Relevance 2020

How Companies Are Navigating Heightened Stakeholder Expectations and New Rules of Engagement

They say we all have 20/20 vision in hindsight. I believe it’s safe to say that, as we look at 2020, no one would be able to offer even now a prescription for what could have been done better.

From a Corporate Relevance perspective, 2020 was akin to “riding the wave” with regard to stakeholder expectations and new rules of operating.

Since 2016, W2O has introduced a completely new means of understanding reputation in a social digital age – the Relevance Quotient.

Relevance exists at the nexus of stakeholder expectations and company expertise, purpose, values, what companies say, and how they behave. Relevance attunes companies to a sense of cultural, societal, political currency and urgency. To be relevant is to be thought about, sought out, talked about, engaged with, believed in and advocated for on the topics that matter to an organization’s stakeholders.

Our Relevance Quotient – both quantitative scoring and deep content analysis – allows us to benchmark organizations over time and spot audience-specific gaps in content, engagement and language.

From 2016-19, Relevance awakened organizations to the new dynamics of a digitally oriented marketplace.  

Then 2020 happened. And it changed everything. 

Today, we are issuing our 2020 Relevance Quotient Report, which looks at year-over-year shifts in overall relevance​, calling out drivers and detractors. The report outlines the anatomy of relevance leaders in 2020 and offers guidance for healthcare companies navigating new expectations and new rules of engagement in 2021.

Stakeholder Expectations of Companies Heightened in 2020

Stakeholders were clear in demanding that companies and CEOs should:

  • Serve the interest of all stakeholders not just shareholders​
  • Take a stand and speak out on issues (stakeholders say they’ll reward it and they want to help)
  • Go beyond the statement​ or singular campaign
  • Focus on action that matches the words ​
  • Be accountable
  • Deliver on mission, vision, values, purpose and promises in a genuine, honest, fair, transparent way
  • Be a catalyst for real, sustainable change provided it’s aligned with the company’s expertise and mission

The Anatomy of Relevant Companies that Responded to the Clarion Call

In 2020, relevance leaders:

  • Took action on issues early and often​
  • Intensified focus on values, purpose, and environment, social, governance (ESG​) and DE&I
  • Moved with agility and kept up momentum
  • Were transparent, empathetic, bold, open to some risk​
  • Re-introduced themselves, sharpened narratives
  • Focused on all stakeholders all the time​
  • Closed the company < > stakeholder language gap
  • Recognized that employees are enablers rather than a singular audience​
  • Leveraged the CEO but broadened the bench beyond the C-suite​ for thought leadership
  • Leveraged always-on, integrated, cross-PESO storytelling

10 Tips for Navigating 2021

Looking back can help us look ahead. The following 10 tips offer guidance for companies navigating new expectations and new rules of engagement in 2021.

  1. It’s time to re-introduce yourself. Organizations need to retell their story, re-establish their value, and re-engage stakeholders.
  2. It’s about the “how.”In thought leadership, addressing the “how” vs. the “what is more important than ever.
  3. Use data and insights to get smarter ​about the business (vs. only communications).
  4. Focus on all stakeholders. Understand who they are and what they expect. Meet them where they are. Intensify efforts to close engagement gaps with patients and advocacy groups in particular.
  5. Environmental, social, governance (ESG) and DE&I should permeate and dictate how the organization is operated and managed. They are not campaigns.
  6. Adopt a relevance-centric perspective to drive authenticity, alignment and resiliency.
  7. Being discoverable and encounterable is critical. Search is increasingly more important to corporate identity as stakeholders look for content.
  8. Corporate communications must proactively shape, sharpen and “own” the narrative: how the business talks about itself, the culture it nurtures.
  9. A strong, clear point of view aligned with stakeholder expectations precedes and underpins thought leadership. 
  10. Employees are active enablers rather than strictly a singular audience. Relevance begins within, and employees are complex, well-connected shareholders, advocates, community members.

In Summary

2020 challenged the entire world to think and act differently. For organizations, staying relevant meant not giving up basic communications, marketing and operating principles. Rather, they maintained consistency, shifted content to reflect expectations and needs, and became even more diligent in listening and responding to stakeholders, especially employees.

Learning the anatomy of 2020 relevance leaders and implementing the 2021 guidance can ensure that companies are thought about, sought out, talked about, engaged with and advocated for.

In other words: they remain Relevant!



With contributions from Stephen Yoon, Gary Grates, Emily Poe and Chuck Hemann.

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

Alan Chumley
Alan Chumley

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