Disruption and innovation—the Atlantic Council in a year of coronavirus

2020 brought significant challenges for the world, as COVID-19 forced everyone to work virtually. The global economy weakened, and governments struggled to handle the plethora of issues that coronavirus created.

It’s now one year since the Atlantic Council went virtual, and we are taking the chance to look back at a remarkable year. While the disruption was significant and damaging, the Atlantic Council used this moment to innovate in the virtual space and expand its global reach. The Council demonstrated innovation and resilience in the face of these challenges. As the Council reviews its past year, we have drawn out some of the lessons and achievements of 2020.

  • Our digital reach doubled, amounting to nine million page views over the last year. Going virtual enabled us to reach a much larger audience. Our convenings, almost entirely virtual, totaled 72,000 participants and nearly two million views across all platforms. We held 847 events last year, up almost a third on the year before.
  • We kept and grew our audiences in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Europe, while expanding our presence elsewhere—in China, India, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Colombia, and Singapore. That’s a greater spread of audiences outside the Euro-Atlantic area. Media mentions by organizations in the Ukraine, Germany, Canada, and Brazil all grew significantly, joining the United States, China, Russia, United Kingdom, India, and Greece in the top ten of countries.
  • While every individual reached is important, we also saw a rise in the number of decision and policymakers the Atlantic Council influenced: three thousand US government officials—double compared to 2019—and more than two thousand C-suite executives—nearly doubled.

We launched two new centers that made us more global: the GeoTech Center and the GeoEconomics Center. And we launched new initiatives including the Caribbean Initiative, Forward Defense, empowerME for the Middle East, the New American Engagement Initiative, and the Global Strategy Initiative. We are more global in our reach and our ambition.

We have become more diverse as an organization, though we still have plenty of work to do. We launched our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council to spearhead our work in this area and make sure we are heading in the right direction following widespread national outrage over racism.

The Atlantic Council saw strong growth in long-form publications, one of our core platforms for proposing big ideas and setting policy agendas. We released 131 reports, issue briefs, and other publications, up more than a third from the year before, and drove a 70 percent increase in pageviews to them in part by using the digital capabilities of our new website to good effect.

Indeed, there was strong growth in our written products across the board. Our blog readership nearly doubled, led by increasing interest in our regional blogs and Inflection Points, the weekly newsletter from our president and CEO Frederick Kempe. During a year filled with hugely consequential global events, we witnessed a surge of readers to our increasingly ambitious editorial work on these developments. We produced more than a thousand blog posts over the course of the year.

We amassed more than eighty thousand subscribers across twenty newsletters. A third of those subscribers are receiving one of the ten newsletters that were newly launched last year: BelarusAlert, DirectCurrent, EuropeWatch, FastThinking, Guide to the Global Economy, South Asia Center Weekly, State of the Order, The Future is Here, The Strategist, and TurkeySource.

Our success was recognized in our community and by our peers. We saw another increase in our place on the think tank rankings produced annually by the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania, for the sixth year running. We moved up to seventh in the United States think tank rankings, and saw rises across the board:

  • Foreign policy and international affairs—we are ranked tenth globally (up four spots) and sixth in the United States (up two spots).
  • Defense and national security—ranked eighth globally and fifth in the United States.
  • Impact on public policy—ranked sixteenth globally (up five spots) and eighth in the United States (up three spots).
  • Regional studies—ranked seventeenth globally and fourth in the United States.
  • Management—ranked twelfth globally (up three spots) and fourth in the United States (up three spots).
  • External relations/public engagement—ranked tenth globally (up five spots) and seventh in the United States.

What were the most impactful projects of the year? Our programs and centers produced a wide range of highly impressive bodies of work, and this is just a selection:

We haven’t stopped in the new year. Already this year we have produced The Longer Telegram, the most talked-about think tank publication of 2021; hosted the Global Energy Forum, a multi-day virtual event; hosted guests from Prince Charles to French President Emmanuel Macron; and launched our new Europe Center. We are still working hard to produce the best digital events, improve our engagement with our communities around the world, and produce impactful ideas. We hope 2021 will see a return to the office—but whether it does or not, we will continue to innovate digitally.

Andrew Marshall is the Vice President of Communications for the Atlantic Council. He leads the Council’s media, digital, and editorial efforts, and coordinates the way the Council talks with its key communities.

Image: Laurent Blevennec / Présidence de la République