Attorney Gloria Allred and client
Discrimination attorney Gloria Allred (left) and one of her clients discuss the sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Image from MSNBC broadcast

By David Oates

Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m not a betting man. My poker face lacks any sort of skill. That being said, I’ll bet a big, fat paycheck that 2018 will manifest itself as a massive public relations headache for many companies.

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While I can’t predict if any specific organization will fall prey to a scandal, my forecast stems from the indelible fact that 2017 set up some very precarious trends that will soon find their way into corporate America. What that means is next year will go down as the age of “Crisis PR.”

As such, I offer the following as my top three issues many organizations will grapple with in 2018.

Sexal Harassment Scandals Will Deluge Corporate America

We saw our share of popular, well-liked personalities fall brilliantly into discredit, but–with the exception of Uber–the stories largely centered on entertainment celebrities and political figures. Next year, these types of scandals will find their way into the business community. We’ll see lesser known, but highly influential CEOs and their boards of directors become targets of sexual harassment allegations that will force them to resign from powerful positions.

Companies and their PR teams will need to prepare for these activities as more women feel empowered and emboldened to reveal instances of sexual harassment against their employers. Organizations without a crisis plan in place will find it difficult to overcome such a scandal when it happens.

CEOs Will Need to Demonstrate a Human Side

David Oates
David Oates

Politics aside, the mainstream dialogue surrounding the new tax bill pits CEOs against the working class. Recent polls indicate that only a third of Americans support the plan, and more than half oppose it, mostly because they believe it favors the rich. This presents a problem for organizations that will more than likely see business start to slow in 2018 and have to reduce their workforce. The more layoffs that occur, the more likely consumers and employees will see the bosses as greedy.

PR practitioners will need to plan activities that demonstrate the human side of their organization’s leaders; folks who care about their customers and staff. These events should be centered on performing “random acts of kindness” that don’t appear overly scripted. Doing so successfully will require an expert touch from professionals who understand the anatomy of a story that gives it the best chance of going viral.

The Backlash Against America Will Be Real

Politics aside, the 2017 “America First” narrative sets up next year as one where the world will view U.S. citizens working and traveling abroad with greater disdain. The inclination of other countries to look elsewhere for business opportunities will increase. That’s all fine and dandy if you’re the local jewelry store, but for many organizations with foreign operations, this will mean even slower growth or, quite possibly, a contraction in revenue.

Corporations will need to demonstrate their global, mutually beneficial attitudes even more prominently, and PR professionals will play a key role in making this happen. It will be not just important, but critical if organizations desire to maintain their market positions around the world, let alone increase them.

Undoubtedly, plenty of opportunities will come about for companies seeking to create goodwill, better relationships and a working environment that’s fair to all concerned. They will, however, need to recognize the pitfalls that are forthcoming and how to leverage them in the best way possible to present their brand in a positive light.

David Oates is president of Stalwart Communications and a 20-year marketing and public relations veteran whose clients include agency, corporate and government organizations.