gains of more than 50%.

“When compared with the decrease in brand activities and investment, the spikes in engagement and follower counts point to lost opportunities for brands,” said JeffreyGroup CEO Brian Burlingame. “Brands could be leveraging the larger and more engaged audiences to fortify relationships, reach new consumers and drive consumer preference and loyalty.” 

Reputations at Risk:

As businesses increasingly strive to live up to their stated values, considerable reputation risk lingers within their supply chains around substandard labor practices, environmental degradation, corruption, human rights, supplier diversity, and civic engagement, new research by Brodeur Partners and Baruch College’s Weissman Center for International Business finds.

Key findings from the survey of 111 corporate social responsibility and sustainability professionals from a variety of industries and sectors include:

  • Transparency is lacking: Only 36% of respondents consider it extremely or very important that their suppliers publicly report their CSR/sustainability performance.

  • Standards are spotty: Only 54% of companies have formal CSR/sustainability standards for their supply chain partners. 

  • Their effectiveness is questionable: Only two-thirds (67%) of respondents think their company’s standards are effective.

  • Standards enforcement is lax: Only 42% say their company ends partnerships with suppliers that don’t meet its CSR/sustainability standards.

  • Labor practices draw concern: Supplier labor practices are the top CSR/sustainability concern, deemed very or extremely important by 77% of the respondents.