Fifty-one years ago this week, I was with my dad and sister at my grandparents’ apartment in Washington, D.C. when my grandfather, uncharacteristically expressed concern. His concern was triggered by the tragedy and subsequent riots in Washington and other American cities after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. How far would the riots go? Would they extend to their neighborhood? When would it end? Even as a child, I wondered, “Is it uncertainty and fear I heard in my grandfather’s question?” A man who had entered the military underage, lived through the Great Depression, and sent a son to the Korean War as a scout, whose combat life expectancy was measured in seconds? It was one of the first times I learned about the heavy price of tragedy and disruption and that it didn’t always occur “somewhere else.” This was close to home.
A half-century later we are once again in an age of fear and disruption, this time over class warfare and the coming AI revolution that magnifies all of our differences—race, sex, class, nationality, and on and on. Rodney King’s “Can we all just get along?” resonates almost biblically three decades later. The old political and economic alliances feel increasingly outdated and we only seem in the nascent stages of this next historic leap. There are many days that the upheaval of the 1960s seem in front of us, not behind us.
Every year around the end of the first quarter, we release our compendium of columns—approximately 50 in all—from the previous year, from publications such as Forbes, Brink, CommPro, and others. It’s our view of how the world looked on a weekly basis from our perch in Washington, DC, sprinkled with regular globetrotting. When I look at these issues—the evolution of #MeToo; the new challenges to US market penetration by foreign companies; the risks to IP and the certainty of hacking; the new rules of mercantile activism; the mounting criticism of Facebook and Silicon Valley, and more—I wonder if they are disconnected or some form of collective soothsaying about what’s next.
If nothing else, the rules are changing, and doing so at an extraordinary pace. As communications professionals, the best counsel we can give is to look at issues holistically—through a legal, political, historical, business, and international lens. The questions are not about spin, or message, or social media but about larger questions of leadership and purpose. Our brands now must have a “why,” beyond profit. Crisis communications must be viewed for the long game, not overcoming just the immediate headline risk. Enterprise risk now must read the tea leaves for what’s coming and coming fast. For everything is closer to home.
As with all of our columns, I hope this compendium provides as much a path forward as a first recording of what has just past. Happy reading.
Read More: 2018 In Review