With fake news being the word of the year in 2017 and Bell Pottinger the first PR firm in history (potentially) whose business succumbed due to “acute embarrassment”, an acronym reflected more than ever all the concerns and hopes of communicators: VUCA.
It is essentially a post-Cold-War term depicting the world as it was then perceived: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. But with disruption and transformation, digitalsation and globalisation, one could argue that today’s version of VUCA is even more nuanced and complicated than the post-Cold War one.
For once, everything can be thought of in terms of positives and negatives and their consequences – positive complexity (i.e. a product going viral and becoming an internet sensation) being seen in products and people gaining fame through virality, and negative complexity (such as how the Arab Spring indirectly contributed to Brexit) leading potentially to new political constellations or also to new public diplomacy pressures.
And while negative complexity can be harnessed to create positive complexity by moving to self-organisation, democratising information, speeding up interactions and using simple rules to make quick decisions (or so does Sunnie Giles say in her May 2018 Forbes article, “How VUCA Is Reshaping The Business Environment, And What It Means For Innovation”), only few organisations are equipped to do that, and dare I add only few communicators are ready for that as well.
To make things worse, communicators still talk about struggling to gain the trust of the people and organisations they are advising, debate how the profession can be taken seriously and made #futurePRoof yet, many continue to practice what they have been speaking against: target short-term, disseminate more than listen, lack business related KPIs, report aloof metrics which include Advertising Value Equivalencies (or Earned Media Value).
VUCA we fear, data we can trust
If self-organisation and democratisation of information are the solutions to cope with the new VUCA, then certainly understanding what that information/data means and where it comes from will be central to the success of every communicator in the future. That takes us back to what we have been saying all along, that measurement and evaluation are essential to the PR skillset as well as to legitimising public relations and communications.