Black Lives Matter. With protests continuing across the nation and the world, the importance of this movement has never been more apparent. A recent report from the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations examines how movements like this have shaped national conversations in the past couple years.

Black Lives Matter is included alongside March for Our Lives, Times Up!, Amnesty International, World Wildlife Fund, the ACLU and other major movements and organizations in a list of activist groups that some PR professionals say they would consider partnering with in the 2020 Global Communications Report.

What does the new era of activism mean for communications today? That is one of the central questions explored in the 2020 Global Communications Report, which was based on a survey of 296 U.S. activists and 837 PR professionals from around the world. The results of these surveys are enlightening. Here are our key takeaways:

Activists Using PR Tools and Non-traditional Channels

Today’s activists are increasingly leveraging communications tactics from the traditional PR and public affairs toolkits: writing to policymakers, giving TV and media interviews, posting on social media and producing their own long-form content, as in the case of Jamie Margolin, co-founder of Zero Hour and author of “Youth to Power: Your Voice and How to Use It,” which includes a foreword from climate activist Greta Thunberg. Interestingly, 71% of PR pros think social media is a very effective channel for activism compared to 35% of activists surveyed. The activists see billboards, books, social media and direct mail as the four most communications channels.

PR Pros Are Thinking About Activists – But Not Working with Them

This is one of the more interesting takeaways from the 2020 report. 49% of PR pros said that, when planning an initiative or a new policy for their firm or for clients, they think a great deal or considerably about activist groups and how they will respond to the policy. And yet only 14% of respondents would seriously consider engaging with those activist groups when developing a new initiative for a client. Clearly, there’s a huge disconnect here, and there’s considerable opportunity for PR pros and activist organizations to work together.

PR Pros Think Companies Should Take a Stand

Another interesting takeaway was that an overwhelming majority (84%) of PR pros believe that companies should take a stand on political issues that impact their business, whereas only 28% think companies should take a stand on issues unrelated to their business. This aligns with how most PR pros think of themselves: more as an ally (70%, where an ally is defined as someone who supports activists and their missions) than as an activist (24%).

When viewed as a whole, the 2020 Global Communications Report indicates a major shift in the way we think about PR and activism on a global scale. In the near future, it’s possible that PR pros will be working proactively with activist organizations and nonprofits to develop and implement policies.


RH Strategic is a Seattle and D.C.-based communications firm with a nationwide presence and additional global reach via membership in the Worldcom Public Relations Group. We provide strategic public relations for innovators in the technology, government and healthcare markets.