2022 has certainly been… a year. At the start, hopes were high for an easing of the setbacks caused by the pandemic and that the lessons we’d all learned would help us evolve our purpose and ways of working. Did this happen?
In some ways, yes. And despite the challenges we’re all still working through, we can do even better as an industry in 2022.
Here are predictions from nine public relations, communications, marketing and public affairs experts on what the big trends to plan and prepare for will be for the year ahead.
1) Sustainability and purpose
‘It feels to me like purpose is becoming more and more important for organisations, and communicating it is a really important task. A big plank of that is of course sustainability but we have been talking about the environment for years; a big growth area in terms of messaging is likely to be fairness and social inclusion. Particularly in a time of inflation and with the UK Government still trying to define what it means by ‘levelling up’, being able to talk about the impact of clients on less advantaged areas is going to be more important than ever.’
Gavin Devine, Park Street Partners
‘There has been an increased focus on diversity and inclusion within the industry with many new initiatives launched. As a Board Member of the PRCA’s Race and Ethnicity Equity Board I am keen to see how firms continue to push for greater equality within our industry. It is important to see leaders from diverse backgrounds and we just do not have enough within the PR industry. A key challenge will be moving from talking about increasing diversity to now making it a reality at more senior levels.’
Emmanuel Ofosu-Appiah, Mercer
4) Net Zero
‘We have hundreds of businesses who are signed up to science-based targets… but there are hundreds who haven’t.
‘We can’t just do this in 2029 when it’s too late – this needs accumulative reduction.’
Luke Herbert, The Climate Group
5) AI + human effort
‘AI will transform the tactical, ‘doing’ bit of our work even more, leaving space for us to be more strategic… are we up to it? We need to regulate the social media platforms and ourselves – the basic business model that drives the social media algorithms needs changing. We have to do something about the polarisation in society. The ESG agenda will become more pressing, too.’
Anne Gregory, University of Huddersfield
3) Hybrid working (for good and bad)
‘Finding, keeping and training more junior colleagues looks set to be a major issue in 2022 and beyond. Working from home and even hybrid working is great for people with comfortable home offices and at a more settled stage of their careers; it is self-evidently less so for those at the start of their careers. And honing your skills is so much less easy if you and your senior colleagues are not in the office every day. At the same time, the pandemic has led many people to question their career choices and think about alternatives. All of this means we are likely to see a shortage of high-quality people with a few years’ experience. That will fuel a race for talent; retention will be an issue.
‘One way that this will manifest itself may well be in pressure on pay. This will be part of an economy-wide challenge, the like of which we haven’t seen for years: inflation. Life is about to become more expensive and this will be true for comms agencies as much as it is for anyone else. We will also have to think of new messages for our clients to use in the media and with stakeholders about why prices are going up.’
6) Personal development, with healthy boundaries
‘Working practices and client expectations have changed throughout the pandemic, in part through people working from home, and it seems to have exacerbated the ‘always on’ culture we’ve been trying to move away from. The biggest challenge for the year ahead will be managing this and re-establishing boundaries so the workplace is a happy and healthy one.
‘PR practitioners can help businesses deliver their objectives in terms of articulating purpose, managing change and communicating with stakeholders. With the right skillset, there are plenty of opportunities to be had but personal development is crucial to success.’
Sarah Waddington, Astute.Work and #FuturePRoof
7) Flexibility to new working models
‘Both a challenge and opportunity for the industry will be how we continue to adapt and evolve new working models. A lot has changed in just two years, new social media platforms, media outlets, key stakeholders, and influencers are developing at a rapid pace, the industry is constantly learning, paired with the pandemic and working from home, stricter/looser social distancing restrictions (depending on what the Government feels like that week), we have successfully made it work to our benefit and for our clients. I think we must embrace this and try not to rush or force employees to return back into the office and rigid working conditions. What the last few years have proven is that we as PR practitioners are resourceful and creative. We must continue to adapt and be flexible.’
Tolu Rachel Akisanya, Ariatu PR
8) Realistic risk management
‘We need to be realistic about the economic situation and the potential for growth. It is likely to be a challenging year and if growth isn’t as high as hoped then that could affect the spending available to government. The implications would be enormous.
‘Government will want to continue to be interventionist and any organisation that simply leaves them to it is playing a very dangerous game. Engagement with government should focus on the development of trusted relationships, which needs to be built over time. For those that choose not to invest in their engagement there could be a lot of emergency public affairs required. Aside from the obvious failure to manage risk, the success of that approach is much more variable and more expensive.’
Stuart Thomson, BDB Pitmans
9) New metrics and measurements
‘One of the big challenges for measurement is the starting point of any campaign – do we have clear measurable business objectives; do we have data on the starting point or audience insights? In the last year we have definitely moved from impressions/clicks and likes to measuring engagement and that is going to be the direction of travel.’
Sudha Singh, The Purpose Room
‘You can involve everyone in the process of D&I. I’ve learned about navigating my own space, my own bias and what I bring. And really listening. Taking that time to stop my voice and hearing what people are feeling.’
Asad Dhunna, The Unmistakables
Want more from the above thought leaders sharing their predictions?
Interview with Sudha Singh and Mark Webb on fairer representations of disability in PR
The Climate Group’s Luke Herbert on the New Statesman panel Making Sense of Net Zero