On Societal Volatility, Being Well-Informed and Post-Brexit Challenges

Contentious and sensitive topics tend to be the most difficult to cover in blog posts about industry discussions. Add non-attribution and the impending spectre of Brexit to the equation and it becomes even harder.

The Arthur W. Page Society recently hosted an Insight Forum in association with APCO Worldwide on the thorny issues of social activism, brands taking a stand on divisive issues, authentic purpose-led communication and sharper communications measurement to better inform decisions.

Panelists Dr. Jeanette Fielding, Chief Corporate Affairs & Communications Officer, Upfield; Lars Petersson, former IKEA US President and now an APCO senior counselor; and Alex Aiken, Executive Director for Government Communications; were chaired by Page UK Chairman and APCO CEO Brad Staples. The discussion ranged from how organisations are tackling the fast-changing expectations of their audiences to the immediacy and transparency of social media, corporate decision-making around brand responses to public criticism and how organisations are looking to handle communication with greater agility.

While we can’t share specific details of the discussions, here are five APCO take-aways that stood out:

  1. Societal volatility is relative. While the past few decades have seen relative stability, the societal pressures brought about by major early innovations in publishing had a profound effect, and the ensuing conflicts should put today’s challenges of fake online news and increased public scrutiny into some perspective.
  2. Clear insight is vital to ensure informed decisions can be made and longer-term action can be determined in the eye of a media storm. Sharp audience and media data analysis, and being mindful of existing policy and organisational values, can both increase confidence in the right course of action and enable the impact to be assessed effectively.
  3. Purpose-driven campaigns that aim to align brands with issues that their audiences care deeply about need sufficient elasticity to be able to reflect local cultural priorities strongly and clearly.
  4. CEOs today must be the primary face of the organisation and play a direct communications role, if they’re not already doing so. They need to be front and centre, and be seen to address any issues or problems directly and forcefully.
  5. Listening is more important than ever, and that will apply particularly to the UK media environment post-Brexit. It will be fundamental to the ability to forge some reconnection between government and its publics, and there may be private sector parallels for businesses needing to build greater relevance and understanding.

It was a complex, frank and sharp-ended discussion that was a fitting way to mark APCO’s 35th anniversary. For more unattributed detail on the discussion, please contact me at

More information on better understanding corporate agility requirements is available here.

Page’s CCO research on related topics is available here.

Thank you again to attendees, our panelists and the Page Society.